Friday, November 23, 2012

Antonio Machado



   In Segovia I toured the house in which Antonio Machado lived for over a decade while he was a professor in the town. Antonio Machado was a 20th century Spanish poet and playwright. He was a member of the Generation of '98, a group of Spanish literary figures who wrote some of Spain's finest works.
     I first read Machado in a Spanish literature class in college, and enjoyed most of all his use of imagery. In fact, the beautiful use of imagery is perhaps what I like most about Spanish poetry. Anyways, this is to say that I was glad for the opportunity to visit Machado's residence, because I have been reading his poetry since I have been in Spain. 

Machado rented a room in this house from 1919-1931. It is located in the heart of Segovia, only a few blocks from the Cathedral. 

His room has been preserved, with some of his books laid out on the table. 

      I've attempted to translate a couple of Machado's poems, which you can read below. The first one is called "The Traveler," and the second is a poem dedicated to José Ortega y Gasset, who was Machado's friend and one of the most important Spanish philosophers of the 20th century. I decided to translate the poem because one of Ortega y Gasset's books is displayed on the table in Machado's bedroom. 

(A portrait of Machado, drawn by Picasso)

     Translation is difficult. Poetry in translation is never true to the original, because poetry, more than any other type of writing, hinges on every word and every sound. One must always make concessions when translating poetry. It is nearly impossible to produce a literal translation that maintains the meter and rhyme scheme of the poem— not to mention word order or poetical techniques that deal with sound, such as alliteration. Different problems arise depending on which language one translates to and from. 
     Translating from Spanish into English has less difficulties than translating from a non-romance language into a romance language, but problems still persist. In one of the poems below, I found it impossible render the ambiguity in the subject of a sentence. This is because Spanish has the same possessive pronoun for "his" and "its," and also because a verb conjugated in the third person could refer to "he" or "it," and without the inclusion of the pronoun, there can be ambiguity pertaining to what (or who) is the subject of the sentence. This ambiguity occurs several times (probably intentionally) in Machado's "The Traveler." Therefore I was forced to make a decision (on several occasions) as to what was the more likely subject of the sentence. Another problem with these poems was word order (or the addition of words). It was simply impossible to keep the same word order in translation without rendering the translation nonsensical. And because conjugated verbs (usually) reveal the subject of a sentence, making the use of a pronoun redundant, I often had to add a pronoun to convey the subject of a sentence. These might sound like little things, but added up, you get a translation that is very different from the original in structure and flow. So, here are my inevitably imperfect translations, side by side with the originals, so you can see all the flaws and differences in structure.

El Viajero                                                                   The Traveler

     Está en la sala familiar, sombría,                                 It is in the familiar foyer, shady,
y entre nosotros, el querido hermano                          and between us, the dear brother
que en el sueño infantil de un claro día                       who in the infantile dream of a clear day
vimos partir hacia un país lejano.                                we saw depart toward a faraway country. 
     Hoy tiene ya las sienes plateadas,                               Now he already has silver temples, 
un gris mechón sobre la angosta frente;                      and a gray lock of hair over his wrinkled forehead;
y la fría inquietud de sus miradas                                and the cold unrest of his looks
revela un alma casi toda ausente.                                reveals a soul almost completely absent.
     Deshójanse las copas otoñales                                    The autumn branches of the musky
del parque mustio y viejo.                                           and old park lose their leaves. 
La tarde, tras los húmedos cristales,                            The evening, after the wet crystals,
se pinta, y en el fondo del espejo.                                is painted, and in the depths of the mirror.
     El rostro del hermano se ilumina                                The brother’s face illuminates 
suavemente. ¿Floridos desengaños                              gently. Flowery disenchantments 
dorados por la tarde que declina?                                golden in the declining afternoon?
¿Ansias de vida nueva en nuevos años?                      Longing for new life in new years?
     ¿Lamentará la juventud perdida?                                 Will he lament lost youth?
Lejos quedó —la pobre loba— muerta.                       Far away it stayed —the poor she-wolf— dead. 
¿La blanca juventud nunca vivida                               Does white youth never lived 
teme, que ha de cantar ante su puerta?                         fear, compelled to sing before its door? 
     ¿Sonríe al sol del oro                                                    Does it smile at the golden sun
de la tierra de un sueño no encontrada;                        of the land of a dream never found;
y ve su nave hender el mar sonoro,                              and see its ship split the sonorous sea,
de viento y luz la blanca vela hinchada?                      of wind and light the white inflated candle?
     Él ha visto las hojas otoñales,                                       He has seen the autumn leaves,
amarillas, rodar, las olorosas                                         yellow, turn, the aromatic 
ramas del eucalipto, las rosales                                     branches of the eucalyptus, the rose bushes
que enseñan otra vez sus blancas rosas...                      that show again their white roses...
     Y este dolor que añora o desconfía                               And this pain that longs for or distrusts
el temblor de una lágrima reprime,                                the tremble of a repressed tear, 
y un resto de viril hipocresía                                          and a residue of virile hypocrisy 
en el semblante pálido se imprime.                                imprints itself on his pale face. 
     Serio retrato en la pared clarea                                      Serious portrait on the wall 
todavía. Nosotros divagamos.                                        continues to clear. We digress. 
En la tristeza del hogar golpea                                       In the sadness of the home thumps
el tictac del reloj. Todos callamos.                                 the tick-tock of the clock. We all fall silent. 

(Meditations of Quijote was written by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset)

Al Joven Meditador José Ortega y Gasset               To The Young Meditator José Ortega y Gasset1

A ti laurel y yedra                                                       May laurel and hydra 
corónete, dilecto                                                         crown you, beloved
de Sofía, arquitecto.                                                   of Sofia, architect. 
Cincel, martillo y piedra                                            May chisel, hammer and rock
y masones te sirvan las montañas                             and masons serve you, and the mountains
de Guadarrama frío                                                      of cold Guadarrama
te brinden el azul de sus entrañas,                            offer you the blue of their entrails,        
meditador de otro Escorial sombrío.                        meditator of a different somber Escorial2              
Y que Felipe austero,                                                  And may austere Philip3 
al borde de su regia sepultura,                                   on the edge of his royal burial,    
asome a ver la nueva arquitectura,                            peek out to see the new architect,          
y bendiga la prole de Lutero.                                     and bless the offspring of Luther4  

1 An important 20th century Spanish philosopher and friend of Machado. Gasset wrote Meditations on Don Quijote and Revolt of the Masses, among many other works.

2 A former royal palace and monastery constructed under the reign of Philip II in the 16th century. It is located 30 miles outside of Madrid, in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Almost all Spanish kings have been buried in El Escorial since its construction. It is architecturally austere, built mainly of granite with a simple exterior. 

3 King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598).

4 Martin Luther. Philip II spent much of his reign actively combating the Protestant reformation. 



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