Friday, October 26, 2007

The poulpe talks Cesar Vallejo

It's rare that I read entire books of poetry, but that's only because I'm not normally compelled by young men in the Peruvian jungle to do so. That was all it took for me to read Trilce by César Vallejo and to tediously retype the following, from 1919:


Prístina y última piedra de infundada
ventura, acaba de morir
con alma y todo, octubre habitación y encinta.
De tres meses de ausente y diez de dulce.
Cómo el destino,
mitrado monodáctilo, ríe.

Cómo detrás desahucian juntas
de contrarios. Cómo siempre asoma el guarismo
bajo la línea de todo avatar.

Cómo escotan las ballenas a palomas.
Cómo a su vez éstas dejan el pico
cubicado en tercera ala.
Cómo arzonamos, cara a monótonas ancas.

Se remolca diez meses hacia la decena,
hacia otro más allá.
Dos quedan por lo menos todavía en pañales.
Y los tres meses de ausencia.
Y los nueve de gestación.

No hay ni una violencia,
El paciente incorpórase,
y sentado empavona tranquilas misturas.

I've been reading more and more writing in translation. One of my favorite parts of reading my favorite Peruvian authors, who like to make up words or put Spanish into Quechua syntax, is the accompanying essays by the translators. Clayton Eshleman translated the Vallejo book, and the above poem thusly:

The pristine and last stone of groundless
fortune, has just died
with soul and all, October bedroom and pregnant.
Of three months of absent and ten of sweet.
How destiny,
mitred monodactyl, laughs.

How at the rear conjunctions of contraries
destroy all hope. How under every avatar's lineage
the number always shows up.

How whales cut doves to fit.
How these in turn leave their beak
cubed as a third wing.
How we saddleframe, facing monotonous croups.

Ten months are towed toward the tenth,
toward another beyond.
Two at least are still in diapers.
And the three months of absence.
And the nine of gestation.

There's not even any violence.
The patient raises up.
and seated enpeacocks tranquil nosegays.

Eshleman talks about staying true to Vallejo's misspellings and inconsistent punctuation unless it's very clearly a printing mistake and about the ways he worked to find English-language equivalents for Vallejo's idioms, "Peruvianisms," nouns as verbs, verbs as nouns, and invented words. This seems like a fairly obvious and artful, albeit very tedious, way to work as a translator, but according to Eshleman--and this kind of cattiness is another thing I like about reading translators' notes--Vallejo's past English-language translators had not been so careful. Eshleman's notes and explanations about his translating decisions with certain sticky words appear after his translation. For X, he writes,
"arzonamos" (we saddleframe): The noun arzón (saddleframe) forced to function as a verb."y sentado empavona tranquilas misturas" (and seated enpeacocks tranquil nosegays): According to the Diccionario de peruanismos, a mistura is a small bouquet of local, fragrant flowers, such as frangipani, jasmine, passion flower, gillyflower, including for additional ornamentation such berries as the capulí--see note on VI. In this setting, the standard meaning of empavonar (to blue steel, or, in Latin America, to grease) seems more inappropriate. In Central America, empavonar can mean the same as emperifollarse (to doll oneself up), a meaning that draws upon pavón (peacock) and pavonear (to strut). I interpret the line to mean that the patient is arranging nosegays in a vain way that evokes peacock display.

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