Ciao amici !
Thanks to all who have read and commented on my previous post On Poetry:: Translation and my poetry. I certainly appreciate your comments.
Today I want to talk about my translation process. But first things first: in my opinion, the two most important things when setting out to translate are:
- Good knowledge and understanding of the author. For me, that means learning as much as I can about the author (wikipedia.com is an excellent place to start) as well as reading much of the author's work.
- A good reference library. In my case, I have the "best" translating dictionary and the "best" dictionary for the source language (always a foreign language since I neve translate English to another language.) By "best" I mean "unabridged" as the lesser versions are not adequate for me. Also, I have a Websters Unabridged (3rd Ed, 1966) and Roget's Thesaurus.
The process I will describe is one that I have developed over many years, not just for translating or writing poetry but for my technical projects also (schedule permitting). Here I will describe only the process as I apply it to translating poetry; my oringal poetry and prose writing process is a shortened version.
I want to use my translation of a poem by Alejandra Pizarnik as an example. Pizarnik grew up in Argentina and, therefore, often uses idiomatic words and phrases in her work. More on that later.
We are fortunate that nearly all of her work is published (in Spanish), and much is available in English translation. My friend and editor, a retired professor of Spanish Literature, suggested Pizarnik. So my first task was to learn as much as I could about her. As I mentioned above, Wikipedia is an excellent place to start. I then obtained a copy of her diaries, which, for me, were rough sledding. I don't think I ever read anything so dark, depressing, sad. Concurrently I obtained a complete copy of all her published (in Spanish) poetry and prose.
So once I had immersed myself (it took me about six months to read it all), I took a very tentative step to translate one of her poems. Nearly all of her work is very short, less than 100 words. I chose La Jaula (The Cage) as an initial project.
Now the real work begins. I read through the poem several times, taking notes, and then wrote the first draft. A week or so later, I went back to it and repeated reading and writing a new draft. I reviewed my work 4 or 5 times over a couple of months. Since I was not satisfied with what I had done, I set it aside for a few months - which turned out to be more than a year. Then back to the last version. Looking for the hidden meanings in some words, consulting with my Argentine friend about possible idioms and editor about shifts in meaning.
Finally, well, not quite, I sent my best effort to my English language editor. I do my punctuation and typesetting, so that was not the question. My question was: how does it sound? Can I improve the sound with other words or syntax? My editor suggested a few changes, some of which I accepted, others I rejected.
Done at last, after multiple drafts and countless hours on this project. The following is my current version. poem is also posted the the poetry area with additional information.
simply the sun,
but men look at it
I know nothing about the sun,
only about an angel’s melody
and the fiery exhortation
of the last breath.
I know how to shout ’til dawn
when death settles, naked,
on my shadow
I weep beneath my name
I wave kerchiefs in the night
as boats thirsting for reality
dance with me.
I hide my fears
to mock my morbid dreams.
I, clothed in ashes.