TRANSLATING RÚBEN DARÍO 1

translating ruben dario Points Illustrated

1. Introduction to Spanish prosody.

2. Work sometimes needed just to get a few lines right.

Rubén Darío

This is the first stanza of Canción de Otoño en Primavera from Rubén Darío's Cantos de vida y esperanza (1905). The lines set the lyrical tone of this 69-line-long poem, and reappear four times as a refrain.

Juventud, divino tesoro,
ya te vas para no volver!
Cuando quiero llorar, no lloro. . .
y a veces lloro sin querer. . .

The meaning is straightforward, and a literal translation is already halfway to being poetry:

Youth, divine treasure,
already you leave to not return!
When I want to cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

The original is rhymed, however — a b a b — and very beautifully constructed, as we shall see.

Analysis of the Spanish

Unlike English verse, Spanish verse is constrained by the syllable count. The matter is a little complicated — you can read handy introductions at Internet sites {1} {2} — but having decided on the number of syllables to the line (given certain licences), the poet is expected to keep to them. Here is the syllable count for Darío's stanza (and other lines in the poem):

Ju | ven | tud | di | vi | no | te | so | ro = 9
ya | te | vas | pa | ra | no | vol | ver = 8 +1 =9
Cuan | do | qui e | ro | llo | rar |no | llo | ro = 9
y a | ve | ces | llo | ro | sin | que | rer = 8 + 1 = 9

The 8 + 1 lines are stressed on the final syllable, and by convention add one to their syllable count.

Into this basic structure the poet weaves his rhythm. In Darío's stanza the stressed syllables are shown in bold type:

Ju | ven |tud | di | vi | no | te | so | ro = 4
ya | te | vas | pa | ra | no | vol | ver = 4+
Cuan | do | qui e | ro | llo | rar |no | llo | ro = 4
y a | ve | ces | llo | ro | sin | que | rer = 4

The 4+ requires explanation. The line could be scanned as:

ya | te | vas | pa | ra | no | vol | ver

or

ya | te | vas | pa | ra | no | vol | ver

but the two syllables cannot be run into one, as happens sometimes in English verse, because Spanish prosody does not allow syneresis here, and (more importantly) because a caesura separates them — a long, long pause that gives emotional shaping to the line. Caesurae indeed operate throughout the stanza:

Juventud | divino tesoro, 2 + 2
ya te vas | para no volver! 1 + 3
Cuando quiero llorar | no lloro 3 + 1
y a veces lloro | sin querer 2 + 2

The first line is finely balanced, with a neat patterning in the dental consonants v, d and t:

Juventud | divino tesoro

and assonance in juventud repeated in tesoro.

The second starts with the brusque, almost brutal ja te vas, and then swells out into para no volver. And again there is the subtle patterning: ya and vas, vas and volver, and ya te vas with para no volver.

The third line continues with the swell: Cuando quiero llora, to be abruptly terminated with no lloro. The patterning is with llorar and lloro, with Cuando and quiero, and with Cuando and no, etc.

The fourth line repeats the structure of the third, with the long pause at the caesura echoing that of the second line, but the 2 + 2 balance of stresses settles the rhythm and brings the stanza to a close. And for patterning there are the harsh vowels so thinly separated by consonants, the three syllable a veces repeated by sin querer, etc.

By now the translator should be feeling uneasy. These patterns are not decoration but the fabric of one of the best-loved of poems in Latin America, an equivalent to the rhythmic innovations of Swinburne married to the musicality of early Yeats. And, however far from autobiography, the piece is still an intensely personal piece. At forty, with two marriages behind him, often incapacitated by the drinking that was to kill him a decade later, Darío had every reason for remorse, and any rendering that fails to convey the anguish and beauty of the original is not a translation.

Possibilities

Given these difficulties, what are the options?

1. Dispense with rhyme altogether and aim for something neat but fairly literal:

Youth, divine treasure,
already you leave to not return!
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

2. Dispense with rhyme and metre but use a slightly more literary language, as Stanley Applebaum does in his useful volume {3}:

Youth, divine treasure,
you are now leaving, never to return!
When I wish to weep, I cannot. . .
and at times I weep without wanting to. . .

3. Use a rather simplistic metre, as the Nicaraguan poet Salomón de la Selva does: {4}

Youth, treasure only gods may keep,
Fleeting from me forever now!
I cannot, when I wish to, weep,
And often cry I know not how….

4. Reproduce the form and aesthetic effect of the original. To do so we:

A. Start by restoring the metre to the first line: possibilities:

a. Bloom of youth, our divinest treasure
b. Flame of youth, our heavenly treasure,
c. Gift of youth, our golden treasure.
d. Youth and dreams, our Heaven-sent treasure
e. Youth, that breath of our eternal being
f. Youth, our treasure in Heaven's eye

and note:

a. Though we need to use language appropriate to the period, divino tesoro works in Spanish in a way that divine treasure does not, particularly when we remember '20s dialogue: "Darling, how simply divine!" Divinest treasure is worse.
b., c. and d. add something not in the original, though they reproduce the original metre.
a. reproduces the assonance of Juventud: Bloom of youth, though it's not attractive.
e. is a wide paraphrase, somewhat ecstatic, but useful, as we shall see
f. is a roundabout way of giving the sense, but provides a useful rhyme: eye/cry.

B. Decide which half of the stanza we are going to match on rhymes. Do we rephrase lines 3 and 4 to meet treasure and return, or recast lines 1 and 2 to meet the rhymes cry and to? Let's take these in turn:

1. Flame of youth, our heavenly treasure,
already you leave to not return!
I would cry, but cannot. In equal measure,
and unwanted, at times, how the tears burn!

2. Youth, that breath of our eternal being,
how soon you leave, to not return!
I have no tears: perplexing, seeing
how at times, unbidden, the tears burn. . .

Many other versions are possible, but these two are workmanlike. The other approach, recasting lines 1 and 2, provides more opportunities:

3. Youth, our treasure in Heaven's eye,
already you leave me, pass on through.
when I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

4. Heaven's gift, of her golden sky,
what, my youth, has become of you?
when I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

5. Spent the treasure of Heaven's eye:
Already, youth, what's become of you?
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

6. Youth, unrequited in Heaven's eye,
already, what has become of you?
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

7. Youth, our treasure in heaven's eye,
now you leave me, pass on through!
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

8. Heaven's treasure, youth's fervent eye:
to wholly leave me you pass on through!
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

9. Youth our treasure in heaven's eye,
now to leave me you pass on through!
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

10. Heaven's treasure, youth's rapturous eye,
irretrievably now gone from view!
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

11. Youth our treasure in heaven's eye,
so now for good you will pass on through!
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

C. We can also mix and match:

12. Youth, that breath of our eternal being,
already you leave, are passing through.
I have no tears: strange, seeing
how at times I cry without wanting to.

13. That full breath of our eternal being:
what, my youth, has become of you?
Or the tears I'd summon, seeing
how at times I cry without wanting to?

D. Or transpose elements of the sense between the two lines:

14. How soon now youth you pass me by:
that dream of heaven you will not renew.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

15. Treasure of heaven, you pass me by;
Never will youth return anew.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

16. Gone that treasure, heaven's enraptured eye:
nothing of youth to be made anew!
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

Assessment

Now we look at the versions.

1. Measure is too obviously introduced for the sake of rhyme, and Darío does not speak of tears burning: his language is idiomatic and spare.
2. To the same objections as 1. we must add that strange is not what Darío is saying. And unbidden is too literary.
3. Unobjectionable, though pass on through is not language of Darío's period.
4. Replaces the divine with golden, though it's not the sky that's golden, unless we are thinking of daybreak or sunset. We could rephrase the line as Heaven's gift, of her gilding eye.
5. Doesn't reproduce the metre of the original in the first line, nor in the second, though the abrupt introduction of youth is powerful.
6. Doesn't make sense: how does heaven's eye requite us?
7. Rather anodyne: misses the emphasis on youth never returning.
8. No fervent in the original: second line accurately gives the sense but the verse is a little heavy.
9. Adequate, though missing the sense of youth not returning.
10. Rather overdoing the sentiment: Darío is not melodramatic. The second line also breaks the rhythm of the stanza as a whole.
11. Rhythm of second line drags too much, though accurately conveying the sense.
12. Strange is an awkward interpolation: Darío is not dwelling on the inconsequentialities of life, but on human weakness.
13. Summon is too literary, and false to the meaning: we don't call up tears but are shamed and saddened by them.
14. Both first and second lines are simpler than the original, effective, but lack the emotive caesura.
15. Second line has a tripping measure inappropriate to the mood of the stanza (and indeed the poem as a whole).
16. Adds a extra stress to the first line: made anew is foreign to the simplicity of the original.

Checking the Structure

All versions have their problems, but the most acceptable versions may be 3, 4 rephrased, 5, 7 and 9. Suppose we now set out their structures:

3. Youth, our treasure in Heaven's eye syllables= 8 stresses =4
already you leave me | pass on through syllables= 8 stresses =4
when I would cry | I do not cry syllables= 8 stresses =4
and at times I cry | without wanting to syllables= 10 stresses =5

4. Heaven's gift of her gilding eye syllables=7 stresses =4
what | my youth has become of you syllables= 8 stresses =5
when I would cry | I do not cry syllables= 8 stresses =4
and at times I cry | without wanting to syllables= 10 stresses =5

5. Spent the treasure of Heaven's eye syllables= 8 stresses =4
Already | youth | what's become of you syllables= 9 stresses =5
when I would cry | I do not cry syllables= 8 stresses =4
and at times I cry | without wanting to syllables= 10 stresses =5

7. Youth, our treasure in Heaven's eye syllables= 8 stresses =4
now you leave me | pass on through syllables= 7 stresses =4
when I would cry | I do not cry syllables= 8 stresses =4
and at times I cry | without wanting to syllables= 10 stresses =5

9. How soon now youth you pass me by syllables= 8 stresses =4
that dream of heaven | you will not renew syllables= 9 stresses =5
when I would cry | I do not cry syllables= 8 stresses =4
and at times I cry | without wanting to syllables= 10 stresses =5

Some Comments:

1. In all versions we have a problem of the last line: five stresses. What does the original have? Both Darío's second and fourth lines do in fact have an extra stress, or we can read one without stretching the prosody:

Ju | ven |tud | DI | vi | no | te | so | ro = 4
ya | te | vas | pa | ra | no | vol | ver = 5
Cuan | do | qui e | ro | llo | rar |no | llo | ro = 4
y a | ve | ces | llo | ro | sin | que | rer = 5

This is turn-of-the century verse, which very much enjoyed wavering rhythms.

2. The real problem with version 3 is the somewhat colloquial pass on through, though its sense does keep close to the original meaning: already you leave, to not return. The first line of version 4 is a little clumsy, and Darío doesn't talk about eyes. The same objection can be levelled against version 5, and, though the second line is close to the metre of the original, it lacks the expressive caesura, as does version 7. Version 9 is flatter in both lines.

The Winner?

As in any poem, individual lines have to build seamlessly into the stanza, and the stanzas themselves appear inevitable. We therefore put the various versions into the whole translation, and sleep on the matter. Eventually, version 3 looks a trifle long, 4 seems contrived, 5 overemphatic, 7 acceptable though a little flat, and 9 too frisky. Let's look at 7 more closely:

1. The metre is too conventionally English, and the expressive short phrases separated by caesuras are missing.

Youth, our treasure in Heaven's eye syllables= 8 stresses =4: no caesura
now you leave me pass on through syllables= 7 stresses =4: no caesura
when I would cry | I do not cry syllables= 8 stresses =4
and at times I cry | without wanting to syllables= 10 stresses =5

2. The verse has a highly-wrought texture, with the assonance usual in Spanish verse, but the patterning is not Darío's.

Youth, | our trea | sure in Hea | ven's eye : assonance on ea.
now | you leave me | pass | on through :long vowels.
When | I | would | cry || I | do | not | cry : assonance on y: long vowels ou and o
and | at | times | I | cry | with | out | want | ing | to : assonance on y/i and alliteration on t.

Getting Back to the Original

We have fallen back on something that, within, the English poetry tradition, gives a equivalent aesthetic response. Though this is often necessary (the French alexandrine being replaced by the English pentameters, etc.), we should perhaps try once more to reproduce the original stanza structure. Darío's first line is high flown and effusive; the second is matter-of-fact and unromantic. So the poem: the contrast between dreams and reality. Darío was a superlative verse craftsman, and nothing would have been easier than for him to have continued the style of the first line into the second. But he doesn't: he has produced a cloud-capped first line that is undercut by a terse second and then a recriminatory third and fourth (whatever I feel, even tears are beyond me). Let's get back to the expressive caesuras:

17. Gift of Heaven, youth's rapturous eye,
how soon you leave me, pass on through!
When I would cry, I do not cry,
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

We put this into the whole translation and ask: is this better?

A little. But perhaps not better than a modified Version 3:

7a. Youth, our treasure in heaven's eye,
already you leave, pass on through!
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

Last Attempt

Isn't that the end of this tedious matter? {4} Well, looking again at the second line, some months later, the pass on through! still seems wrong: it's too throwaway, colloquial, of our period. We have to go back to the beginning of the exercise and rework the versions. In these possibilities:

18. Dreams of youth, our Heavenly treasure,
already you leave to not return!
I'd cry but cannot — and learn at leisure
how unwanted at times the tears burn!

19. Already, youth, you are passing by,
A treasure Heaven cannot renew.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

20. Youth, our treasure of Heaven's eye:
Already you leave and pass from view.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

21. Gone that gilding of Heaven's eye:
What, my youth, has become of you?
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

22. Youth, our treasure of Heaven's eye:
Already you leave, and will not renew.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

23. Youth, our treasure of Heaven's eye:
now you leave me, not made anew.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

24. Youth, our treasure in heaven's eye,
Already what has become of you?
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

18. is sunk by leisure: inappropriate and recalling the tour guide's 'day at leisure'.
19. reverses the first two lines: lame metre.
20. Is the closest in meaning, though Darío does not have eye.
21. Is the most pleasing in tone and rhythm, but gives only the general meaning.
22. has doubtful grammar in the second line: renew what?
23. second line clumsy, again with doubtful grammar.
24. Second line gives only approximate meaning of original.

Still not there? Then rework three lines:

25. Gone so soon out of Heaven's grace,
What, my youth, has become of you?
For all I'd try, it is dry this face . . .
yet at times I cry without wanting to. . .

Yes, a dreadful third line, and, though the first is attractive, the grace rhyme lands us in difficulties. So then, bring the second line closer to the original sense?

26. Youth, that treasure in heaven's eye,
the days now leaving will not renew.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

27. Youth, our treasure in heaven's eye,
so soon you go now, passing through.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

Or reproduce the double u of Juventud?

28. Youth in truth a treasure none deny,
given the once and passing through.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

29. Youth whose boon the heavenly sky
will not renew, you are passing through.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

30. Secured that youth with the heavenly sky,
soon you go, now are passing through.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

31. Youth that bloom of Heaven's own sky
for good you go now passing through.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

32. Imbued our youth with Heaven's own sky,
now soon you go now, passing through.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

33. Youth imbued with the heavenly sky,
for good you go now, passing through.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

34. Bloom of youth, of heaven's own sky,
already you leave, go passing through.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

35. Hued once, youth, with the heavenly sky,
for good you leave, now go passing through.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

36. Youth once hued of the heavenly sky,
for good you leave, now go passing through.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

37. Youth once hued with heaven's own sky,
soon you leave now, go passing through.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. .

None is quite right, and some are dreadful. The least offensive seems number 27. It sits reasonably with the completed translation, and reproduces some of the expressive breaks to the metre.

Ju | ven |tud | di | vi | no | te | so | ro
ya | te | vas | pa | ra | no | vol | ver
Cuan | do | qui e | ro | llo | rar |no | llo | ro
y a | ve | ces | llo | ro | sin | que | rer

Youth | our | trea | sure | in heav | en's |eye
so | soon | you | go | now | pass | ing | through.
When | I | would | cry| I | do | not | cry. . .
and | at | times | I | cry | with | out | wan | ting | to. . .

Seeing the Obvious

As is so often the case, the obvious comes laggardly. That first line is not very close to the original, and the second misses the whole point of the poem: youth is unreturning. But we have tried all the options, surely?

Perhaps our mistake was to fall in love too quickly with the When I want to cry, I do not cry / and at times I cry without wanting to rendering. Yes, it was heart-breaking, but not over-intelligent. Cry, grieve, weep, be in tears? Once we ask how how literary our rendering should be, new openings are given us. Consider one: When I'd be grieving I have no tears. And from that comes a rendering closer in sense and rhythm to the original.

38. Youth | to | whom | all | Heav| en | a | ppears
For | good | you | go | now | pa | ssing | through
When | I'd | be | griev | ing | I | have | no | tears
And | at | times | I | weep | with | out | wan | ting | to

There are still significant differences. We haven't conveyed the ecstatic joy of the first line, and our pattern of caesuras is more regular. Darío has querer and llorar to play with, for which equivalents don't exist in English, but we have assonance in grieving and tears, and alliteration with tears and times and again with weep, with and wanting. And where Darío expresses restraint and then release by stress patterns in the last two lines, we follow the pallid grieving with the stronger and more literary weep. That gerund does seem necessary: When I would grieve I have no tears is a more exact rendering, but I'd be grieving is echoed in without wanting, and the connection adds to the emotional power of the lines. But before congratulating ourselves, we ought to look at more possibilities in this direction:

39. Youth, to whom all Heaven appears,
you leave for good now, passing through.
If I would cry but I have no tears
at times I cry without wanting to. . .

40. Youth, to whom all Heaven appears,
so soon you go now, passing through.
When I would cry, I have no tears. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

41. Youth, to whom all Heaven appears,
how soon you go now, passing through.
When I would cry I lack all tears. . .
but at times I weep without wanting to. . .

42. Youth, to whom all Heaven is known,
how soon you go now, passing through.
When new tears are called for, none I own. . .
and at times I am weeping without wanting to. . .

43. Youth, to whom all Heaven is known,
how soon you go now, passing through.
When called for tears, there are none I own. . .
and at times I weep without wanting to. . .

44. Youth, to whom all Heaven is known,
how soon you go now, passing through.
When called for tears, there are none I own. . .
and at times I am weeping without wanting to. . .

45. Youth, to whom all Heaven is known,
how soon you go now, passing through.
When I would cry, no tears I own. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

46. Youth, to whom all Heaven is known,
how soon you go now, passing through.
When I would cry, no tears are shown. . .
which at times I show without wanting to. . .

47. Youth, to whom all Heaven is shown,
how soon you go now, passing through.
Whenever tears I'd wish for, none I own. . .
and at times I am weeping without wanting to. . .

48. Forever of Heaven our youth appears
that all so soon is passing through.
I'd cry and cannot, yet have the tears
come times I do not want them to.

49. Gift of Heaven, our youth appears,
that goes for good now, passing through.
I'd cry but cannot, and have the tears
come times I do not want them to.

50. Given forever, that youth appears
you leave for good now, passing through.
I'd cry but cannot, yet still the tears
come times I do not want them to.

51. Gold of Heaven, our youth appears,
that goes for good now, passing through.
When I'd cry I cannot, but have the tears
come times I do not want them to.

52. Largesse of Heaven, youth appears:
soon leaves for good and is passing through.
I'd cry but cannot, but have the tears
come times I do not want them to.

53. Largesse of Heaven, youth appears:
and leaves for good, soon passing through.
When I'd cry I cannot, but have the tears
come times I do not want them to.

54. Jewelled by Heaven our youth appears
that leaves for good, now is passing through.
When I'd cry I cannot, yet feel the tears
come times I do not want them to.

55. Forever of Heaven, youth appears.
you leave for good now, passing through.
When I'd cry I cannot, yet feel the tears
come times I do not want them to.

56. That Heaven of youth that knows no years,
already you leave me, passing through.
When I'd cry but cannot, I have the tears
come times I do not want them to.

When we can backtrack to earlier attempts:

57. Youth, our true and heavenly treasure,
now for good you go passing through.
Though I'd cry but cannot, tears' full measure
comes the times I do not want it to.

Looking at the last, we note how close is the rendering to the original structure:

Ju       | ven | tud   | di    | vi    | no  | te | so | ro
Youth | our  | true | and | hea | ven | ly | trea | sure

  ya | te     |  vas  | pa   | ra  |   no   | vol | ver
now | for   | good | you | go  | pass | ing | through

Cuan | do  | qu  |  ie |   ro  | llo   | rar     | no  | llo   | ro
Though | I'd | cry | but | can | not | tears' | full | mea | sure

      y    | a     | ve      | ces | llo | ro   | sin   | que | rer
 comes | the   | times | I    | do | not | want | it    | to

Or we can rearrange altogether:

58. Leaving already and soon, my youth,
a treasure Heaven will not renew.
Cry I cannot, but tears in truth
come the times I do not want them to.

But perhaps we ought to keep the line structure?

59. Youth whose hopes in Heaven's eye
nothing detains or can renew.
When I would cry, I do not cry,
and at times I cry without wanting to.

60. Youth, our treasure of Heaven's eye,
that none detains or will renew:
when I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

61. Given the once, of Heaven's eye,
now going already, youth, are you?
If I could cry, but I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

62. Once to us that Heaven appears,
youth, you leave us, and soon are through.
I'd cry but cannot, yet have the tears
come times I do not want them to.

63. Once to us that Heaven appears,
then youth, you leave us, soon are through.
I cannot cry, but have the tears
come times I do not want them to.

64. Once to us that Heaven appears;
then youth, you leave us: soon are through.
I'd cry, cannot, yet have the tears
come times I do not want them to.

65. Youth and hopes in Heaven's eye:
no path can hold you or renew.
When I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

66. Soon is youth from Heaven's grace
sent unreturning and passing through.
There's now no tears but in time disgrace
in the tears I cry without wanting to.

67. Soon is youth from Heaven's grace
sent unreturning, now passing through.
I find no tears but at times must face
the tears I cry without wanting to.

68. Youth that passes out of Heaven's eye
that none detains or can renew:
when I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

69. Youth that passes from Heaven's eye
that nothing detains or can renew:
when I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

70. Youth that passes from Heaven's eye
whom none detains or can renew:
when I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

71. Soon is youth from Heaven's grace
sent unreturning and passing through.
I cannot cry nor will tears efface
the times I cry without wanting to. . .

72. Youth how soon from Heaven's grace
is leaving, which nothing will renew.
I have no tears, but after face
the tears I cry without without wanting to.

73. Youth, how soon from Heaven's eye
is leaving, which nothing will renew.
When I would cry, I do not cry
and at times I cry without without wanting to.

74. Youth how soon from Heaven's grace
is, unreturning, sent on through.
I have no tears, but after face
the tears I cry without without wanting to.

75. Soon our youth, of Heaven's eye,
unreturning, passes through!
when I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

76. Youth, so soon out of Heaven's eye,
unreturning, passes through!
when I would cry, I do not cry. . .
and at times I cry without wanting to. . .

Some General Points

So many versions probably leave us in a daze, no longer caring which is best. And then there are different versions to be considered for each stanza of the poem. . . Nonethless, the exercise may illustrate:

  1. Amount of work sometimes required to get a few lines right.

  2. Importance of trusting the ear. It's always possible to justify a poor choice with detailed analysis (e.g. number 38) but a good rendering has to be a. pleasing in itself, b memorable and c. fit in with the other stanzas. We come back over the weeks to check. Renderings 40 and 76 seem the best in the list above, but only 76 sits well with the poem as a whole.

  3. Experience. Tastes vary, and you may prefer a rendering I have discarded, or find a better one yourself. But the 76 renderings should all seem different, with distinct pros and cons. If that is not the case on reflection, and you do not respond strongly, then — though I hesitate to say so — verse may be something you have still to develop an ear for.

  4. No rendering is perfect, and the best choice may be some resolution of conflicting aims: fidelity to the original sense, verse quality, emotional appeal, current style preferences, etc.

Another Attempt

Returning from Sanskrit translations, {7} where the content of long quantitative measures have to be condensed in English verse lines, I think it should be possible to avoiding adding 'eye' to the first line. One rhyme we haven't considered is 'high'.

If we want to match syllables, we'd write:

Celestial youth, our gold on high, (77)

Here we have kept the median pause, dividing the line into two phrases of two stresses each, but brought the longer one to the front.

Ju | ven |tud || di | vi | no | te | so | ro = 4 stresses, 9 syllables

Ce | les | ti | al youth || our | gold | on | high = 4 stresses, 9 syllables

If we want something closer to the prose sense:

Youth our treasure, gold on high (78)

Youth whose blessings are from on high (79)

Or responding more the swelling sense of the original:

Our boundless youth, gold on high (80)

Our blessed of Heaven, gold on high (81)

Before deciding, we should look at the second line. We originally chose:

unreturning, passes through

Which is pleasing, but more flowing and literary than Darío's ya te vas para no volver! An alternative might be (if we'll accept the rhyme riche of too/to):

already you are going and for good too (82)

already you leave me, and for good too (83)

If not:

for good you're going, passing through!

Or (for 81)

youth you leave me, and for good too (84)

We can modify and combine these in many ways but, by inserting couplets into the poem as a whole, the best (unexpectedly) seems to be:

Youth our treasure, gold on high,
so you go now, passing through! (85)

Or possibly not. Another version is:

Youth, our blessing and our gold on high,
soon you're spent and are passing through! (86)

Or perhaps we should return to the 'anew' rhyme, but model it more naturally:

Not long youth's bloom, that gold on high,
will pause in leaving, nor come anew. (87)

How soon must youth, that bloom on high,
now go from me, nor come anew. (88)

How soon will youth, that bloom on high,
be leaving me, nor come anew. (88)

How soon is youth, love's heaven on high,
now going from me, nor comes anew. (89)

How soon the bloom, youth's heaven on high,
is going from me, nor comes anew. (90)

How soon will youth, bright heaven on high,
be gone from me, nor come anew. (90)

So soon is youth, our heaven on high,
gone from us, nor comes anew. (91)

How soon is youth, our heaven on high,
going from us, nor comes anew. (92)

Surely that is it? Variation 92 is a close match in sounds and line structure, but is somewhat banal. It we want something closer to poetry, and not versified prose, seems better to recreate what Darío was getting at with something that does not imitate his words:

Youth's golden boon, that radiant eye,
gone already, not gained anew: (93)

That's rather far from the original meaning, however, but, having broken the spell of word-for-word rendering, we can write:

Boon of youth, now hastening by,
Gold that Heaven cannot renew: (94)

Or perhaps:

Soon is youth now hastening by,
riches that Heaven will not renew: (95)

which echoes some of the assonance and syllable structure of the original:

Ju ven tud | di vi no | te so ro = 9/4
ya te vas | pa ra | no vol ver = 8/4

Soon is youth | now hastening by, =8/4
riches that Heaven | will not renew. =9/4

Though I'd prefer a more idiomatic diction:

Already our treasure is passing by:
youth, which Heaven will not renew: (96)

Already our treasure | is passing by: =10/4
youth which Heaven | will not renew.=8/4

Or concentrate more on the prose sense:

Left that treasure, and now gone on by,
my youth, which Heaven won't renew. (97)

Which as a similar pattern (but reversed) to the original, though not as neat or beautiful:

Left that treasure, | now gone on by, =8/4
my youth that Heaven | will not renew. =9/4

Which is probably trying too hard. This is more natural:

Already that treasure | is passing by: =10/4
my youth which Heaven | will not renew.=9/4 (98)

Or we can tie the couplet together with assonance, using 'n' and the 'oo' sound where Darío employs the repeated 't' and 'v':

Life's boon already now passing by:
youth, which Heaven will not renew. (99)

Life's boon already | now passing by:
youth which Heaven | will not renew.

Or, again, not being so clever (but picking up the 'th'):

Already that boon is passing by:
youth, which Heaven will not renew. (100)

Already that boon | is passing by: =9/4
youth which Heaven | will not renew. =8/4

Everyone, your author included, would hope that's enough of variations. But in looking back, and against what the analysis immediately above suggest, these renderings still sound forced, and it may be better to trust the creative impulse and write something simpler:

Already blessings are passing by:
youth, which Heaven will not renew. (101)

Which has this structure:

Already blessings | are passing by: =9/4
youth which Heaven | will not renew. =8/4

Or return to a variation of (96)

So soon then, youth, you're hastening by,
treasure that Heaven will not renew: (102)

So soon then youth | you're hastening by =9/4
treasure that Heaven | will not renew =9/4

Finally, and probably best, we can give up hopes of matching the sound and syllable patterning in another language, but write something that uses the same approach, though in reverse:

Youth's heavenly splendour, gold on high,
so now you leave me, lost to view! (103)

Youth's heavenly | splendour | gold on high =9/4
so now | you leave me | lost to view =8/4

Or, with a more idiomatic second line:

Youth's heavenly splendour, youth's gold on high,
now you go, not to come anew! (104)

Youth's heavenly | splendour | gold on high =9/4
now you go, | not to come | a new! =8/4

Or the briefer:

Youth's heavenly splendour, youth's rich eye,
now you go, not to come anew! (105)

Heavenly | splendour | youth's rich eye =8/4
now you go, | not to come | a new! =8/4

The original is simpler in the first line, and its caesura comes after the third syllable:

Ju ven tud | di vi no | te so ro = 9/4
ya te vas | pa ra | no vol ver = 8/4

Or, if we're sticklers for the prose meaning:

Youth, our treasure, from on high,
now you go, nor will come anew. (106)

with its flatter first line.

Youth | our treasure | from on high =7/4
now you go | nor will come anew=8/4

Perhaps too much so. We might do better with:

Youth's heavenly treasure, from on high,
now you leave, nor come anew. (107)

Youth's heavenly treasure | from on high=9/4
now you leave | nor come anew=8/4

And so on: time to stop.

Shortcomings

What isn't generally brought out in the rendering of the whole poem is Darío's interlacing of feminine and masculine line endings. Translation is always a balance of opportunities, and I have tried to convey here more the musicality and lucent language of the original. {6} The Spanish text follows:

Canción de Otoño en Primavera

Juventud, divino tesoro,
ya te vas para no volver!
Cuando quiero llorar, no lloro. . .
y a veces lloro sin querer. . .

Plural ha sido la celeste
historia di mi corazón.
Era una dulce niña, en este
mundo de duelo y aflicción.

Miraba como El alba pura;
sonreía como una flor.
Era su cabellera obscura
hecha de noche y de dolor.

Yo era tímido como un niño.
Ella, naturalmente, fue
para mi amor hecho de armiño,
Herodías y Salomé. . .

Juventud, divino tesoro,
ya te vas para no volver!
Cuando quiero llorar, no lloro. . .
y a veces lloro sin querer. . .

Y más consoladora y más
halagadora y expresiva
la otra fue más sensitiva,
cual no pensé encontrar jamás.

Pues a su continua ternura
una pasión violenta unía.
En un peplo de gasa pura
una bacante se envolvía. . .

En brasos tomó mi ensueño
y lo arrulló como un bebé. . .
y le mató, triste y pequeño,
falto de luz, falta de fe. . .

Juventud, divino tesoro,
ya te vas para no volver!
Cuando quiero llorar, no lloro. . .
y a veces lloro sin querer. . .

Otra juzgó que era mi boca
El estuche de su pasión;
y que me roería, loca,
con sus dientes El corazón,

poniendo en un amor de exceso
la mira de su voluntad,
mientras eran abrazo y beso
síntesis de la eternidad;

y de nuestra carne ligera
imaginó siempre un Edén,
sin pensar que la Primavera
y la carne acaban también. . .

Juventud, divino tesoro,
ya te vas para no volver!
Cuando quiero llorar, no lloro. . .
y a veces lloro sin querer. . .

Y las demás! En tantos climas,
en tantas tierras siempre son,
si no pretextos di mis rimas,
fantasmas de mi corazón.

En vano busqué a la princesa
que estaban triste de esperar.
La visa Es dura. Amarga y pesa.
Ya no hay princesa que cantar!

Mas a pesar del tiemp terco,
MI sed de amor no tiene fin;
con El cabello gris, me acerco
a los rosales del jardín. . .

Juventud, divino tesoro,
ya te vas para no volver!
Cuando quiero llorar, no lloro. . .
y a veces lloro sin querer. . .

Mas es mía el alba de oro!

Notes and References

1. Spanish Versification. Fred Jehle. Jan. 2003. http://users.ipfw.edu/jehle/poesia/sylcount.htm. Rhyme, assonance and syllable count, plus excellent listing of Spanish poets.
2. Spanish Prosody. Vern G. Williamsen and J. T. Abraham. Apr. 1998. http://www.coh.arizona.edu/spanish/comedia/misc/poetic1.html NNA. Brief but useful account.
3. Stanley Applebaum, Stories and Poems / Cuentos y Poesías: Rubén Darío. Dover Publications, Inc. New York. 2002.
4. Poems often require extensive tinkering. Vernon Watkins averaged fifty drafts for every poem he published, five hundred in one case: David Perkins, A History of Modern Poetry (Belknap Press. 1987), 197.
5. Yolanda Blanca, Salomón de la Selva on Rubén Darío. Dariano. http://www.dariana.com/eleven_poems.html 19th June 2004.
6. "Rubén Darío . . . brought a ringing message of confidence and a range of verbal melodies such as Spain had never heard before. His metrical innovations, his rippling, lucent language, his unquestioning devotion to his art, did something to comfort Spain for her territorial losses by providing her with a new poetry. Through him men of pre-eminent gifts like Antonio Machado and Juan Ramón Jiménez found their true selves and inaugurated an era of creative activity which lasted till the Civil War. Yet, great though Darío's influence undoubtedly was, its results were paradoxical. The poets whom he inspired reacted against his methods and were in no sense his disciples. There is no trace of his mellifluous ease in the Castilian austerity of Machado or the delicate impressionism of Jiménez. Nor has his reputation for originality weathered the years. It is true that he did something that had never been done before in Spanish and that he handled the language with a dexterity which first shocked, and then enthralled, a generation which had come to believe that poetry was dying from inanition, but we can now see that much of his work was not ultimately original but a brilliant transposition into Spanish of French images and cadences." C. M. Bowra, Inspiration and Poetry (Macmillan, 1955), 242. Q

7. What has Sanskrit to do with it? Only this: by meeting the challenges of different styles we develop a flexibility needed to continually improve, just as a dancer in extending her repertoire finds what she has learned for one passage helps her to do more in another.

 

The final version is included in Diversions, a free pdf collection of translations published by Ocaso Press.

 

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