TRANSLATING RÚBEN DARÍO 2

translating dario 3Points Illustrated

Taking liberties with the original to a. find an appropriate form and b. convey the tone.

 A Margarita Debayle

Rubén Darío's little poem was a set piece in schools a generation or so ago, and is still a favourite of many Latin American readers. For translators the challenge is its charm and simplicity, and the metrical skill required to convey that. The full Spanish text is given below, and the translation is in the Exhibits section, but here we look at some problem areas.

First the opening lines: Spanish and literal translation:

Margarita, está linda la mar,
y el viento
lleva esencia sutil de azahar;
yo siento
en El alma una alondra cantar;
tu acento.
Margarita, te voy a contar
un cuento.

Margarita, is beautiful the sea,
and the wind
brings subtle essence of orange blossom;
I feel
in my heart a skylark sing;
your accent.
Margarita, I am going to tell you
a story.

A literal translation is banal, the worst of sentimentality. We have to capture some of the neatness of the original, with its interlacing of long and short lines, the masculine and feminine rhymes (see the previous Darío translation for an explanation of the syllable counts {6} {7}):

Mar | ga | ri | ta es | tá | lin | da | la | mar | 9 + 1 a
y el | vi en | to 3+1 b
lle | va e | sen | ci a | su | til | de a | za | har 9 + 1 a
yo | si en | to 3+1 b
en | el | al | ma un | a a | lon | dra | can | tar 9 + 1 a
tu a | cen | to. 3+1 b
Mar | ga | ri | ta | te | voy | a | con | tar 9 + 1 a
un | cu en | to. 3+1 b

The real difficulty is those short lines, each with one stress: supported in Spanish with its abundance of rhyme words but needing longer lines to capture the content in English:

Margarita, how beautiful the sea is: 5 a
still and blue. 2 b
The orange blossom in the breezes 5 a
drifting through. 2 b
In my heart a skylark has in glory 5 c
your accent too: 2 b
Here, Margarita, is a story 5 c
told to you. 2 b

The answer, I think, is to allow some licence, keeping the rhyme scheme but replacing the 5 2 stress lines with 3 3:

Margarita, how beautiful the sea is: 5 a
still and blue. 2 b
The orange blossom in the breezes 5 a
drifting through. 2 b
The skylark in its glory 3 c
has your accent too: 3 b
Here, Margarita, is a story 5 c
made for you. 2 b

 Further Liberties

Except for the opening and closing stanzas, the structure of Rubén Darío's poem is close to English quatrains (but see the earlier Dario translation for the note on Spanish versification).

Y el | rey | di | jo | qué | tehas | he | cho | 8 a
Tehe | bus | ca | doy | no | teha | llé | 7+1 b
y | qué | tie | nes | en | el | pe | cho | 8 a
queen | cen | di | do | se | te | ve | 7+1 b

And the king said,"What have you done?
I searched for you and did not find you.
And what do you have in your breast
that we see lit up in you?'

Unfortunately, the translation is sometimes insufficient to fill out this shape, and the 4a 3b 4a 3b ballad form suggests itself. Should we use it?

The king then said, 'When out of sight
I travelled without rest.
And could not find you: what's that light
we see within your breast?

1. No: however correct for sense, this is asinine verse. I'd suggest we add words to maintain the spirit of the stanza, even if far from a dictionary rendering:

Which the king noted, said: you,
child, drive me past despair,
but what is this strange, shining dew
on your hands, your face, your hair?

2. And stretch out or slow the metre with long vowels:

La princesa se entristece
por su dulce flor de luz,
cuando entonces aparece
sonriendo el buen Jesús.

The princess grows sad
for her sweet flower of light
when there appears smiling
the good Jesus.

So sad was then our little princess
looking at her sweet flower of light,
until and smiling at her distress
there stood the Lord Jesus Christ.

3. Depart very much from the original in meaning and metre, if necessary turning iambic into stress metre:

La quería para hacerla
decorar un prendedor,
con un verso y una perla,
una pluma y una flor.

She wanted it to have it
decorate a brooch,
with a poem and a pearl,
a feather and a flower.

It would form the centrepiece
of a brooch hung with verse, pearl,
feathers, flowers: a caprice
of course of a little girl.

4. Lose the metre altogether but mark the line endings with rhyme: the rhyme is then quite incidental to the structure, as is Georg Chapman's Iliad.

Y el papa dice enojado:
"Un castigo has de tener:
vuelve al cielo, y lo robado
vas ahora a devolver".

And the father said, angered:
"A punishment you have to undergo;
return to the sky and what you stole
you are now going to return."

Whereupon, in punishment,
the king said, I'd be much beholden
if you'd go this moment and consent
to return what you have stolen.

No doubt these are free renderings with a vengeance, but the intention is to make a poem that works in English, reproducing some of the rhythmic variety of Darío's Spanish. This, rather than the story, is where the charm really lies — with, of course, the tone.

 Tone

The poem was written for the daughter of a friend. We may not today see children in quite so kindly a light, but we have a responsability to be faithful to the sentiments of the poem. Hence some of these renderings, which emphasize the gentle and playful: literal and free versions:

And followed the way above,
past the moon and more there
more than bad for her to go
without the permission of papa.

She went beyond where the heavens are
and to the moon said, au revoir.
How naughty to have flown so far
without the permission of Papa.

and

And the king cried" "Have I not told you
That in the blue there are things not to touch?
What an error! what a caprice!
The Lord is going to be angry.

Are then the heavens for our display,
with things that you must touch?
You can be altogether too outré,
child, for God to like you much.

 Other Translations

To illustrate Darío's range, and the difficulties in conveying sentiments that are not to our taste today — or not to this writer's taste — I add two further translations in the Exhibits section: Sonatina and Marcha Triunfal.

 Spanish Text

The Spanish text is:

Margarita, está Linda la mar,
y el viento
lleva esencia sutil de azahar;
yo siento
en el alma una alondra cantar;
tu acento.
Margarita, te voy a contar
un cuento.

"Éste era un rey que tenía
un palacio de diamantes,
una tienda hecha del día
y un rebaño de elefantes.

Un quiosco de malaquita,
un gran manto de tisú,
y una gentil princesita, tan bonita,
Margarita, tal bonita como tú.

Una tarde la princesa
vio una estrella aparecer;
la princesa era traviesa
y la quiso ir a coger.

La quería para hacerla
decorar un prendedor,
con un verso y una perla,
una pluma y una flor.

A princesas primorosas
se parecen mucho a ti
cortan lirios, cortan rosas,
cortan astros. Son así.

Pues se fue la niña bella,
bajo el cielo y sobre El mar,
a cortar la blanca estrella
que la hacía suspirar

Y siguió camino arriba,
por la luna y más allá,
mas lo malo es que ella iba
sin permisio del papá.

Cuando estuvo ya de vuelta
de los parques del Señor,
se miraba toda envuelta
en un dulce resplandor.

Y el rey dijo: "Qué te has hecho?
Te he buscado y no te hallé;
y que tienes en el pecho,
que encendido se te ve?"

La princesa no mentía.
Y asi, dijo la verdad:
"Fui a cortar la estrella mía
a la azul inmensidad".

Y el rey clama: "No te he dicho
que el azul no hay que tocar?
Qué locura! Qué capricho!
El Señor se va a enojar".

Y dice ella: "No hubo intento;
yo me fui no sé por qué.
Por las olas y en el viento
fui a la estrella y la corté"

Y el papa dice enojado:
"Un castigo has de tener:
vuelve al cielo, y lo robado
vas ahora a devolver".

La princesa se entristece
por su dulce flor de luz,
cuando entonces aparece
sonriendo el buen Jesús.

Y asi dice: "En mis campiñas
esa rosa le ofrecí;
son mis flores de las niñas
que al sonar piensan en mí".

Viste el rey ropas brillantes,
y luego hace desfilar
cuatrocientos elefantes
a la orilla de la mar.

La princesa está bella,
pues ya tiene el prendedor
en que lucen, con la estrella,
verso, perla, pluma y flor.

Margarita, esta lindá la mar,
y el viento
lleva esencia sutil de azahar:
tu aliento.

Y que lejos de mí vas a estar,
guarda, niña, un gentil pensamiento
al que un día te quiso contar
un cuento.

 Literal Version

A literal rendering:

Margarita, is beautiful the sea,
and the wind
brings subtle essence of orange blossom;
I feel in my heart a skylark sing.
Margarita, I am going to tell you
a story.

"There was a king who had
a palace of diamonds,
a shop made of the day
and a herd of elephants.

A kiosk of malachite,
a large cloak of material,
and a charming/graceful little princess,
as pretty, Margarita,
as pretty as you.

One afternoon the princess
saw a star appear;
the princess was naughty
and wanted to go and collect it.

She wanted it to have it
decorate a brooch,
with a poem and a pearl,
a feather and a flower.

The adorable princesses
Much resemble you:
they cut lilies, they cut roses,
they cut asters. So it is.

Then went the beautiful little girl
below the sky and over the sea,
to cut the white star
that made her sigh.

And followed the way above,
past the moon and more there
more than bad for her to go
without the permission of papa.

Once she had returned
from the parks of the Lord,
was seen all around
a sweet/soft brilliance.

And the king said,"What have you done?
I searched for you and did not find you.
And what do you have in your breast
that we see lit up in you?'

The princess did not lie
And so she spoke the truth:
I went to cut my star
Of the blue immensity.

And the king cried" "Have I not told you
That in the blue there are things not touch?
What an error! what a caprice!
The Lord is going to be angry.

And said she: "I did not mean to,
I went, I don't know why,
through the waves and the wind
I went to the star and I cut it.

And the father said, angered:
"A punishment you have to undergo;
return to the sky and what you stole
you are now going to return."

The princess grows sad
for her sweet flower of light
when there appears smiling
the good Jesus.

And so says, "In my fields
that rose I offered to you;
they are my flowers of the children
that in sleeping they think of me.

Dressed the king in brilliant clothes,
and then has parade
four hundred elephants
on the shores of the sea.

The little princess is beautiful
Now that she already has the brooch
In which shines, with the star,
Poem, pearl, feather and flower.

Margarita, beautiful is the sea,
and the wind
carries a subtle essence of orange blossom:
your breath.

Since far from me you are going to be,
keep, little girl, a gentle thought
that one day I wanted to tell you
a story.

Notes and References

1. Antología virtual de literatura latinoamericana. José O. Alvarez. 1999. http://www.angelfire.com/id/ssims/antologiageneral.html Good listing of sites for Rubén Darío and other poets of Latin America.
2. Rubén Darío. http://oldpoetry.com/authors/Ruben%20Dario NNA. Short biography and translations of 12 poems.
3. Rubén Darío y su otra trilogía. Julio Valle-Castillo. Jan 2004. http://www.elnuevodiario.com.ni/archivo/2004/febrero/10-febrero-2004/cultural/cultural7.html. Critical article, in Spanish.
4. Rubén Darío en la Biblioteca Nacional de Chile. http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/portal/bnc/dario/dario.shtml. Attractive biography, in Spanish.
5. Stanley Applebaum, Stories and Poems / Cuentos y Poesías: Rubén Darío. Dover Publications, Inc. New York. 2002.
6. 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.
7. 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

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

 

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