I think the primary job of any translator of creative work from one language to another is to find the words and phrases in the second language that most closely adhere to those words in the first language, and above all does it so that the soulful spirit of the originals is duplicated. That’s the task, and it is seldom successfully performed. Spanish is a different language from English, to say the least. The driving emotional force of what I call Mediterranean South America is so far from the often mechanistic rationality of North America that American English, for me, often comes up short. Each of these poems by Neruda is a South American flame, lush and burning. I wanted my English to at least approximate that heat.
Edith Grossman, whose recent translation to English of Miguel de Cervantes’s monumental Don Quixote is surely one of the benchmark translations of any work from any language to any other, writes of the task of translating: “I call the undertaking utopian in the sense intended by Ortega y Gasset when he deemed translations utopian but then went on to say that all human efforts to communicate –even in the same language – are equally utopian, equally luminous with value, and equally worth the doing. Endeavoring to translate artful writing, particularly an indispensable work like Don Quixote, grows out of infinite optimism as the translator valiantly, perhaps quixotically, attempts to enter the mind of the first writer through the gateway of the text. It is a daunting and inspiring enterprise.”
So it was for me, attempting to translate these one hundred sonnets. Thankfully, it was not so daunting because the original poems offer themselves so openly. In that respect, I had an awful lot of help from Pablo Neruda. This translation was, though, to the benefit of my own heart and my work as a writer, an inspiring enterprise.
Causes Terence Clarke Supports