Sunday, June 20, 2010

More on translation--a poem by Mario Benedetti

Here is a poem by Mario Benedetti that demonstrates some of the difficulties with translating. I will give the Spanish version first, followed by the English translation in the book I have, and then the way I would translate and why.

Ser y estar

Oh marine
oh boy
una de tus dificultades consiste en que no sabes
distinguir el ser del estar
para ti todo es to be

así que probemos a aclarar las cosas

por ejemplo
una mujer es buena
cuando entona desafinadamente los salmos
y envía mensualmente su perro al analista
y sólo enfrente el sexo los sábados de noche

en cambio una mujer está buena
cuando la miras y pones los perplejos ojos en blanco
y la imaginas y la imaginas y la imaginas
y hasta crees que tomando un martini te vendría el coraje
pero ni así

por ejemplo
un hombre es listo
cuando obtiene millones por teléfono
y evade la conciencia y los impuestos
y abre una buena póliza de seguros
a cobrar cuando llegue a sus setenta
y sea el momento de viajar en excursióna capri y a parís
y consiga violar a la gioconda en pleno louvre
con la vertiginosa polaroid

en cambio un hombre está listo
cuando ustedes
oh marine
oh boy
aparecen en el horizonte
para inyectarle democracia.

Being and Seeming (trans. by Charles Dean Hatfield)

Oh marine
oh boy
part of your problem is that you don't know
the difference between "being" and "seeming"
to you everything just "is"

now let me explain

for example
a woman "is" good
when she sings the psalms out of tune
and gets a new refrigerator every two years
and sends her dog to an analyst every month
and only deals with sex on saturday nights

on the other hand, a woman "seems" good (at least to me)
when you gaze at her and your puzzled eyes go blank
and you dream of her dream of her dream of her
and think that a martini will give you the courage
when not even that'll do it

for example
a man "is" done
when he earns millions over the phone
and evades taxes and his conscience
and buys into a good retirement plan
to cash in when he turns seventy
and it's time to fly to capri and paris
where he gets to rape the gioconda right in the louvre
with his speedy polaroid.

on the other hand,
a man "seems" done (done-for, that is)
when you boys
oh marine
oh boy
appear on the horizon
to give him a dose of democracy.

My translation and rationale follow in the next post.


Anonymous said...

This is the worst translation I have ever seen. Please remove it.

silkpjs said...

Au contraire, I love it! It's so not literal, It's so much in the spirit of to be and to be...

George Cowgill said...

I am a native speaker of English, with a fair knowledge of Spanish. When I see things posted in Spanish on Facebook there is often a translation offered by Bing. Sometimes I try to guess what the translation will be and then click on it to see what it is. Sometimes it's basically accurate, if a little clunky. Other times it's more hilarious than anything a human could invent. Difficulties like ser vs. estar pale by comparison.

Surplus said...

"una mujer es buena" -> "a woman "is" good" me parece bien traducido.
Pero traducir "una mujer está buena" como "a woman "seems" good" me parece una muy mala traduccion porque "seem" alude a apariencia y nadie dice "Francisca parece estar buena" pues aunque hay sorpresas (ni digamos si se trata de un Francisco) en este tema tomamos la apariencia como lo real. Uno no mira una mujer que esta buena y a continuación dispara un proceso cerebral para validar si esta buena realmente o es pura "construcción" cosmetica, ropa, etc.

Alizo Writero said...

Vereidigte Übersetzer That isn't my area of expertise.

Unknown said...

In my opinion, this is a good translation. Although it not not directly word-for-word, the underlying subtleties of the Spanish language are highlighted with additional English phrases. By this, I mean that the message of the poem is made clear with additional English than just a direct Spanish to English translation would be.

I am sure the word "rape" seems severe to English speakers, but that is truly what Benedetti says. The translation of "violate" instead of "rape" in this place is point blank incorrect, no matter how horrific that terminology or use of that word may be.