In my previous post I introduced poem “La dernière translation” by Portuguese poet Millôr Fernandes, translated to Spanish by Miguel Marqués. Today, I have the honor to present you Miguel’s insightful explanation of his translation technique.
When I read about Aleksandra’s challenge for literary translators, I was immediately thrilled. I did not know Millôr Fernandes, but rapidly got around to find out about him and learnt he was quite a character: a cartoonist, humorist and playwright. He was also a poet. And a language lover who wanted to discover the way languages interweave, or make speakers interweave them. His poem La dernière translation made me smile, and wonder, and also remembered me of an article by a great Argentinean translator, language lover as well and how they concoct together in our minds and daily lives, Mario Merlino: «Notations casi musicais à propos de la göttliche superbia del translator che non se stanca de tropezar» (available at Vasos Comunicantes, no. 35, p. 7). Quite something.
I am not a translator of Portuguese, but I know the language sufficiently to understand the poem in its original version, which I used as a primary source for my translation into Spanish. I also consulted the translation into English by Clifford E. Landers posted by Aleksandra.
From a lexical point of view, since Portuguese and Spanish are so close, this translation is based mostly on cognates (velho-viejo, ofício-oficio, infinito-infinito). At some points I have deliberately not used cognates just to achieve a rhythm that I liked most in Spanish. For example, I used mediador instead of the cognate intermediario because I liked better the sound and rhythm given by the former – thinking that mediador made the rhythm of the Spanish verse closer to the original’s. In one case, the Spanish cognate is a word much less used in Spanish than the original Portuguese word in Portuguese: allende is a cognate of além, but in Spanish it is an archaic word whose meaning is nowadays rendered by the prepositional group más allá. In this case, I decided to keep allende in Spanish for aesthetical and lexical reasons (note the Biblical, archaic-sounding context).
It should be noted that the fact that cognates are used has made easier to keep the rhyme of the original poem in the Spanish version: essencial, universal and inicial translate just as esencial, universal and inicial, providing exactly the same rhyme in Spanish. Same thing with enfim-latim (en fin-latín) and ele em-Amén (él en-Amén).
From a grammatical and syntactical point of view, Portuguese and Spanish are so close that structures are nearly carbon-copied. Maybe, the only difference between the structures of these two languages that may be seen in the original and translated version of the poem is the word order pronoun+verb in Portuguese (se dirigindo, lhe dando), as Spanish word order in this case is verb+pronoun, where pronouns are enclitic (dirigiéndose, dándole).
I did have a look at the English version of the poem to check how Supremo Mistério had been translated, as I was not sure if it was making reference to some particular theological concept (I concluded it is just a down to earth way to talk about God).
Obviously, it is quite remarkable that in this translation there is quite a lot of content that we must kept as is, i. e., words in other languages than source and translation languages (in this poem, we find Italian, French, German and Latin). There is also a Spanish word in the original poem (pájaro). What to do? In the Spanish version, I decided to switch its position with the Portuguese original word (seemed to me the most logical and fair thing to do).
Other aspects usually considered minor seem relevant in this poem: typography. In the original I did not see italics (at least not on this version, unfortunately I did not have access to a print), but in the English version, Landers seems to italicize all not-English words. I decided to do the same in my translated version. Plus, there is another visual petty detail: there are a lot of question marks in this poem, which mark the tone and also, graphically, the end of seven verses. In Spanish, we have opening (¿) and closing (?) question marks, so that number is doubled, which gives a distinct graphical rhythm to the Spanish version of the poem.
So, that is all! I have just tried to write down some of the stuff I reasoned while translating and I do not expect that this is considered a fair translation into Spanish, since I am not a qualified Portuguese-Spanish translator (I am sorry about that!). My concern is primarily in sharing the brain storming translators go through when translating, poetry in particular. I hoped you enjoyed it!
Miguel Marqués is legal, technical and literary translator and localizer (EN->ES, ES->EN, FR->ES). He also worked as an interpreter and teacher of Spanish as a second language with a broad freelance and in-house experience both in Europe and the Americas. His colleagues describe him as a very professional linguist and excellent translator who is able to learn very quickly about new tools or client’s specifications. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.