Tag: jorge luis borges

Jorge Luis Borges, “No eres los otros” (plus a rant on translations)

poetry

No te habrá de salvar lo que dejaron
Escrito aquellos que tu miedo implora;
No eres los otros y te ves ahora
Centro del laberinto que tramaron
Tus pasos. No te salva la agonía
De Jesús o de Sócrates ni el fuerte
Siddharta de oro que aceptó la muerte
En un jardín, al declinar el día.
Polvo también es la palabra escrita
Por tu mano o el verbo pronunciado
Por tu boca. No hay lástima en el Hado
Y la noche de Dios es infinita.
Tu materia es el tiempo, el incesante
Tiempo. Eres cada solitario instante.

And in English, translated by yours truly:

The writings left behind by those whom
Your fears implore won’t have to save you;
You are not the others and you see yourself
Now at the center of the labyrinth woven
By your own steps. The agonies of Jesus or
Socrates will not save you, nor will the
Strength of Golden Siddhartha who,
At the end of the day, accepted death
In the garden. The word written
By your hand or the verb spoken
By your lips, these too are dust. Fate has no pity,
And God’s night is infinite.
Your matter is time, ceaseless
Time. You are each solitary moment.

* * *

It’s a beautiful poem, isn’t it? One of my favorites, in any language. The message in it is very important to me too, which is why I felt the need to put it in my own words, so to speak. The current published translation, though useful as a guide for me and my rusty Spanish, I feel did not do justice to Borges’ simple language. The translator (clearly a poet himself) had really gone all poet-y on it and added a great deal of flowery language that was very obviously not in the original poem. Having a pretty decent understanding of Spanish, I understand that a word-for-word translation is both impossible and unwieldy, and that certain certain changes and assumptions must be made in the translation (notably for this poem, any English version loses the beautiful rhyming in Spanish, such as fuerte/muertestrength/death). But to alter a poem, especially one by a master such as Borges, with your own “interpretation” rather than translation is, frankly, insulting to the author and the reader. It somehow implies that the translator knows more what Borges meant than Borges did. It’s important to understand the poet’s intent and adapt it to your language, but I feel it’s more important to let the work speak for itself with as little manipulation as possible.

Look at the last three lines:

Y la noche de Dios es infinita.
Tu materia es el tiempo, el incesante
Tiempo. Eres cada solitario instante.

I wrote it out almost literally:

And God’s night is infinite.
Your matter is time, ceaseless
Time. You are each solitary moment.

The published translation goes:

And the enduring night of God is boundless.
Your matter is time, its unchecked and unreckoned
Passing. You are each solitary second.

Enduring? Unchecked? Unreckoned? Passing? I don’t see these words in the original. I would assume that if Borges wanted those words included, he would have included them. But hey, maybe this person’s translation is better. I mean what do I know. His is published and mine isn’t. It just seems right to take Borges at face value and not dress it up so much.

Lines Written: Jorge Luis Borges

lines writtenwriting

Interviewer: In your Antologia Personal
Borges: Look here, I want to say that that book is full of misprints. My eyesight is very dim and the proofreading had to be done by somebody else.
Interviewer: I see, but those are only minor errors, aren’t they?
Borges: Yes, I know, but they creep in, and they worry the writer, not the reader. The reader accepts everything, no? Even the starkest nonsense.

From The Paris Review Interviews, vol. I