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  • Love Unfaithful but True: Reflections on Amor infiel. Emily Dickinson por Nuria Amat
  • Carol Maier (bio)

In “Translating North American Poets,” a poem by Polish poet Julia Hartwig, the speaker begins by noting that North American poets in translation “might not care for such a change of place—,” or they might even “rebel against this uncalled-for move.” Almost immediately, though, the speaker addresses the poets themselves, reassuring them that “it’s not you but your poems that have wandered over to us,” and reporting that their poems were met with “a warm welcome” (15). Nothing in Hartwig’s lines suggests that Emily Dickinson was one of the poets Hartwig had in mind as she wrote her poem, but it’s hard not to think of Dickinson as one reads Hartwig’s poem. “The world,” whose lack of response Dickinson lamented in her lifetime, has written to Dickinson frequently since her death, and some of its most creative responses have taken the form of translations. It is impossible to know, of course, whether Dickinson would find pleasing the numerous changes of place, time, and guise those translations have involved, but many of her readers in English would no doubt find them troubling. I would argue, however, that even some of the changes that seem most radical, at times perhaps more radical than one can easily explain, much less justify, arise from a deep understanding of Dickinson’s work and offer a singular, provocative perspective on the consciousness-altering impact that she has had on so many readers.

I. Emulation

One of those readers, and a reader whose response might impress other Dickinson readers as controversial, is Nuria Amat. Born in 1950 and a native of Barcelona, where she lives, Amat is best known for her novels, which have received various honors, her short stories, and her literary essays, but she has [End Page 77] also published a biography of Mexican writer Juan Rulfo and work in poetry and drama. In addition, she holds a master’s degree in literature and a PhD in Library and Information Science; she has taught library and information science in Spain, and studied, traveled, lectured, and read from her work throughout the world. Deeply concerned about the role of the writer in “confused/confusing times” (“Escribir en tiempos confusos”), she contributes frequently to the Spanish press, and she is a strong advocate for a definition of Catalan literature that includes work, like her own, written in Castilian (Spanish) as well as Catalan. Her work has been translated into several languages; the translations into English include her novel Reina de América (translated as Queen Cocaine), a selection from her novel El país del alma [Country of the Soul], and an essay, “The Language of Two Shores,” which appeared in PMLA. In 2004, she published Amor infiel (“Faithless Love” or “Love Unfaithful”—I will return to the difference below), a collection of translations with the subtitle of Emily Dickinson por Nuria Amat.

Those translations arose from a conversation between Amat and her translator Peter Bush. At the time, as she notes in her afterword to Amor infiel, she was experiencing an acute crisis with respect to her writing; Reina de América had recently been published and, immersed in work on the Rulfo biography, she feared she might be suffering from the same “problems of creative sterility” that tormented Rulfo (396). Aware of her fondness for Dickinson’s work, Bush suggested that she translate some of Dickinson’s poems. At first, as Amat explains in the epilogue to Amor infiel, she felt daunted: what she most admires and finds especially moving about Dickinson’s poems is the sense that, despite their apparent simplicity, they “hide an enigma” that translators, led perhaps by excessive respect for the text or by a fear of revealing its “mystery,” often fail to decipher (396). Ironically, though, that failure on the part of Dickinson’s Spanish translators provided Amat with an additional impetus to create an Emily of her own, because she found the translations available in Spanish unsatisfactory. Either “too abstract” or “too close” (394), she believed that they left Spanish readers with an Emily Dickinson who was not...