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NERUDA IN ENGLISH: THE CONTROVERSY OVER TRANSLATION POETICS / Jonathan Cohen THE POETRY of Pablo Neruda has been appearing in English translation since the mid-thirties. By now, to be sure, he is one of the most widely translated of all modern poets; in fact, such a poem as "Walking Around," originally published in 1935, has appeared in no fewer than twelve different English versions. The controversy surrounding the poetics of Neruda translation has proliferated along with the translations. By examining the various issues behind this controversy we can see why Neruda's many translators have created different, even conflicting, impressions of his poetry, and why translation is bound to generate controversy. The early translators of Neruda, working in the thirties and forties, were more interested in the original Spanish than in their English versions of it. These scholars, usually professors of Romance languages, were primarily interested in understanding what Neruda had said, and so they tended to employ a literalist approach. In 1934, in the preface to his translations, G. Dundas Craig explained: In making the translations, I have tried to steer a middle course between the literal prose translation and the poetic paraphrase. Undoubtedly, the prose translation gives the closest approximation to the poet's meaning . . . The modern poet — and particularly the Parnassian — insists ... on the music of his verse; and it is but fair that the translator should attempt to reproduce some of the effect at which the poet aimed. The poetic paraphrase, however . . . demands of the translator an endowment of poetic genius to which I can make no claim.1 Craig was reluctant to inject Neruda with his own peculiarities; he felt they would only obscure Neruda's personality. So, for example, in his translation of "Maestranzas de noche" ("Machine Shops at Night"), one of Neruda's earliest poems of social protest, Craig burdened the English with clumsy Latinate words, even false cognates, and followed the Spanish word order slavishly. The opening lines of the original poem are: Fierro negro que duerme, fierro negro que gime por cada poro un grito de desconsolación.2 Craig translated them this way: 176 · The Missouri Review Black iron sleeping, iron black that groans through every pore with moans disconsolate.3 As a result, though he hoped to retain the rhythmical and musical qualities of the original Spanish, Craig obscured the poetry in his use of English. He hoped to capture Neruda's poetic spirit in a translation which tended towards metaphrase, but failed because he did not effectively construct the proper body of words in which the spirit could reside. Like Craig, Dudley Fitts preferred a bilingual format, as in his Anthology of Contemporary Latin-American Poetry (1942), which presented translations designed to help the English-language reader enjoy the original poems in Spanish. He believed that any reader interested in so special a work as poetry from Latin America would not be entirely illiterate in foreign languages, so he insisted on literal versions which would not be poetry, "except accidentally." Reflecting on his theory of translation, Fitts later concluded ". . .a translation must fail to the extent that it leaves unaccounted for whatever aspects of the original it is unable to handle." Fitts was referring to such aspects as "nuances of diction, of sound, of tone, that make any good poem a discrete experience, an entity somehow different from any other good poem ever written."4 Fitts' early method steered the translator toward metaphrase and away from poetic paraphrase. For example, his translation of Neruda's "Ritual de mis piernas" ("Ritual of My Legs"), a poem in which Neruda expressed his pained sense of separation from the natural world, closes with the following lines: Siempre, productos manufacturados, medias, zapatos, o simplemente aire infinito, habrá entre mis pies y la tierra, extremando lo aislado y lo solitario de mi ser, algo tenazmente supuesto entre mi vida y la tierra, algo abiertamente invencible y enemigo.5 Fitts translated them as follows: Always, manufactured articles, hose, shoes, or simply infinite air, will come between my feet and the earth, intensifying what is isolated and solitary in my being, something doggedly thrust between my life and the earth, something clearly unconquerable and hostile...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 176-192
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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