Three Poems Translated

Poetry cannot be translated. So too, other than for giving a reader the raw idea of what is being said, any literal translation is especially negligible. The translator must be someone capable of writing decent if not inspired English poetry, whatever that might mean. Therefore, if one does attempt the translation of a poem, it must be ruthless, a culling from the bloody heart of both tongues. In other words, one may only create a poem in the target language that is its own poem with echoes, distortions, and intentions pointing to those places that the original also points out. So, that being said, here are three of my favorite poems from the Spanish, German, and French by Neruda, Rilke and Prevert, respectively.

These translations are very much, in an effort of love and intellect, an attempt to convey the beauty, wordplay and sound-play in the originals — and this explains some of my  perhaps more daring  “choices” — first person tense, ellipses, metaphor shifts, occasional sound emphasis over word sense — choices I prefer to call “intelligently risky”  as they are collectively my attempts to “transmogrify” these lovely poems into some semblance of a worthy English simulacrum.  Caveat emptor!

Anoche al apagar la luz
se me durmieron las raíces
y se me quedaron los ojos
enredados entre las hojas
hasta que, tarde, con la sombra
se me cayó una rama al sueño
y por el tronco me subió
la fría noche de cristal
como una iguana transparente.
Entonces me quedé dormido.
Cerré los ojos y las hojas.
Pablo Neruda


Last night, putting the light
out, my deep roots slept
but my eyes strayed, open
tangled in between leaves
until, later, the shadow
of a branch fell over my dream
and I rose up into the trunk
of the cold night, a crystal
transparent iguana.

I slept soundly then.

I closed my eyes and my leaves.

translated by Kurt Lovelace,
Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved


Herr: Es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Aleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben

Rainer Maria Rilke

Fall Day

God! Is it time? Summer was so thick:
dragging its slow shadows over sundials,
and in the meadows its winds still rip loose!

Hear us! Let our last fruits fatten into fullness;
give us two more sun-drenched days
plumping all into ripeness till hither and thither
the last sweet drops drain into swarthy wine.

Whoever has no house, you’ll not build it now.
If you’re alone, it‘ll stay that way, a long time
you will stay awake, reading, writing long letters
as you walk alone shuffling, here and there
disturbed, wandering where leaves tremble.
translated by Kurt Lovelace,
Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved

Déjeuner du matin

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s’est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu’il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
Et moi j’ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j’ai pleuré.

Jacques Prevert

Breakfast at the Dinner

He pours coffee
into the cup.
He pours milk
into the cup of coffee.
He sprinkles sugar
atop the café au lait,
and with a little spoon
stirs it round.
He finishes his café au lait.
He reposes cup in saucer.
Not one word spoken,
he lights up
a cigarette.
He blows round
smoke rings.
He taps ash
into the ashtray.
Never speaking to me,
never regarding me,
he readies to leave, places
hat on head,
throws on his coat
because rain is splashing down
pouring into puddles
as he leaves me,
turning into the splashing
rain, never speaking
nor regarding me once.
And I, eyes
splashing into the ground
of my hands,

translation by Kurt Lovelace
copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved