by Juan Arabia
Nos alejamos de la ciudad,
infortunio, infortunio, etcétera.
En la que ya no hacemos
Nuestra flauta quedó encerrada
en la raíz de un sauce:
destruyendo el suelo,
levantando calles y baldosas.
Nos vamos lejos, amigos:
donde las vacas beben,
donde la savia fluye.
Nuestros versos necesitan
pero en tierras más salvajes…
We leave the city behind,
misfortunes, miss for tunes, etcetera;
where we no longer sow
Our flute became trapped
inside a willow’s root —
punishing the ground,
upheaving streets and sidewalk slabs.
We set afar, among friends —
where cows sip,
where sap flows.
Our verses must
soar for judgement,
but in wild, wilder lands…
‘Juicio’ [Judgement]: first a noun, an act of assessment. Granted. But when we say judgement in poetry today, do we know what we are judging? Do we know whom? Is it the social function of the verses, utilitarian value, timeliness? How much heed do we pay to poetic diction, to versecraft? What about imagination and authorship? Answers will inevitably vary—from era to era, from ear to ear. Tell me what your perspective is and I will tell you how you judge. A holistic approach, however, sh*ould lead the reader to an awareness that neither poet nor poem operates in isolation, independent of language and tradition, detached from the array of linguistic symbols and established aesthetic practices... Octavio Paz tells us:
[No text is entirely original because language itself, in its essence, is already a translation; first from the non verbal world, and then, because each sign and each phrase is a translation of another sign and another phrase.]
Juan Arabia’s ‘Juicio’ reminds us of this, of a poem born from the shelves of poetry: the sonnet, a fourteen-line construct with a distinctive volta on the 9th line (‘We set afar, among friends —’). And, to some extent, it carries the lineage of other poems: Baudelaire’s ‘Le Voyage’, Pound’s opening of The Cantos, Pessoa’s ‘Viajar! Perder paizes!’ [To travel! Leave countries behind!], to mention but a few. In this sense ‘Juicio’ is a translation—of a motif in the world of letters harkening back through the centuries, namely the experience of poetry as departure, as wandering and wonderment, as quest. And, naturally, it isn’t one.
Settling on rhythm is a two-fold process: (1) scanning the source poem; (2) mimicking the rhythm as much as possible in the new version. The task becomes all the more challenging when performed across prosodic systems, as the case, for example, in a poem from Spanish (syllable-timed language) to English (stress-timed language).
[line 9] Nos vamos lejos, amigos: [2-4-7]
[literal translation] We’re leaving far, friends: [2-4-5]
[rhythmic translation] We set afar, among friends— [2-4-7]
I will spare the full scansion of ‘Jucio’ (30+ accented syllables) as well as of ‘Judgement’ (30+ beats). A few other lines from each poem should suffice to shed light on the driving principle underlying my translation.
More than an invitation or beckoning, ‘Juicio’ calls for a departure; a calling that becomes phonically intensified through three rhythmic patterns throughout the poem, as we can observe here:
En la que ya no hacemos [4-6]
en la raíz de un sauce: [4-6]
donde las vacas beben, [1-4-6]
donde la savia fluye. [1-4-6]
más canciones. [1-3]
ser juzgados, [1-3]
In the English translation, therefore, I sought to (1) reproduce three rhythmic patterns, preferably the same set of lines as the original (i.e., lines 3-6, 10-11, 4-13); (2) mimic the rhythm of each pair. While I succeeded in the former, in the latter I managed to replicate the rhythm of lines 4-13 [metrical positions 1-3] and (partially) of lines 3-6 [metrical positions 4-6].
where we no longer sow [2-4-6]
inside a willow’s root — [2-4-6]
where cows sip, 
where sap flows. 
any songs. [1-3]
soar for judgement, [1-3]
Based on the aforementioned, it should not be surprising that my English version semantically departs from the source poem in at least two instances (lines 2 and 13), both partly resulting from homophonic renderings. Content over sound represents a utilitarian stance. But a translation must aspire to be more than just functional.
As readers (and readers-translators), we need to come to poetry as a verb, insofar as we ought to engage with the how of the poem; that is, with how the poems does what it says it does, with how the poem poems. While 'Juicio' urges for a departure (whether physical and/or spiritual), it also enacts it by breaking away from the sonnet tradition (absence of rhyme scheme and endecasílabo, traditionally the poetic meter for this poetic form). Much like the original, a translation must depart from, transfigure, open toward — paradoxically seeking to become self-sufficient, autonomous.
The Galloping Hour: French Poems by Alejandra Pizarnik (co-translated with Forrest Gander; New Directions, 2018).
The Complete Works of Alberto Caeiro by Fernando Pessoa (co-translated with Margaret Jull-Costa; New Directions, 2020).
More of his work can be found in Asymptote, Buenos Aires Poetry, Lit Hub, The Paris Review, Words Without Borders, among others.