Sunday, 22 February 2009

las olas que faltan para morir

Como el náufrago metódico que contase las olas
que faltan para morir,
y las contase, y las volviese a contar, para evitar
errores, hasta la última,
hasta aquella que tiene la estatura de un niño
y le besa y le cubre la frente,
así he vivido yo con una vaga prudencia de
caballo de cartón en el baño,
sabiendo que jamás me he equivocado en nada,
sino en las cosas que yo más quería.


Like the methodical shipwrecked man
who counts how many waves he needs to die
and he counts them and he counts them again,
to avoid mistakes, until he gets to the last one
the one that is the height of a small child
and he kisses it and covers its forehead
that is how I have lived with a strange sort of care
like a cardboard horse in a bath
knowing that I have never made any mistakes
apart from the really important ones

translation by Rachel Fox


from luis rosales

as i am shipwrecked
counting the waves
one by one
of tides
as the white crests
fall and die

and to count
to return to
the safety of the count
to have method
to avoid mistakes
to be unequivocal
to catalogue
until that last one
the last wave
in a calming sea
gentle as child
kisses the shore

so i have always lived
with a vague care
a prudence
so i illustrate myself
simple, precise
sure in all things
except in those precious
beyond count
beyond measure
my fingers flail
in the grasp
of the blue ocean

'translation' by swiss

I'd like to thank Rachel and Swiss for this collaboration - their very different approaches to translation prove once again what a Sisyphic challenge poetry translation is and how controversial the translator's choices can be. I too have tried my own hand at it lately and yes, I agree with you, Rachel, it is a maddening affair. And, still puzzled by the many philosophical and poetical issues at stake, I remember Novalis tonight:

'The transforming translations [which, by the way, are not yet the ideal ones, these being only the 'mythical translations', but because they are impossible to achieve anyway, I left them aside], if they are to be authentic, require the highest poetic spirit. They easily lapse into travesty, like Bürger's iambic Homer, Pope's Homer
, and the French translations in their entirety. The true translator of this kind must in effect be the artist himself, able to render the idea of the whole in this or in that manner as he pleases. He must be the poet of the poet, able to let him speak simultaneously according to the poet's idea and to his own. The genius of humanity stands in a similar relation to each individual man'.


  1. I love Spanish language poetry, especially Garcia Lorca and Neruda, but I have to confess I didn't know the poet in this post, thanks fr introducing me to his work.

  2. Reflex sur eau que des beaux mots un Smith de chacun souscrit à une vue aussi soient-elle harmonie joue un rôle de l'âme humaine et de la pensée.

  3. Yes, Mary-Laure, I did a degree in Spanish and don't remember hearing his name either.

  4. Hello! 'Love Your words+Images!
    Regards from

  5. i'm loving the novalis quote.

    i did a thing at the stanza poetry festival last year where a bunch of translated a poem which, at least at the outset, seemed fairly straightforward but turned out to not be at all. we ended up with six rather different poems, all of which were shades of the original and all of which contributed to it. it was great fun!

    i wouldn't call what i've done here a translation - more a departure point, a transliteration, an exploration: doubtless there's a cool word in german that encompasses it all - these days i usually refer to them as versions. what method there is behind it (and it owes as much to music as writing) comes form lowell

    'Boris Pasternak has said that the usual reliable translator gets the literal meaning but misses the tone, and that in poetry tone is of course everything. I have been reckless with literal meaning, and laboured hard to get the tone. Most often this has been a tone, for the tone is something that will always more or less escape transference to another language and cultural moment. I have tried to write alive English and to do what my authors might hav done if they were writing their poems now and in America.'

  6. I love both these pictures, not sure which one the more. Pictures of water can convey such tranquility; or movement, when captured skillfully. You have managed both in this double act. bravo!

    the first one reminds me of the fishing boats in bengal too...

  7. fun to compare the translations, both very interesting in their differences! I love the top pic.

  8. knowing that I have never made any mistakes
    apart from the really important ones.

    How lovely - I don't know though, whether it's good that one makes the really important mistakes or bad?

    Gorgeous photos as always.

  9. incantatoare poza cu barca.
    am avut candva o seria dedicata in intregime barcilor. au ele un aer melancolic.

    place-mi deci ce ne daruiesti aici.

    cu drag si cu tot mai mult dor...

  10. Great shots!!! "More Please" :)
    Salutation from lisbon.

  11. when will it be, secret photographer?

  12. thank you, Peter. yes, I love this little poem. and so true.

    Mary-Laure & Rachel: I didn't know him either, but a dear friend gave this poem to me once, as a gift, and I was immediately taken with it.

    Siam, je vous remercie de tout coeur... oui, l'harmonie est primordiale, tout a fait.

    thank you and welcome, Tony, I'm glad you enjoyed.

    Emese, ce bine ca-ti place :-)

    swiss, I will think about that mythical german word :-) I didn't know how to call your poem, that's why I used inverted commas, I will change 'translation' to 'version'.
    thanks for the quote, too.
    I found this very interesting discussion about translating and re-creating and their limits on the site of this young romanian who is one of the most gifted translators for english poetry I have ever known. she's really brilliant. besides, you will find there a very interesting description of an ancient romanian custom celebrating the New Year (the little song accompanying the ritual is virtually impossible to translate, but she gives it a try):

    fishing boats in bengal, zuma... have you ever painted them? will you?

    sorlil, yes, I loved it, the way the two versions mirror each other, the images shifting, becoming slightly different, or enriched. especially what happens to the child image, the subtle way in which swiss changes the focus, brilliant.

    thank you, dear lotus, coming from you it is more than a compliment.

    sz, judging from the tone of the poem, I would say that this is more than bad, it is a disaster :-)

    nu ma asteptam sa-ti placa, ziceam ca e doar un peisaj banal pentru tine :-) vreau sa vad seria aia cu barcile. da, dan, tot cu dor si drag, la fel (cati 'd' s-au adunat aici :-)

    marc, thank you for visiting. Lisbon is a marvelous city, I visited it once, many years ago. I fell in love at first sight.

    JPJ, I was wondering whether you would see this. I don't know yet... counting the waves, me too.

  13. i don't know why, the empty boat breaks my heart

  14. I have. every bengali who likes to color boards tries a hand at our rivers and waters - watercolors of rural scenes of palm trees, and muddy tracks, and water,always water,are a staple wayfor representing bengal in art.But this much is true about Bengal (both sides of the border) - you are never more a stone's throw from water- be it a muddy pond,or a great yellow river, or the marshybanks of the sea itself which bears its name... though, to be honest, I have spent precious little time in Bengal (which proves why there is more romance than exasperation in myrecounting of it).

  15. oh, Manuela, I didn't think this to be a sad picture, but maybe the words made it seem like this? only melancholical, perhaps. I am sorry.

  16. zuma, you know what I will say now, of course. but I will elaborate in a letter, anyway :-)

  17. nice blog! sorcovi is what!!! lol.
    but good to read parallel texts like that.

    learning is a bit stalled at the moment due to work, gardens, dealines and all that. by the end of the summer i'll send you an mp3 of my efforts that'll make you laugh!

  18. swiss, can't wait to listen to that :-)

    trying to find an old picture of me (that is: showing me as a 7 year old sorcova-girl :-) to send it to you

  19. Thank you for this beautiful post.
    My first time to read these profound lines by Luis Rosales a few hours ago,
    posted on the wall of the mass rail transit here in Manila.
    A Tagalog translation was provided;
    the translator's take of the last line was peculiar---
    something like:
    "i never made mistakes,
    save for the things i loved."

  20. Hi Roxana.

    Quite belated, but i had the rare chance to check on my cobwebbed blog today, and saw your very kind reply to my previous comment.

    You may find it odd that i'm commenting on an old post of yours.
    You see, I googled Luis Rosales, right after that chance encounter in the train (mass rail transit), and i ended up in your blog.

    Without the intention to romanticize, i think Rosales'words came to me at a time when i was looking for them.

    Thank you Roxana.
    Your blog and your posts are a thing of beauty.