Este que ves, engaño colorido,
que del arte ostentando los primores,
con falsos silogismos de colores
es cauteloso engaño del sentido
éste, en quien la lisonja ha pretendido
excusar de los años los horrores,
y venciendo del tiempo los rigores
triunfar de la vejez y del olvido,
es un vano artificio del cuidado,
es una flor al viento delicada,
es un resguardo inútil para el hado:
es una necia diligencia errada,
es un afán caduco y, bien mirado,
es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada.
A reader doesn't need much Spanish to see a lot in this poem. It's all one sentence. Seven of fourteen lines start with "es", while three more start with "éste" and "excusar". And then "es" appears again and again in the last line.
Look at the rhyme words. Four lines end in "-ores", but the rest are "-ido", "-ado", and "-ada", similar sounds, slant rhymes.*
Does a good translation need to keep all of this? See yesterday's post for Edith Grossman's version. Here is Margaret Sayers Peden:
This that you gaze on, colorful deceit,
that so immodestly displays art's favors,
with its fallacious arguments of colors
is to the senses cunning counterfeit,
this on which kindness practiced to delete
from cruel years accumulated horrors,
constraining time to mitigate its rigors
and thus oblivion and age defeat,
is but artifice, a sop to vanity,
is but a flower by the breezes bowed,
is but a ploy to counter destiny,
is but a foolish labor ill-employed,
is but a fancy, and, as all may see,
is but cadaver, ashes, shadow, void.
A lot of this is pretty close to the text. Peden keeps the "is/ this" structure, although not in the last line. Grossman tries a parallel structure ("a corpse, some dust, a shadow, mere nothingness"). Peden keeps the rhyming cognates (horrors/ rigors/ colors). There's no "sop" to vanity in the original, nor are the horrors "accumulated". Still. Edith Grossman's horrors are "stark", which isn't Sor Juana either. What else can a poor translator do?
Peden does one thing more. Her essay "Building a Translation, the Reconstruction Business: Poem 145 of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz"** compares nine(!) translations of Sor Juana's sonnet, including one by Samuel Beckett. She provides the handy diagram on the right to help us see what each translator is really doing. Most of them, regardless of decisions about rhyme and language, stay right on top of this schematic. The ones that don't are terrible.
This is all I really want. Every translation of a poem in multiple versions with an accompanying essay, and diagrams. Is this so much too ask?
Bonus fun: compare the last line of Sor Juana's sonnet to that of the Luis de Góngora sonnets I posted two days ago. The Sor Juana poem is from sixty or seventy years later, I think.
* Does Spanish prosody have slant rhymes, or am I importing a foreign English concept?
** From John Biguenet and Rainer Schulte, eds., The Craft of Translation, The University of Chicago Press, 1989.