Rescue me from my labyrinth. Help me translate Borges.
May 15, 2006 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an English translation of Borges online.

I'm subtitling a documentary on Borges (Spanish --> English). There are two snippets of poems read aloud. I could of course translate the poetry myself, BUT I would much prefer to go with an authoritative translation that's probably out there somewhere.

I tried sneaking a peak at an Amazon book, but it didn't have the part I wanted. An online resource would be nice in case I come across this again. I know that might be tricky because of copyright, though, so if someone has it in book form and wants to help me out, that's great, too.

The first snippet is from "Fundación Mítica de Buenos Aires" and reads:

Vinieron a fundarme la patria.

The other is from "La Plaza San Martín" and reads:

. . . la tarde entera se había remansado en la plaza,
serena y sazonada,
bienhechora y sutil como una lámpara,
clara como una frente,
grave como un ademán de hombre enlutado.
Todo sentir se aquieta
bajo la absolución de los árboles . . .
posted by veggieboy to Media & Arts (7 answers total)
Best answer: Well, English translations of Borges' poems have been very rare *in print*, so you may have trouble finding them quickly online. Buying a copy of the recent English collection of his poems may be your best bet for an "authoritative" translation of "Fundación Mítica de Buenos Aires;" browsing the table of contents at Amazon didn't turn up "La Plaza San Martín," though. But hey, you're in Buenos Aires, so it shouldn't be too hard to find a bilingual literature professor to translate it for you with some imprint of academic authority. Offer a credit for assistance in the film, maybe?
posted by mediareport at 5:26 PM on May 15, 2006

Response by poster: OK, well, I won't say that's good news, but it is helpful to know. I never sought out an English translation before. I'll admit I'm a little surprised they're not out there.

In any case, the lit professor idea is a good one, which I will definitely file away for future projects. Unfortunately, this one is short on time (got the project on Friday and need to turn it in tomorrow). And would that I could offer credits on it. I wish I got a credit myself! The subtitling company does; I don't.
posted by veggieboy at 6:20 PM on May 15, 2006

Can you call a professor in the morning? I empathize with your position, and sure wouldn't want responsibility for translating a poem by Borges, of all people, on my own. Too many possible nuances and potential missed meanings.

I kinda figured you couldn't offer credit, actually. Still worth a shot, though.
posted by mediareport at 7:29 PM on May 15, 2006

Response by poster: I'll probably find myself sucked into some mirror dimension as a thematically appropriate punishment, but I did my own version of the fragments. Poetry is not my specialty and I wouldn't hold myself out as Borges' ideal translator, but fortunately there wasn't very much of it. Maybe I'll get lucky tomorrow, but if not, this will work.

Thanks for your help, mediareport.
posted by veggieboy at 7:58 PM on May 15, 2006

There's no such thing as an ideal translator, and as long as you conveyed the literal meaning, you did what needed to be done. Frankly, most "poetic" translations suck.
posted by languagehat at 6:07 AM on May 16, 2006

Best answer: I have the Penguin edition of the Selected Poems which includes 'Fundación Mítica de Buenos Aires' but not 'La Plaza San Martin', so I can answer half your question.

The first two lines of 'Fundación Mítica' are as follows:

Y fue por este rio de sueñera y de barro
que las proas vinieron a fundarme la patria?

and Alastair Reid renders them as follows:

And was it along this torpid muddy river
that the prows came to found my native city?

It's strange that the Penguin Selected Poems doesn't include 'La Plaza San Martin'. (If it's important enough to be in a documentary about Borges, it's important enough to be in his Selected Poems, I'd have thought.) Frankly, I've always been a bit suspicious of the Penguin edition (which has no introduction, no textual notes and no index), and this confirms my suspicions.
posted by verstegan at 8:33 AM on May 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, verstegan. The name of the documentary is "Borges: Poet of the Plaza of San Martín." So I'm going to say they definitely think it's important.

And, since you bring up the idea of whether to trust the Penguin edition: The lit professor who's talking about "Fundación Mítica" in the video picks up the line "vinieron a fundarme la patria" and uses it to show that Borges is saying it was founded FOR HIM, a sense that does not appear in this translation. Ugh. So I can't use it. But, really, thanks again.
posted by veggieboy at 1:54 PM on May 16, 2006

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