ModPo 2019 – week 1 – pt 1

During today’s live webcast I actually wished I had done this last night. So pertinent to the discussion.

OK, Let’s take the plunge. Three PhD’s in Brazil decided to take on Augusto de Campos, noted Brazilian Dickinson translator. What follows is a brief drive by of what they mentioned (and what they missed, IMHO).

The poems were #760 and #448. Let me see if I can pull it into the block here:

OK, that worked.

  1. A constant Dickinson theme: pain. Calling it an “Element of Blank” doesn’t really translate well. A word is used, “Vazio” which connotes emptiness.
  2. They pay a lot of attention to Dickinson’s rhyming schemes, often hidden through the use of imperfect rhymes in English, but brought to the forefront in Portuguese, though still, at best, though not always, imperfect (in short, looks like a rhyme but does not sound like one), Dickinson using ABCB, while in translation, ABAB, makes the “pain” more focused and more acute by concentrating it in a tighter rhyme).
  3. Here is something they miss. Dickinson’s English uses the subjunctive (where it begun-or if there were a time) while in translation the preterite (begun) and the imperfect (it were) are used to express the same uncertainty. Not cool, really, for conveying the uncertainty of pain’s origin. Should have gone straight subjunctive.
  4. In exchange of just getting the grammar right, they focus on line breaks, or enjambment, as a way to maintain the “syntactical anomaly” of the subjunctive mood, “if there were/a time.
  5. In line two of verse one, the Brazilian translation abandons “cannot recollect” (which I think has a certain strength, especially in its alliteration) and replaces it with “nao sabe (One does not know), leaving the reader a bit flatter than had they used “recordar, as in nao pode recordar, which provides the slight sound repetition effect of the English original.
  6. More stuff in the second verse but let me not bore you to tears. Suffice it to say translation of poetry is a tricky proposition. And we are merely amateurs!
  7. OK. What do y’all think?

One thought on “ModPo 2019 – week 1 – pt 1

  1. Hey y’all. Not necessarily meaning to bury this thought in a thread, but…

    So I stumbled upon a famous Brazilian translator’s work with Dickinson’s poems, and what better place than global studies to discuss such a phenomenon.

    Translation places extra emphasis on getting the line breaks right, getting Dickinson’s crazy syntax shifts represented with some degree of approximation, and dealing with her choice of grammatical rule violations (she was quite radical, right?) as they translate across tongues.

    Of course, Portuguese being such a diasporic language (if such a thing exists, i just made it up), when I bounce the Brazilian translations off my Continental Portuguese speaking spouse, additional variations are introduced and new considerations emerge. Rhymes, imperfect though they are throughout Dickinson’s work, have to be accommodated, giving rise to my assertion in week 4 that when Countee Cullen laments “making a poet black and bidding him sing,” that is less about race and more about English, the hardest language to make poetry in, but we’ll save that for week 4!

    All together, moving Dickinson across languages really sheds some new light on her genius and on the obvious pain she seems to be enduring.

    This is all very non-specific and for that I deeply apologize. But wait and see where I go with Whitman!


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