At first it had no name. It was the thing itself, the vivid thing. It was his friend. On windy days it danced, demented, waving wild arms, or in the silence of evening drowsed and dreamed, swaying in the blue, the goldeny air. Even at night it did not go away. Wrapped in his truckle bed, he could hear it stirring darkly outside in the dark, all the long night long. There were others, nearer to him, more vivid still than this, they came and went, talking, but they were wholly familiar, almost a part of himself, while it, steadfast and aloof, belonged to the mysterious outside, to the wind and the weather and the goldeny blue air. It was part of the world, and yet it was his friend.
Look, Nicolas, look! See the big tree!
Tree. That was its name. And also: the linden. They were nice words. He had known them a long time before he knew what they meant. They did not mean themselves, they were nothing in themselves, they meant the dancing singing thing outside. In wind, in silence, at night, in the changing air, it changed and yet was changelessly the tree, the linden tree. That was strange.
Everything had a name, but although every name was nothing without the thing named, the thing cared nothing for its name, had no need of a name, and was itself only. And then there were the names that signified no substantial thing, as linden and tree signified that dark dancer. His mother asked him who did he love the best. Love did not dance, nor tap the window with frantic fingers, love had no leafy arms to shake, yet when she spoke that name that named nothing, some impalpable but real thing within him responded as if to a summons, as if it had heard its name spoken. That was very strange.
He soon forgot about these enigmatic matters, and learned to talk as others talked, full of conviction, unquestioningly.
The sky is blue, the sun is gold, the linden tree is green. Day is light, it ends, night falls, and then it is dark. You sleep, and in the morning wake again. But a day will come when you will not wake. That is death. Death is sad. Sadness is what happiness is not. And so on. How simple it all was, after all! There was no need even to think about it. He had only to be, and life would do the rest, would send day to follow day until there were no days left, for him, and then he would go to Heaven and be an angel. Hell was under the ground.
Matthew Mark Luke and John
Bless the bed that I lie on
If I die before I wake
Ask holy God my soul to take
He peered from behind clasped hands at his mother kneeling beside him in the candlelight. Under a burnished coif of coiled hair her face was pale and still, like the face of the Madonna in the picture. Her eyes were closed, and her lips moved, mouthing mutely the pious lines as he recited them aloud. When he stumbled on the hard words she bore him up gently, in a wonderfully gentle voice. He loved her the best, he said. She rocked him in her arms and sang a song.
See saw Margery Daw
This little chicken
Got lost in the straw
Al principio no tenía nombre. Era la cosa en sí, la cosa vívida. Era su amigo. Los días con viento hacía una danza, demente, alzando sus brazos salvajes o en el silencio del crepúsculo dormitaba y soñaba, meciéndose en el aire azul, el aire áureo. Incluso en la noche seguía ahí. Él, envuelto en su litera, podía escucharlo temblando oscuro en la oscuridad de afuera, toda la larga, larga noche. Había otros, más cerca, más vívidos incluso, que iban y venían hablando. Pero esos le eran completamente familiares, casi una parte de sí mismo, mientras que éste, firme y ajeno, pertenecía al afuera en todo su misterio, al viento, al tiempo, al aire de azul áureo. Era parte del mundo y sin embargo era su amigo.
¡Mira, Nicolás, mira! ¡Ve el gran árbol!
Árbol. Ese era su nombre. Y también: el tilo. Esas eran palabras lindas. Eran palabras que había conocido mucho antes de saber qué significaban. Las palabras no significan en sí, no eran nada en sí, significaban la cosa danzante y cantante de allá afuera. En el viento, en el silencio, en la noche, en el aire cambiante, mutaba y sin embargo era, de forma inmutable, el árbol, el tilo. Eso era raro.
Todo tenía un nombre, pero aún cuando cada nombre no era nada sin la cosa nombrada, a la cosa no le importaba su nombre, no lo necesitaba, sólo era en sí. Pero luego estaban los nombres que no significaban ninguna sustancia, como tilo y árbol significaban ese danzante oscuro. Su madre le preguntaba a quién amaba más. El amor no baila ni golpea la ventana con dedos delirantes, el amor no tiene brazos frondosos que sacudir. Sin embargo, cuando su madre pronunciaba esa palabra que nada nombraba, algo impalpable pero real respondía a un llamado dentro de él, como si hubiera escuchado su nombre. Eso era muy raro.
Pronto olvidó todas esas cosas enigmáticas y aprendió a hablar como los otros, lleno de convicción, sin cuestionar nada.
El cielo es azul, el sol es dorado, el árbol de tilo es verde. Día es luz, termina, cae la noche y entonces todo oscurece. Te duermes y despiertas en la mañana. Y llegará un día cuando no despertarás. Eso es la muerte. La muerte es triste. Tristeza es lo que no es felicidad. Y así, ¡qué simple era todo, después de todo! No había necesidad siquiera de pensarlo. Sólo tenía que ser, y la vida haría lo demás, mandaría días que siguen a los días hasta que no hubiera más para él, y entonces iría al cielo a ser un ángel. El infierno está abajo del suelo.
San Mateo, San Marcos, San Lucas, San Juan
bendigan la cama donde yo descanso
y si me muero antes de despertar
pidan que Dios mi alma vaya a aceptar
Se asomó por atrás, apretó la mano de su madre, arrodillada junto a él a la luz de las velas. Bajo una cofia pulida de cabello rizado su cara estaba pálida y pasmada, como la cara de la Madonna en la pintura. Sus ojos estaban cerrados y sus labios se movían, delineando, silentes, los versos píos mientras él los seguía en voz alta. Cuando se trababa en las palabras difíciles ella lo alentaba me manera dócil, con una voz dulce. La amaba a ella más que a nadie, dijo. Ella lo meció sus brazos y cantó una canción:
Subibaja Margarita taja
se perdió en la paja
An epiphany is a lightning bolt, a feeling that tears us internally and can only be put into language once time has elapsed. Translating is seldom epiphanic; it involves repetition and working through, much like the process of mourning. Translation means loss: epiphany means birth. Such opposing ends made of the same material, which is language.
Translating fragments of John Banville’s Eclipse and Copernicus proved to be problematic not only because of the peculiarities of the English language and the author’s portrayal of a specific setting through particular objects but because of the philosophical density of both texts. In the fragment corresponding to Copernicus, it was difficult, for example to delay the gender specificity that the word “it” can offer. Conveying the simple language that flows through a child’s mind, when the narrator’s focal point is on Nicolas, was problematic. Repetition and alliteration was one of the guiding principles I used to translate the fragment not only for their musical qualities (impossible to replicate when it comes to Banville) but because, I believe, they serve the purpose of conveying the protagonist’s baby steps towards reaching a logical argument that can make him convince himself not to question things too much. Certain grammatical structures are repeated time and again. Sentences beginning with “That was”/ “They were” + predicate nominative/adjective), I tried to mimic through the repetition of sentences beginning with either “era” or “eso” because in Spanish the excessive use of subjects is rare. This childlike structural reinforcement contrasts with the very articulate thoughts that Nicolas is having and, at times, with his elaborate diction (“frantic,” “steadfast,” etcetera). I believe this is meant to cause an estrangement effect on the reader, much like the one Nicolas is having towards the existing world and the language we use to denominate things. The fragment is supposed to defamiliarize the reader to her language, so at times I chose to use phrases that are not all common in Spanish. At first I had chosen “Qué raro.” to substitute “That was strange.” but it was difficult when in transition to the second “That was very strange.” Thus, I chose “Eso era raro” which is somewhat off in Spanish, but perhaps that is even better if it succeeds at presenting language as something strange. I could have chosen “Eso era extraño” and that would have mirrored the alien tree outside (as a stranger, something that lies outside, etcetera) but “raro,” is, in my opinion, cacophonic and awkward. “Raro” is onomatopoeically uncanny as well as appropriate for the diction of a boy. Sometimes I chose unconventional words even when the text did not call for them (such as “silente”) because I sensed an increasing amount of complexity in the text. As Nicolas, the reader is meant to “stumble on the hard words” only to feel “relieved” by the closing nursery rhyme. I chose to prioritize the jingle-jingle quality to it and even added a word that, upon a first reading could seem fortuitous and present only for rhyme’s sake (“taja”). But “daw” means fool and “taja” means to cut or sever so that “Margarita taja” could suggest (if remotely) psychic dissociation, lack of imagination, etc. In any case, it was meant to be nonsensical and to rhyme, to move to the rhythm of a mother’s rocking arms. Language should be rhythmically reassuring, but, on a deeper level, what remains is that language is slippery and untrustworthy—even in the middle of the nursery rhyme there is an uncanny appearance of loss, suggesting the loss of communication, of saying what we mean effectively. Every utterance is a sort of translation. Interestingly, in Spanish we say that language that does not mean anything is straw (“paja”): the place where a vulnerable chicken (a symbol of meanings, referents, things in themselves?) gets lost.
I found the fragment corresponding to Eclipse much less difficult to translate. At times it may seem that I translated word by word but this is only insofar as the weight of the words placed in the sentences in English called for the same structure in Spanish, out of sheer geniality in the original composition. I struggled with the last four words, where I perhaps strayed off from the original and offered a more clinically laden “arritmia cardiaca”. It is a personal preference that sought to avert the somewhat cloying “corazón” in Spanish. In turn, I believe, it perforates the text with a hygienic distance that could, again, estrange the reader from the text while it mimics the frailty of the phial—in a broader sense of the self, or of the narratability of experience—. I hope my translation can somehow break the text and glue it together with gold (as the Japanese mend ceramic vessels), seeking to highlight the frailty of language and the impossibility of translation, making it something broken yet graceful.