The Colors of Translation

 

 

colores

Translation is a tricky thing that calls upon the sensitivities and experience of the translator.   It is clearly a challenge to capture the spirit of a poem while remaining somewhat faithful to the original.  In my opinion, Stephen Mitchel is a master of the interpretative rendering of foreign texts.  His offerings of the Tao Te Ching, the poems and letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, and the Bhagavad Gita all provoke my mind and touch my heart.

The translation of Haiku poetry is a great example.  The most famous poem of Basho reads in Japanese:  “Furu ike ya, kawazu tobikomu, mizu no oto.”   Literally, furu (old) ike (pond) ya (a filler), kawazu (an old word for frog; the modern word is kaeru), tobikomu (tobi=jump, komu=enter), mizu (water), no (possessive particle),  oto (sound).   So: “Old pond, frog jumps in, sound of water,” which is exactly the translation given by  Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) who was one of the first Westerners to live deeply into Japanese culture.   Alan Watts was more poetic, reaching for the sound of water without naming it:

The old pond,
A frog jumps in:
Plop!

Or this rendering by a Japanese poet that attempts to convey a richer meaning:

Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water —
A deep resonance.

Nobuyuki Yuasa

And so I would like to offer this rendition of a favorite song whose melody is as beautiful as its words.  It was sung often by Joan Baez, and became the unofficial theme song of the United Farm Workers movement.  It seems to me that “Los Grandes Amores (the great loves)” of the chorus hint at the idea that we not only love the colors, but we love the Love that colors our world.

De colores,
de colores se visten los campos en la primavera.
De colores,
de colores son los pajaritos que vienen de afuera.
De colores,
de colores es el arco iris que vemos lucir.
Y por eso los grandes amores de muchos colores
me gustan a mi.
Y por eso los grandes amores de muchos colores
me gustan a mi.

Oh the love, that clothes the fields of Spring with colors.

Oh the love, that colors the little birds that come from afar.

Oh the love, that colors the rainbow that we see light up the sky.

And for all this, I love the Great Loves that brighten our world with so many colors.

And for all this, I love the Great Loves that brighten our world with so many colors.

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