Tafelmusik

An Illusory Intertwingling of Reason and Response

Literary: Anything waxing literary and Classical goes here. Occasionally I’ll put up a post which is entirely or largely a poem. Those go in Poetry. I even sometimes (though I would be the first to tell you that “literary criticism is bunk”) post some critique.

Tafel :: literary :: critique

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Translation and Critique of Stroope's "Amor de mi alma"

Little irks me like a poor translation. One of my favourite songs that we sang as the PCC Symphonic Choir is "Amor de mi alma", by Z. Randall Stroope. It's a painfully-beautiful setting of Garcilaso de la Vega's "Soneta V" — lovely, that is, until you attempt a reading of the English gloss.

Its abysmality is beyond words. (Of course, I'll try to put words to it anyhow.) It makes no attempt to remain true to the poetic spirit of the original, and makes legion irrational changes in wording and phrasing.

Keep in mind that this isn't simply a gloss intended for the performers — that would be bad enough. The translated text is used in programs and readings for public performances of the piece across the country. Yeah. It's that serious.

Problems start with the very first line. The Spanish, "Yo no nací para quereros" sashays nicely into the literal English, "I was not born but to love you." For whatever heinous reason, Stroope has decided that "I was born to love only you" — colourless and inaccurate — is more apt. May God have mercy on his soul.

The second and third lines set up the evocative image of wrapping oneself in one's beloved like a cloak. Garcilaso sets up his textile image beginning with the cutting of a garment to tailor-fit ("ha cortado a su medida"). Stroope takes the "cortado", which can mean nothing but "cut", and renders it as the more benign and irrelevant "formed".

The third stanza is likewise mangled. Stroope's rendering of "Quanto tengo confiesso yo deveros" (lit. "How much I must confess I owe you") as "All that I have I owe to you" is at once dishonest in its use of the absolute and uninteresting in its lack of poetic vigour.

As well, the final line, "Y por vos e de morir y por vos muero", rendered to include an improbable and anachronistic "give my last breath", betrays Stroope's lack of research into the linguistic environment of Garcilaso's works. The phrase "[h]e de morir" is a 16th-century Castilian idiom which means, roughly, "I would be obligated to die, were it to become necessary": a depth of meaning lost to the reader of Stroope's gloss.

This depth of meaning greatly reveals the emotions intended resident in the final "muero". "Muero" connotes not simply a literal "I die" but "I am now called on that obligation, and, by dying, fulfill it".

I've skipped over the second stanza temporarily, and now to it return. The entire stanza is difficult to understand in this edition. However, if you realize it has been greatly altered in Stroope's edition even prior to translation, clarity becomes possible. The third stanza is the first stanza in the original, and is here missing a total of eleven words, constituting two lines. The original:

Escrito está en mi alma vuestro gesto,
y cuanto yo escribir de vos deseo;
vos sola lo escribisteis, yo lo leo
tan solo, que aun de vos me guardo en esto.

gives us much more information, where the text of "Amor de mi alma" leaves little to explain the complex phrasing of "que aun de vos me guardo en esto". Reading Garcilaso's original words:

Written it is on my heart your gesto,
and how much to write of you I desire;
you only have written it, and it I read
only, that even from you I hide myself in it.

I'll get to "gesto" later. The rough literal translation above (it's not entirely accurate, but should help those who don't read the Spanish) tells a plaintive tale. "Your gesto is written on my heart, and I want desperately to write so much more of you. None but you has written it, though, and I can only read it, since any more would reveal my love to you, and that I must hide even from you, by retreating to this vision of you."

Okay, not perfect, again, but the paraphrase gets the idea across. The closest English synonym for "gesto" is "countenance" circa AD1600. It means, in this context, "your being, as expressed on your face". However, that's currently beside the point: I just wanted you to be able to read it properly for now. The core problem is the missing eleven words from the beginning of the second line (Garcilaso) almost to the end of the third line (Garcilaso), which fit between the first and second lines (ed. Stroope).

Stroope creates a destructive ambiguity both by leaving out the lines in question, and by skipping an ever-so-important comma between "tan solo" and "que aun". Without knowing that this gesto was written upon the poet's heart without his having the ability to add to what is there written, we have no way of knowing that his love is unrequited. Without this veritable keystone of a comma, we have no way of discerning between the two unrelated meanings: "I only read it" and "I only hide from you". The latter, which is how Stroope seems to parse his edited Spanish when translating it, leaves the original meaning far behind.

Below are Stroope's text and gloss, and a more accurate replacement translation to replace his gloss in performances of the piece. Following are Garcilaso's original text, and an English verse translation thereof.

“Amor de mi alma” ed. Stroope

Garcilaso de la Vega

Yo no nací sino para quereros;
Mi alma os ha cortado a su medida;
Por hábito del alma misma os quero.

Escrito esté en mi alma vuestro gesto;
Yo lo leo tan solo que aun de vos
Me guardo en esto.

Quanto tengo confiesso yo deveros;
Por vos nací, por vos tengo la vida,
Y por vos e de morir y por vos
Muero.

Tr. Stroope

I was born to love only you;
My soul has formed you to its measure
I want you as a garment for my soul.

Your very image is written on my soul;
Such indescribable intimacy
I hide even from you.

All that I have, I owe to you;
For you I was born, for you I live,
For you I must die, and for you
I give my last breath.

Tr. Keith Beckman

I was not born but to love you.
You my soul has cut to its measure:
it’s you I want as a cloak for my soul.

Your every aspect is written on my soul:
I no more than read, that within it,
even from you I might hide myself.

How much I must confess I owe you:
for you I was born, for you I have life.
Were it necessary, for you I would die;
and for you I do die.

“Soneta V”

Garcilaso de la Vega

Escrito está en mi alma vuestro gesto,
y cuanto yo escrebir de vos deseo;
vos sola lo escrebistes, yo lo leo
tan solo, que aun de vos me guardo en esto.

En esto estoy y estaré siempre puesto;
que aunque no cabe en mí cuanto en vos veo,
de tanto bien lo que no entiendo creo,
tomando ya la fe por presupuesto.

Yo no nací sino para quereros;
mi alma os ha cortado a su medida;
por hábito del alma mismo os quiero.

Cuanto tengo confieso yo deberos;
por vos nací, por vos tengo la vida,
por vos he de morir, y por vos muero.

Tr. Keith Beckman

Your every aspect is written on my soul:
and how much more I desire to write!
None but you has written, and I may only read,
that in reading, I might hide even from you.

In this I am and ever will be settled,
even though I see in you some few incompatibilities
(because I do not well understand what I believe,
already taking my fidelity for granted).

I was not born but to love you.
You my soul has cut to its measure:
it’s you I want as a cloak for my soul.

How much I must confess I owe you:
for you I was born, for you I have life.
Were it necessary, for you I would die;
and for you I do die.

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