12
Apr
12

Pablo Neruda’s Love Sonnet XII (Two Translations)

I am planning an assignment for my creative writing class based on something my friend does in his class. This assignment involves a Pablo Neruda love poem. So today I read some of Neruda’s love poems, and I found one I think will work well, Love Sonnet XII. However, I couldn’t find a translation that was fully working the way I think the poem should in English, and something that wasn’t so literal in translation. So I set out to make my own translation. I ended up doing two translations. First the poem original in its original language.

   Plena mujer, manzana carnal, luna caliente
   espeso aroma de algas, lodo y luz machacados
   qué oscura claridad se abre entre tus columnas?
   qué antigua noche el hombre toca con sus sentidos?

   Ay, amar es un viaje con agua y con estrellas,
   con aire ahogado y brucas tempestades de harina:
   amar es un combate de relámpagos
   y dos cuerpos por una sola miel derrotados.

   Beso a beso recorro tu pequeño infinito,
   tus márgenes, tus rios, tus pueblos diminutos,
   y el fuego genital transformado en delicia

   corre por los delgados caminos de la sangre
   hasta precipitarse como un clavel nocturno,
   hasta ser y no ser sino un rayo en la sombra.

Now my first translation:

   Full woman, carnal apple, hot moon,
   seaweed’s sodden aroma, mud, and shattered light –
   what shadowy clarity opens between your columns?
   What primitive night is touched by a masculine nerve?

   Ah, love is a journey with water and stars,
   in drowning air and squalls of flour;
   love is a battle of the lightning,
   two bodies defeated by a single drop of honey.

   Kiss after kiss, I recover your small infinitude,
   rivers and shores, your diminutive village,
   the genital fire transformed to delight

   races through the blood’s thin pathways
   and overflows as nocturnal carnations
   until it is and is nothing but a glow in the shadow.

I think I like this. “Full woman” seems a little off for me, but I’ll leave it. Maybe there’s something more going on in “full woman,” more than I know or know to translate. But the two bigger concerns are in line 6 and in the mood of  the poem. Why would Neruda use “flour” in line 6. That just seems to odd to me. I can’t wrap my mind around what “flour” is doing in this poem or what it wants to do or what feelings it’s trying to create. I left it in there for now. I did think about “dust” or “sand” to balance off with smallness and infinity in line 9, and it would balance with the smallness of salt in line 2. You know, because dust and sand are small but infinite. But I think the better word is “powder.”

The other concern is the tone or mood of the poem. I think this poem wants to be sexy. Below is a sexier version:

   Full moon, carnal apple, seductive woman, 
   seaweed’s salty aroma, mud, and shredded light –
   what shadowy arousal opens between your columns?
   What primitive night is touched by a masculine nerve?

   Ah, love is a journey with water and stars,
   in gasping air and squalls of powder;
   love is a battle in lightning,
   two bodies defeated by a single drop of honey.

   Kiss after kiss, I rekindle your warming infinity,
   rivers and shores, your diminutive village,
   the genital fire transformed into a delicacy

   races through blood’s thin pathways
   and overflows nocturnal carnations
   and endures in a glow in the shadow.

Here, I replaced “flour” with “powder,” but I almost used “moisture.” I wanted a hot, sweaty poem, and, again, the sweat would balance off the saltiness in line 2. You’ll also see I changed some of the first line. I liked the progression from moon to sinful apple to seductive woman. I also made the moon full instead of the woman. I think that actually might be closer to what the original wants, don’t you? You can also see the other places where I sexed up the poem. In the penultimate, I tried to create the sense of climax, at least more deliberately. In the above translation, I tried to do the same, but here it’s more deliberate. (I also like the closeness of “nocturnal carnations” to “nocturnal emissions.”)

(I just had a side thought. “Flour” might work better in this poem, cuz then it would enhance the food motif in “honey” and “delicacy.” Hmm. I don’t think it will pan out, though.)

Now, I’m wondering which translation I like better and would be better to use in class. What do you think?

Thank you for reading and voting.//


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