Sunday, November 10, 2002

With regards to our translations of the fool Baltasar Porcel's columns compared to Cinderella B.'s, one of the interesting aspects of translation is that different translators translate the same original text differently. Joan Margarit, a fine local poet and a very learned man (he gets to meet with Prime Minister Aznar every time Aznar comes to Barcelona; one of Aznar's hobbies is poetry and he is said to be quite knowledgeable about it. Note that he chooses to visit Margarit and not Porcel. Aznar is wise enough to open doors in all fields, not only politics and business. Rumor has it that he's angling for Romano Prodi's or Javier Solana's job after his second term as Prime Minister runs out in 2004. We would be much less apprehensive about the future of the EU if Aznar were in charge of something important) has come out with a translation of the poetry of Thomas Hardy in Catalan. In his introduction, he provides three different translations of one of Hardy's poems, one from a good few years ago, one done quite recently by another contemporary poet, and his own, and invites the reader to compare them. It's really quite interesting, since he gives his own analysis of the similarities and differences.

Anyway, 2002 has been declared by somebody the Verdaguer Year, and the Catalan cultural authorities seem determined, even square-headed, about making sure that everyone possible is exposed to the collected opus of Mossén Jacinto Verdaguer, usually considered Catalan literature's leading poet. Says Vanguardia cultural reporter Josep Massot, "The Verdaguer Year, far from being a failure, continues unveiling important surprises." Surprise my ass, this was funded by the Generalitat's Department of Culture, as it says clearly but very briefly near the bottom of the story, and as for important, let Bernard / Ossian let you know what he thinks, as I'm sure he will when he finds out that this whole thing was inspired by Harold Bloom, who "rediscovered" Verdaguer after having read him in French translation. One Ronald Puppo, a Californian teacher at the University of Vic, has taken it upon himself to translate Verdaguer to English for the first time ever, with the generous support of my tax money.

This particular year, 2002, was designated the Verdaguer Year because it marks the 100th anniversary of the poet's death. Jacinto Verdaguer was a priest and was also quite clearly several croquetas short of a plato combinado. While he wrote his two major works, both rabidly Catalanist (L'Atlàntida in 1878 and Canigó in 1885, extremely dull and overblown epic poems, rather comparable to "Hiawatha" or "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" in English), he was patronized by a rich family. By 1885 or so he was clearly going completely insane. As Robert Hughes says in Barcelona, "(Verdaguer) began to show embarrassing signs of zeal. As almoner, he was expected to give alms to the poor on (rich patron the Marquis of) Comillas's behalf; now his handouts af the marquis's money became so large and frequent that long lines of the poor and ragged, flocking in from the slums of the Barrio Chino, were always waiting at the back door of the Palau Mojá. Then Verdaguer developed an obsession with exorcism. Toward 1889 he fell under the influence of a Paulist priest who haunted the Barrio Gótico, Joaquim Pinyol. This charismatic quack became his confessor and spiritual adviser. He convinced the poet that the street people of lower Barcelona were infested with demons, and that it was their combined mission to exorcise them. Before long Verdaguer was spending every moment he could find reciting the orders of exorcism opver writhing epileptics and mumbling crones, with Pinyol showing him the needles and pieces of glass they had vomited up. Then Pinyol was joined by a family of morbid il·luminats called Durna, whose daughter, Deseada, appears to have convinced poor Verdaguer that the Virgin Mary's voice spoke through her." The poor bastard only got worse until he died in 1902.

Verdaguer is best known for composing the quatrain "L'Emigrant", "Dolça Catalunya / patria del meu cor / quan de tu s'allunya / d'enyorança es mor." Hughes's translation is "Sweet Catalonia / homeland of my heart / to be far from you / is to die of longing." It was rather common at this time of rapid urbanization to write sentimentally about one's far-away homeland or country house or hometown and the old folks back home and all that; hell, Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian, asserts that modern nationalism springs from this Victorian romanticism about the national essence being back home on the farm with good old Ma and Pa. In Catalan they call verse written on this theme great poetry. In America we call it country music. In Germany they called it Nazism, or didn't you notice the parallels between the Catalan excursionists and the early, 1920s Hitler Youth? Don't get angry, we're not calling the Catalan nationalist excursionists evil, they neither desire a dictatorship nor want to kill anyone, but their emphasis on youth and healthy living and idealization of nature and going back to the land and homage-like visits to nationalist-tradition-rich places (in Catalonia almost always sites related to Catalan national Catholicism like Montserrat, Poblet, Sant Miquel del Faí, and Núria) and possession of a naive redistributive Marxist ideology (in Catalonia the nebulous "solidarity" inspired by liberation theology, influential in Spain) participation in nationalist ceremonies and exaltation of everything Catalan sure is reminiscent of the Hitler Youth. We must admit that the Boy Scouts remind us a good bit of the '20s Hitler Youth as well, though to a lesser degree as American nationalism is more implicit than explicit in the American Scouts.

So back to poor old Verdaguer and comparative translation, which is what I think I started off talking about. Here is a famous section of the Verdaguer epic Canigó in the original Catalan:

Un cedre és lo Pirene de portentosa alçada;
com los ocells, los pobles fan niu en sa brancada,
d'on cap voltor de races desallotjar pot;
quiscuna d'eixes serres, d'a on la vida arranca
son vol, d'aqueix superbo colós és una branca,
ell és lo cap de brot.

This is Ronald Puppo's translation:

The Pyrenees are a cedar flung high;
Peoplse nest, like birds, among its branches,
Whence no race-feeding vulture can remove them;
Each and every range where life takes hold
Forms a branch of this mighty colossus,
This superb trunk of life.

And this is Sir Mix-a-Lot's translation:

I like big butts and I can not lie
You other brothers can't deny
That when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist
And a round thing in your face
You get sprung
Wanna pull up front
Cuz you notice that butt was stuffed
Deep in the jeans she's wearing
I'm hooked and I can't stop staring
Oh, baby I wanna get with ya
And take your picture
My homeboys tried to warn me
But with that butt you got
Me so horny
Ooh, rub all of that smooth skin
You say you wanna get in my Benz
Well use me, use me cuz you ain't that average groupy

For Class Discussion: How would you compare and contrast these two versions of Verdaguer's Canigó?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"In Catalan they call verse written on this theme great poetry. In America we call it country music. In Germany they called it Nazism,..." What rubbish. Or as we say in Catalunya, quina merda. For someone to assert that L'Emigrant, which is effectively an anthem in Catalunya, is on the order of "country music" is to insist that the Star Spangled Banner is no better than third-rate populist doggerel. And on the subject of "nationalistic excursionism" being somehow peculiarly a Nazi trait, let us remember that the Nazis only picked it up from others who went long before, and brought it to a much higher art. Just because the Nazis drank milk as children does not make all milk-drinkers Nazis. The reasoning is this article is deplorable, the evidence of someone educated beyond his or her intelligence.