THE DEAD WOMAN
If all of a sudden you don’t exist,
if all of a sudden you are not alive,
I would continue living.
I don’t dare,
I don’t dare write it,
if you die.
I will continue living.
Because where a man doesn’t have a voice
there, my voice.
Where blacks are beaten,
I cannot be dead.
When my brothers enter prison
I will enter with them.
not my victory,
but the final victory
though I were mute I must talk:
I will see it come even if I am blind.
No, forgive me.
If you do not live,
if you, darling, my love,
all the leaves will fall in my chest,
it will rain over my soul day and night,
the snow will burn my heart,
I will walk with cold and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to go where you sleep,
I will still live,
because you loved me above all things,
and, love, because you know that I am not only one
but all men.
—translation by Curtis Bauer
Si de pronto no existes,
si de pronto no vives,
yo seguiré viviendo.
No me atrevo,
no me atrevo a escribirlo,
si te mueres.
Yo seguiré viviendo.
Porque donde no tiene voz un hombre
allí, mi voz.
Donde los negros sean apaleados,
yo no puedo estar muerto.
Cuando entren en la cárcel mis hermanos
entraré yo con ellos.
Cuando la victoria,
no mi victoria,
sino la gran victoria
aunque esté mudo debo hablar:
yo la veré llegar aunque esté ciego.
Si tú no vives,
si tú, querida, amor mío,
te has muerto,
todas las hojas caerán en mi pecho,
lloverá sobre mi alma noche y día,
la nieve quemará mi corazón,
andaré con frío y fuego y muerte y nieve,
mis pies querrán marchar hacía donde tú duermes,
porque tú me quisiste sobre todas las cosas
y, amor, porque tú sabes que soy no sólo un hombre
sino todos los hombres.
Back in the mid 90’s, when I was still living in Spain, a friend gave me a wonderful edition of Neruda’s ‘Los Versos Del Capitan’ put out by Editorial Lumen. I remember having to slice open the pages with a letter opener as I read through the book. I’d never had to do that before; I’d never had a special edition before, so this was the beginning, also, of my love for the actual book as object, as art. Perhaps it was that kind of work as I read, mixed with discovery or tearing open pages and seeing a new poem, a continuation of a poem, the next verse of that made such an impact on me, but when I opened the page and read ‘La Muerta’ I remember feeling like I had uncovered sentiments, words, ideas that I had never before seen or felt when reading a poem, whether in Spanish or English. Yes, Neruda is a great love poet, but I remember thinking that these poems have changed and can continue to change the way people live; they’re about a turnaround analysis of government, social injustice, love, walking down the street and seeing beauty in the scum; that all of this beauty, all of this deep love was an avenue for action. I looked for that poem in English, and when I found a translation I was disappointed that I did not feel the same way, that the translator could not capture what Neruda was getting at. I wanted my friends to have the same reaction I did, or at least have the opportunity to read what Neruda had written and approach the possibilities of his poem. Yes, Mr. Frost said that “poetry is what gets lost in translation,” but I think we are too easily restricted by that idea and think, therefore, that there is an unachievable, an impossible element in poetry that cannot be conveyed in another language. As poets, our obligation is to attempt to put into words what cannot be written; as translators, we take that one step further: we push and pull the language in an attempt to capture not only meaning but emotions that transcend language barriers. —Curtis Bauer