International Translation Day: A little poetry to celebrate

Sunday, September 30, is International Translation Day. To celebrate, here are three poems I translated with Christian Law. “Twilight in Poley” is my favorite.

These poems are by Vicente Núñez (1926-2002), one of the most daring and important poets of Andalusia, Spain, in the 20th century. These translations will appear in a bilingual anthology of his work to be published later this year by the Vicente Núñez Foundation.

La Mentira
En la breve estancia
de una melodía,
la sospecha tuve
de que me mentía.

Como ya era tarde
y el ciprés gemía,
salí a la terraza
sola, oscura y fría.

Sonaron las doce…
La música hería
el último adagio.
Pero no venía.

Al besar el mármol
en la celosía
mudéjar el viento,
mentía, mentía.

The Lie

In the time that it took
for a song or a sigh,
I had the suspicion
he had told me a lie.

But by then it was late
and the cypresses whined.
On the balcony cold
and abandoned stood I.

“It’s midnight,” the bells tolled,
and the sad lullaby
reached its final strain.
But he did not arrive.

The wind brushed the marble
with a whispered reply
on old ornate carvings.
He did lie, he did lie.


A Santaella

Como en un mar de pájaros reales
tras la ventana de una antigua estrella,
sueña en su torre eterna Santaella,
canta, suspira y vaga en medievales

noches como rubíes. ¿De qué males
de amor se duele la gentil doncella
si ella es la bella porque sólo es Ella
junto a los muros de su casa, iguales

a quien sostiene ausencia y ronda y gime
sumiso al seno que en el Valle mora?
¿Qué llamarada te derrama en ala?

¿Qué vuela en ti, desnuda y alta, dime?
¿Donde me has puesto el corazón, señora?
Campo, capilla, esquila, cumbre, escala.

To Santaella [a village near Córdoba, Spain]

As if in a sea of birdsong, regal
flight through the window of an ancient star,
Santaella dreams in her eternal tower,
sings, sighs, and wanders in medieval

nights like rubies. Of what infirmity
of love does the gentle damsel sustain
if hers is beauty that can only reign
standing at the walls of her home as she

suffers along with song and laments there,
subject to her dwelling in the valley?
What impassioned flame spills you to take wing?

Tell me, what flies up in you, tall and bare?
Where have you put my heart, my lady?
Field, chapel, belfry, summit, quartering.


Ocaso en Poley

Si la tarde no altera la divina hermosura
de tus oscuros ojos fijos en el declive
de la luz que sucumbe. Si no empaña mi alma
la secreta delicia de tus rocas hundidas.
Si nadie nos advierte. Si en nosotros se apaga
toda estéril memoria que amengüe o que diluya
este amor que nos salva más allá de los astros,
no hablemos ya, bien mío. Y arrástrame hacia el hondo
corazón de tus brazos latiendo bajo el cielo.

Twilight in Poley

If evening has not touched the divine grace
of your dark eyes gazing at the fading
yielding light. If my soul has not sullied
your delightful solid sunken secret.
If no one has seen us. If we can quench
those sterile memories that might abate
this saving love from far beyond the stars,
now not a word, my love. Let your arms and
pulsing heart pull me deep beneath the sky.

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