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For Then

by Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera (Mexico, 1859-1895)
Translated by Cheryl Corey

O, to die upon the open sea
At sunset, facing heaven, where agony
Is but a dream; and soul, the essence of me,
Is like a bird in flight that’s soaring free.

To be already one with sea and sky,
And never hear the mourner’s plaintive cry
Or prayerful sob; and if they question—why?
Majestic waves will offer no reply.

To die when the sad, fading light-display
Of haloed nets withdraws from emerald spray;
To be as the sun, which slowly slips away,
Once golden-bright, but lost at end of day;

To die while I’m still young and in my prime,
When all of life’s a festive pantomime,
Before destroyed by cold, capricious Time;
Though life betrays, let parting be sublime!

.

Original Spanish

Para entonces

Quiero morir cuando decline el día
en alta mar y con la cara al cielo;
donde parezca un sueño la agonia,
y el alma, un ave que remonta el vuelo.

No escuchar en los últimos instantes,
ya con el cielo y con la mar a solas,
más voces ni plegarias sollozantes
que la majestuoso tumbo de las olas.

Morir cuando la luz triste retira
sus áureas redes de la onda verde,
y ser como ese sol que lento expira;
algo muy luminoso que se pierde.

Morir, y joven: antes que destruya
el tiempo aleve la gentil corona;
cuando la vida dice aún: “soy tuya”,
aunque sepamos bien que nos traiciona.

.

.

Cheryl Corey is a Connecticut poet. She is also an author of short stories, a novella, and recently completed a novel.


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14 Responses

  1. Michael Pietrack

    It reads so smoothly, satisfying.

    My favorite line:
    Majestic waves will offer no reply

    Reply
  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    What a privilege it is to read this beautiful translation with its spot-on meter and rhyme. Your efforts shine through and benefit us all. Thank you, Cheryl!

    Reply
  3. Brian Yapko

    This poem and translation are both very beautiful, Cheryl. I believe you’ve very skillfully captured the melancholy yet determined tone and intent of the original.

    Reply
  4. Cheryl Corey

    I appreciate everyone’s kind comments. The work of art that Evan selected perfectly enhances the mood of the poem.

    Reply
  5. Yael

    That’s a really nice translation, I love it! It appears that the Mexican poet achieved his goal, having parted sublimely at the age of around 35 to 36 years. Did he die upon the open sea I wonder?

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      No, Yael. From what I’ve read, he was a hemophiliac and bled out during a surgery.

      Reply
  6. Margaret Coats

    As a hemophiliac, Gutierrez Najera must have known he would die young–and he may have had friends commiserating with him while he was still alive. Being “one with sea and sky” would have been a genuine dream. The third stanza is exceptionally beautiful in the original and in your translation, where your presentation of the image in the first two lines requires much thought and syntactic skill. I didn’t notice until the last stanza that you were using monorhyme stanzas to render Spanish abab quatrains. The “ime” rhyme isn’t an easy sound to manage, especially when you need an effective conclusion containing four words with it, but yours is “sublime.”

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      Thank you for your comments. Once I came up with the first stanza, the challenge was set to continue with that rhyme scheme.

      Reply
  7. Alena Casey

    This is a beautiful poem. I love the third stanza: “haloed nets” and “emerald spray,” and the likening of this death to a sunset.

    Reply
  8. Anna J. Arredondo

    Cheryl,

    I enjoyed both the original poem and your translation of it very much.
    I haven’t tried my hand at translation yet (other than attempts at translating some hymns from English to Spanish a while back), so I try to pick up some principles from the translations here on SCP. It seems to me that in stanzas one and three you more closely followed a literal translation, and admirably reproduced Nájera’s poetic imagery. In stanzas two and four, though less literal, you still captured the feeling of the original in your English rendering. Excellent and compelling.

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      Thank you, Anna. The process of translation can often feel like finding your way through a labyrinth between language and meaning. Why not revisit your earlier attempts of the hymns? Also, if you haven’t already done so, see Dr. Salemi’s latest post of July 11. His views on translation offer useful information.

      Reply

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