Cousin and Stranger Languages
[This post originally appeared on Kelly Belmonte's excellent blog All Nine Muses.]
Is there a connection between land and identity, between one’s family roots and one’s sense of the right ‘fit’ with language? I think there may be. Genesis says that God made Adam from the dust of the earth; perhaps we are made so that we will have a deep connection with the earth from which we were made, in a local and specific way.
In my last post for All Nine, I reflected on three English translations of a Chinese poem. Since I don’t speak Chinese, I could only compare the translations. This time at All Nine, though, the poem at hand, “Appeal to the Lonely One” by Rosario Juanita Castellanos is in Spanish… and since I speak Spanish, I decided to take a look at the original as well as the translation.
Though I read and speak Spanish fluently, it has always felt slightly alien to me. In recent years I’ve come to see a possible reason why. My father is a bit of a genealogy buff, and he’s tracked down both sides of the family, some as far back as the early 1600s. I’m one-quarter Finnish (my grandmother on my father’s side was the daughter of Finnish immigrants, and was named Ina Karvonen), with the rest being English and a little bit Irish. What’s more, the English roots of my family come mainly from the south of England.
In my own poetry, I have found that by intuition as well as by conscious choice, I draw most of all on words that have Anglo-Saxon (Old English) roots. It feels right to me, as a poet. These are the words that my ancestors spoke; they are in my blood too. Spanish is the language of the far-away south. An Old English poem in translation is a cousin; a modern Spanish poem in translation is a visiting stranger.
And so, as an experiment in the ‘feel’ of language, I did my own translation of “Appeal to the Lonely,” choosing only words that had Anglo-Saxon origins. (I double-checked them with the fascinating and useful Online Etymology Dictionary. Interestingly, almost all my first choices of words were Anglo-Saxon!) I also had a little fun with injecting some Anglo-Saxon stylistic elements into the translation.
Listen, You Who Are Alone
We need, at times, to seek out friends.
Friend, one cannot either be born, or come to one’s end,
if not with another. It is good
that friendship strips
the gloom of guilt from work,
that it makes gladness not stolen,
How can you be all alone when,
at the fullness of time, all things speak at length with you,
and then the morn-star rises?
Here is the translation that we looked at, for All Nine:
At times it suits us to find friendship.
Friend, it is not possible to be born,
or die, without the other. It is well
that friendship removes from work
that feel of punishment, and from joy
the illicit airs of thievery.
How can you be alone at the total hour,
in which the things and you talk
and talk, till dawn?
Here is the Spanish original:
Es necesario, a veces, encontrar compañía.
Amigo, no es posible ni nacer ni morir
sino con otro. Es bueno
que la amistad le quite
al trabajo esa cara de castigo
y a la alegría ese aire ilícito de robo.
¿Cómo podrás estar solo a la hora
completa, en que las cosas y tú hablan y hablan,
hasta el amanecer?
Dr. Holly Ordway is a poet, academic, and Christian apologist. She is the chair of the Department of Apologetics and director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, and the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith. Her work focuses on imaginative and literary apologetics, with special attention to C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.