Camões's Sonnets in English

 Volume 10, No. 2 
April 2006

Regina Alfarano


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Index 1997-2006

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
Straddling the East-West Divide
by Diane Howard

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Buzzword or Bonanza? A Translator Reflects on Best Practice
by Ann C. Sherwin

In Memoriam
Susana Greiss: 1920 - 2006

  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages—Miss Liberty, Wireless
by Ted Crump

  Translators Around the World
Distance and Online Courses for Translators
by Christine Schmit

  Financial Translation
An English - Italian Glossary of International Finance and Trade
by Lorenzo Fiorito
Brazilian Taxation—An Introduction
by Vera & Danilo Nogueira

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Translation in Context
by Jiang Tianmin
Narrowing the Gap between Theory and Practice of Translation
by Salawu Adewuni, Ph.D.

  Book Review
Manual de documentación para la traducción literaria
Dra. Carmen Cuéllar Lázaro
Camões in English—A Review
Regina Alfarano, Ph.D.

  Bible Translation
Proverbs and Phrases of Biblical Origin
by Igor Maslennikov

  Translator Education
Is Translation Teachable?
by Massoud Azizinezhad
Using Trados's WinAlign Tool to Teach the Translation Equivalence Concept
by Shih Chung-ling

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium
Legal Aspects of Compiling Corpora to be used as Translation Resources—Questions of Copyright
by Michael Wilkinson

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

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  Translation Journal

Book Review


Camões's Sonnets in English

A Review

by Regina Alfarano, Ph.D.

Luís de Camões: Selected Sonnets

A Bilingual Edition

Edited and Translated by William Baer

The University of Chicago Press, 2005


iscussing the translation of poetry before his reading at the Brazilian Embassy in Rome, in 2001, Haroldo de Campos quoted Novalis: "The translator of poetry is a poet's poet." An internationally acclaimed, renowned poet and translator himself, he knew exactly what he was talking about.

It seems appropriate, then, to say that rather than reviews, poetry in translation encourages the sharing of approaches, the debate on decision-making processes, and exchanges while treading along "long and winding" poetical roads.

William Baer's year in Coimbra, and especially this book, have contributed not only to translation studies but to literature, to history, and to culture in a broad sense. The book includes a substantial Introduction, followed by Camões's Life and Literary Work. The translator also includes notes on his translation work: most invaluable in a bilingual edition.

Translation is the craft of making choices. Translating poetry is the art of making choices. A myriad of choices, all embedded, all intertwined, all interdependent. And that is what makes reviewing translation of poetry quite unique—if not almost impossible: choosing when translating poetry is a long, highly and carefully wrought process involving rhyming schemes, metrics, style, or, as Pound defined it, involving melopoeia (music), phanopoeia (imagistic quality), and logopoeia (a dance of the intellect among words). Such a process is exclusively subjective, based on knowledge, research, and most of all, on feeling and intuition.

Poetry translators are aware that their choice-making involves higher risks than other translation categories. As an anonymous author wrote on Pope's translations of Horace, he worked with his "bound hand and feet and yet danced as if free." The description is perfect! Would that not apply to all literary translation, one could ask? In a way, it does, but as the Brazilian poet Régis Bonvicino said once: "What else is poetry if not the most organized way of writing?" Poetry is indeed self-contained, self-sufficient, within clear-cut contours.

William Baer made his choice for the contemporary English language. He chose to bring Camões close to his 21st century readers many times by using colloquial, prose language. In his own words, putting together rhyming schemes, metrics, and style, "has led to some aesthetic liberties," while "trying, with English meters and rhymes, to highlight with sound, as his originals do so beautifully, Camões's poetic 'explorations'."

Poetry translators can and may undoubtedly be led to aesthetic liberties in their task, which in turn pave the way for readers to have access to foreign literature. Those liberties, however, are constrained by rhyming schemes, metrics, and style—the translator's "bound hand and feet." Only a few translators succeed in "dancing as if free."

It is too early yet to know how Camões's sonnets will be perceived by English-speaking readers.

Here are excerpts of Baer's translation of two of Camões's most renowned sonnets:

"Dear gentle soul, who has, too soon, departed
this life, so discontent: please rest, my dear,
forever in heaven, while I, remaining here,
must live alone, in pain, and brokenhearted."

"Alma minha gentil, que te partiste
tão cedo desta vida descontente
repousa lá no Céu eternamente,
e viva eu cá na terra sempre triste."

"The dawn rises lovely but ill-fated
and full of grief. For as long as heartbreaks prey
upon our tragic world, this dawning day
should be forever famous and celebrated."

"Aquela triste leda madrugada,
cheia toda de mágoa e de piedade,
enquanto houver no mundo saüdade
quero que seja sempre celebrada."

The debate on the choice of style considering time frames has understandably been extensive and endless. But the tripod—rhyming scheme, metrics, and style—are the very foundation of poetry, and consequently, of its translation. One must try to contradict Frost in his widely known "Poetry is what is lost in translation," and rather agree with Brodsky, when he energetically states that "Poetry is what is gained in translation." Or even more comfortably, keep Octávio Paz in mind: "Poetry is what gets transformed." What can be gained? What kind of transformation is to take place?

Melody and rhythm play as important a role as rhyme and metrics, if not more important, to reach that transformation, or that gain. Readers must naturally and spontaneously be taken by the hands of the translator to the melopoeia and to the logopoeia—immediately, instantaneously—so that phanopoeia can be revealed. Commas and broken sentences segment melody, chop rhythm. Colloquialism and prose style may make the sonnet more understandable, but also lend quite different tones to the shades originally painted by the poet.

Although there is an attempt on the part of Baer to keep the rhyming scheme and comparable metrics (iambic pentameters), the flow and beauty of Camões's verse seem to have been lost most of the time.

The significance of a bilingual edition of a superior and renowned poet (Baer himself compares him to Petrarch, Dante, and Shakespeare)—is to be pointed out. If this is the translation of Camões's sonnets for 21st century readers, one must question the perception they will have of this most important Portuguese poet.