In Translation

Having studied various languages, I am fascinated by the process of translation.

What you quickly learn is there are many ways to "translate" something, because what you're really doing is interpreting idioms, memes and metaphors. Saying "bite the bullet" literally in most other languages would result in puzzled expressions. Just as the French "poser un lapin à quelqu’un"—to put a rabbit on somebody—does in English. (It means to stand somebody up.)

Take the Welsh song "All Through the Night." There are many interpretations. You might say each translator put her or his own spin on it.

But here's the thing: I'm finding that sometimes something more authentic comes through the direct translation, even if it's a bit rough around the edges.

Consider this typical English translation of "All Through the Night":

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and vale in slumber steeping,
I my loving vigil keeping
All through the night.
While the moon her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
O'er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night.


**In the examples that follow, you can click the link to play the song in a new window, then click the tab from the previous window to read the original lyrics while the song is playing. Note that with YouTube there may be a brief ad, which you can skip after a few seconds.

Here's "Ar Hyd y Nos" in the original Welsh (there's more than one version, btw):

Holl amrantau'r sêr ddywedant
Ar hyd y nos
"Dyma'r ffordd i fro gogoniant,"
Ar hyd y nos.
Golau arall yw tywyllwch
I arddangos gwir brydferthwch
Teulu'r nefoedd mewn tawelwch
Ar hyd y nos.
O mor siriol, gwena seren
Ar hyd y nos
I oleuo'i chwaer ddaearen
Ar hyd y nos.
Nos yw henaint pan ddaw cystudd
Ond i harddu dyn a'i hwyrddydd
Rhown ein golau gwan i'n gilydd
Ar hyd y nos.


Now here's a direct translation:

All the stars' twinkles say
All through the night
"This is the way to the realm of glory,"
All through the night.
Other light is darkness
To show true beauty
The Heavenly family in peace
All through the night.
O, how cheerful smiles the star,
All through the night
To light its earthly sister
All through the night.
Old age is night when affliction comes
But to beautify man in his late days
We'll put our weak light together
All through the night.


I'm especially moved by these lines:

Old age is night when affliction comes
But to beautify man in his late days
We'll put our weak light together
All through the night.


Isn't that simply stunning!

Then there are the songs we typically only hear in the native language, with most of us not having any idea what the songs are saying. "Guantanamera" is a perfect example of that.

Guantanamera in Spanish (again, more than one version):

Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera,
Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera.

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma,
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma,
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma.

Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera,
Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera.

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar,
Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar,
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace más que el mar.

Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera,
Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera.

No me pongas en el oscuro
A morir como un traidor,
No me pongas en el oscuro
A morir como un traidor,
Yo soy bueno, y como bueno
Moriré de cara al sol!
Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera,
Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera.

Cultivo una rosa blanca
En julio como en enero,
Cultivo una rosa blanca
En julio como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazón con que vivo,
Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazón con que vivo,
Cardo ni oruga cultivo
Cultivo la rosa blanca.

Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera,
Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera.


The English version:

Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera,
Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera.

I am an honest man
Where the palm grows,
I am an honest man
Where the palm grows,
And before I die I want
To cast my verses of the soul.

Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera,
Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera.

It is with the poor of the Earth
That I wish to share my fate,
It is with the poor of the Earth
That I wish to share my fate,
The streams of the mountains
Please me more than the sea.

Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera,
Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera.

Don't put me in the dark
To die like a traitor,
Don't put me in the dark
To die like a traitor,
I am good, and as good
I will die facing the sun!

Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera,
Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera.

Cultivate a white rose
In July as in January,
Cultivate a white rose
In July as in January,
For the sincere friend
Who gives me his frank hand.

And for the cruel person who tears from me
The heart by which I live,
Thistle nor thorn do I give
For him, too, I have a white rose.

Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera,
Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera.


Once again, I'm especially moved by these lines:

Don't put me in the dark
To die like a traitor,
Don't put me in the dark
To die like a traitor,
I am good, and as good
I will die facing the sun!


also...

And for the cruel person who tears from me
The heart by which I live,
Thistle nor thorn do I give
For him, too, I have a white rose.

Comments? Send to: tedkseastrom@gmail.com

More about "Ar Hyd y Nos"
More about "Guantanamera" and who Guajira is

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