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Unread 09-16-2019, 04:03 PM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Default three Mexican hai-kai (haiku variants)

Here are three haiku-inspired rhyming poems from the first half of the 20th century—each by a different Mexican poet, each in the context of insomnia, and each featuring a clock.

I’ll present my English verse translations of all three, and then will address each poem separately with its Spanish original, English prose crib, and notes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

DRAFT THREE (9/18), plus tweaks to the Tablada (9/19)

12 p. m.

The clock sounds like it gnaws
on midnight, and its echo is
the minute-hand of the mouse.

(José Juan Tablada, 1922)


Clock

What penny-pinching heart
counts the small change
of the moments?

(Xavier Villaurrutia, 1926)


The clock that gnaws
my heart out is
not a buzzard, but a mouse.

(Octavio Paz, 1944)


Pre-tweak version of the Tablada:

12 p. m.

It sounds like the clock gnaws
on midnight, and like its echo's
the minute-hand mouse.



(I've moved Drafts One and Two to the end of this post.)


~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The same three poems, individually:
~ ~ ~ ~ ~


José Juan Tablada (Mexico, 1871-1945)

12 p. m.

It sounds like the clock gnaws
on midnight, and its echo's
the minute-hand of the mouse.

12 p. m.

Parece roer el reló
la medianoche y ser su eco
el minutero del ratón.

12 p. m.

It seems to gnaw—the clock [does]—
midnight, and [it seems] to be its echo (or, “midnight, and its echo seems to be”)
the minute hand of the mouse.

Notes:

Published as the last in a series of haiku-inspired poems titled “El reló de sombra” (“The clock of shadow”), each titled with a time from 6 p.m. to midnight, in Tablada’s 1922 collection
El jarro de flores (The vase of flowers).

Syllable count is 8, 8, 8:
L1: pa-RE-ce ro-ER el re-LÓ
(By the way, this is a non-standard—Asturian, perhaps?—spelling of “reloj,” “clock,” but it’s pronounced the same as the standard Castilian spelling.)
L2: la ME-(dia)-NO-(che y) SER (su E)-cho
L3: el MIN-u-TE-ro DEL ra-TÓN.

There is a masculine assonantal rhyme between stressed final syllables of L1 and L3 (“re-LÓ” and “ra-TÓN”); the unstressed final syllable of L2 (“E-cho”) also chimes a bit.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xavier Villaurrutia (Mexico, 1903-1950)

Clock

What penny-pinching heart
counts the small change
of the moments?

Reloj

¿Qué corazón ávaro
cuenta el metal
de los instantes?

Clock

What avaricious heart
counts the metal (i.e., the coins, the pocket change)
of the instants?

Notes:

This poem was published as part of a series called “Suite del insomnio” (“Suite of the insomniac”) in Villarrutia’s 1926 collection
Reflejos (Reflections.)

L1: 7 syllables: ¿QUÉ co-ra-ZÓN Á-va-ro
L2: 4 or 5 syllables: (cu-EN)-(ta el) me-TAL or (cu-EN)-ta el me-TAL
L3: 5 syllables: de LOS in-STAN-tes?
Assonantal rhyme on “A” in the final stressed syllables of all three lines (Á-var-o, me-TAL, in-STAN-tes).


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Octavio Paz (Mexico, 1914-1998)

The clock that gnaws
my heart out is
not a buzzard, but a mouse.

Roe el reloj
mi corazón,
buitre no, sino ratón.

Gnaws the clock
my heart—
vulture no, rather mouse.

Notes:

Published as the first of several short poems in a series titled “Apuntes del insomnio” (“Insomniac’s notes”) in Paz’s 1944 chapbook
Condición de nube (Cloud conditions). The poem seems to be arranged in three lines as a nod to haiku (and the first line clearly echoes José Juan Tablada’s haiku-inspired “12 p. m.,”—see above). However, the rhyme scheme and meter could also work if the poem were arranged as a couplet (combining L1 and L2), or as a quatrain (putting a line break after the comma in L3).

Depending on elision/hiatus decisions about adjacent vowels, L1 has 5 syllables—RO-e el re-LOJ—or 4—RO-(e el) re-LOJ—or as few as 3—(RO-e el) re-LOJ.
L2: 4 syllables: mi CO-ra-ZÓN
L3: 7 syllables: BUI-tre NO, SI-no ra-TÓN

There is masculine assonantal rhyme on “O” in all three lines; also, perfect rhyme between L2 and L3 (co-ra-ZÓN, ra-TÓN), and perfect rhyme between L1 and the middle of L3 (re-LOJ, NO).

The poem makes an implicit allusion to Prometheus and his punishment of having a vulture (or Zeus’s eagle) eat his liver, which constantly grows back because he is immortal. The ancient Greeks regarded the liver as the seat of emotions, just as the heart has come to be regarded as such in later Western tradition.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

DRAFT TWO (9/17)


12 p. m.

It seems the clock chews
up midnight; its echo is
the minute-hand mouse.

(José Juan Tablada, 1922)


Clock

What tightwad heart
keeps counting out
the moments’ copper?

(Xavier Villaurrutia, 1926)


The clock that chews
my heart up is
not a buzzard, but a mouse.

(Octavio Paz, 1944)


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

DRAFT ONE (9/16)

12 p. m.

It seems as though the clock gnaws
midnight and its echo is
the minute-hand-resembling mouse.

(José Juan Tablada, 1922)


Clock

What heart could be so miserly
it counts out change this wee—
the instants’ currency?

(Xavier Villaurrutia, 1926)


My heart in its jaws,
the clock gnaws—
not a buzzard, but a mouse.

(Octavio Paz, 1944)

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 09-19-2019 at 02:40 PM.
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Unread 09-17-2019, 09:50 AM
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Alternate verse translation of the Paz hai-kai, more closely following the line order of the original:

The clock that gnaws
my heart out is
not a buzzard, but a mouse.
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Unread 09-17-2019, 02:36 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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I like how you found three little poems that go so well together. But I think in many ways you are making things more difficult for yourself than you need to by trying to duplicate formal aspects of the original that don’t strike me as very important or noticeable, rather than just trying to come up with tightly worded versions that capture the meaning more exactly and are haiku-like (without necessarily trying to be seventeen syllables). Your detailed analysis of the syllables and the assonantal rhymes doesn’t seem to relate all that directly to what you’ve done in your translations, nor do I think it needs to. That kind of rhyme isn’t really all that audible in English, and the alternative of finding perfect rhymes seems out of reach, and there’s no point I can see in trying to duplicate the syllable count. Your rewrite of the Paz is perfect, I think, but the other two seem overly labored.


It seems as though the clock gnaws maybe add "at"; and I wonder if you need “as though”?
midnight, and its echo is
the minute-hand-resembling mouse. Why 'resembling'? Why not just "of the" or “the mouse’s minute hand? Admittedly, though, the image is a bit opaque in Spanish, since how can a sound look like an object, let alone a object (the minute hand) that is part of an object (a mouse) that doesn't “have” the first object (i.e., a mouse doesn't have a minute hand)? And a further difficulty in translation is that the word “minute” also means small in English, and so it comes off as an intended double meaning when applied to a mouse even though it's absent from the original.



What heart could be so miserly I think I'd prefer "stingy"
it counts out change this wee— I don't think "wee" works outside of Scotland. Maybe "small change" or even "pennies" or "small coins". Best maybe to avoid the word "change" since it suggests something transactional, like what you give someone who pays with a large bill. Also, more importantly, since the poem is about time, "change" may introduce a distracting thought that's not in the original.
the instants’ currency? I think I prefer "moments". I would also omit "currency" since it's not in the Spanish and would be established well enough in the second line anyway. If you wanted to get something like a rhyme in there, I don’t think that’s really necessary, especially since it’s not an actual rhyme given where the stresses fall.
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Unread 09-17-2019, 06:45 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Thanks, Roger!

I spent a lot of time in hospitals, fussing with Mexican hai-kai. My attention span was short, but I needed some all-absorbing activity that I could escape into. That's how I stumbled upon the work of José María Gonzales de Mendoza, who seems to have known a bunch of these guys personally, and wrote an essay on them.

I actually don't feel too much pressure to duplicate the exact syllable counts, since the Mexican poets who wrote hai-kais often didn't. They often didn't even keep the three-line structure (although in these three examples they did). Lots of couplets, and even occasional quatrains.

I would like to keep at least a hint of the rhyme, thought, when the poets did.

I'm interested in your thoughts on Draft Two (of all three poems), now posted above.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 09-17-2019 at 06:55 PM.
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Unread 09-17-2019, 07:28 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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Maybe a mouse could "nibble" instead of chewing up? And consider that eco doesn't have to mean echo, but can mean a faint sound. It would be nice if you could more directly connect the nibbling clock to the mouse and the tick-tock to the sound of the nibbling, but I may be asking you do do something that perhaps the Spanish itself does not, imho, do as well as I'd like.

In the next one, to support the idea of the clock being a tightwad, perhaps "meting out" instead of counting? Though I realize that the Spanish says "counting," so maybe it's a liberty you don't feel right in taking (though it's one that I would be fine with myself). I'm not that keen on"copper," since it doesn't strike me as colloquial enough. But if you want to name a metal, maybe "silver" would sound more natural.

The Paz still strikes me fine as is.
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Unread 09-17-2019, 11:55 PM
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At one point I was toying with translating "Parece" as "It sounds like" rather than "It seems." Maybe I should try that again:

DRAFT THREE

12 p. m.

It sounds like the clock gnaws
on midnight, and like its echo's
the minute-hand mouse.

(José Juan Tablada, 1922)

I probably should resist the temptation to say what I'm thinking as I read the Spanish, because if this isn't coming across in the translation itself, it's cheating to explain it in prose. So don't highlight the white text below if you don't want to know. Anyway:

I'm hearing not only a parallel between the chewing-with-its-mouth-open sound of the clock's tick-tock and the gnawing of the mouse, but I also imagine the two noisemakers are on different sides of the room that the narrator is in, so that it really is as if an echo is bouncing back from the opposite wall from the one where the clock is located.

I'm also seeing an implicit comparison between a mouse's long, thin tail and the long, thin minute hand of a large clock. But maybe that's just me.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Maybe I can get away with leaving "metal" in L2 of the Villaurrutia, despite that not being English slang for coinage, if I introduce the notion of coinage in L1:

DRAFT THREE

Clock

What penny-pinching heart
counts the metal
of the moments?

(Xavier Villaurrutia, 1926)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sorry to be dense, but which Paz version did you like, Rogerbob? Was it Draft 1 (with L1 and L2 flip-flopped from the way they appear in the Spanish), Draft 2 (keeping the Spanish order), or the one in Post #2 (which came in between them, and which I thought was what you meant by "rewrite")?

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 09-18-2019 at 12:01 AM.
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Unread 09-18-2019, 12:53 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Julie, how about "small change" instead of "metal"? That would be more idiomatic.

Susan
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Unread 09-18-2019, 08:22 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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I meant that I preferred Post #2.
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Unread 09-18-2019, 10:32 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Julie,

I'm sorry I've not yet got to this, and my Spanish isn't great - I will be back - but the chat about syllable count reminded me of my favorite haiku, by John Cooper Clarke, which I thought you might enjoy:

Expressing complex emotions
in seventeen syllables
Is extremely diffic.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 09-18-2019, 11:43 AM
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RCL RCL is offline
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Italian made loo
Designed for a golden poo
Your inner Midas
__________________
Ralph

Last edited by RCL; 09-18-2019 at 05:48 PM.
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