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  #1  
Unread 05-07-2019, 01:39 PM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Default Heavenly Stained Glass 1/9 by G. de M.

The first paragraph of a nine-paragraph essay by José María González de Mendoza (Mexico, 1893-1967), first published in 1924. The title is "Heavenly Stained Glass" ("Vitrales celestes," literally "Celestial stained glass windows").

I've color-coded some spots that might be problematical, to make them easier to find in my translation, the original, and my literal prose crib.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

DRAFT THREE:

     Who could speak your silent abracadabra, stained glass of the Middle Ages? Mystical fire, windows into a better world, translucent alleluias, luminous symphonies, damascened blades of the archangelic sword: all that, but more. And how to express that word-eluding “more”? The eyes never get their fill of looking at them, and because leaving is obligatory, we leave with a sigh, giving up on ever finding the perfect, impossible metaphor to define them: the most astute remark in front of them is “Ah!”, is “Oh!”

Tweak:
Sentence one had: say your silent abracadabra

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

SPANISH ORIGINAL:

     ¿Quién podría decir vuestro silencioso encanto, vitrales del Medievo? Místico incendio, ventanas abiertas sobre un mundo mejor, aleluyas traslúcidas, sinfonías luminosas, damasquinadas hojas de la espada arcangélica: todo eso, pero más. Y cómo expresar ese más que escapa a la palabra. No se sacian nunca los ojos de mirarlos, y porque es forzoso irse nos vamos renunciando, con un suspiro a encontrar la metáfora justa e imposible que los defina: el comentario más sagaz ante ellos es ¡Ah!, es ¡Oh!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

LITERAL PROSE CRIB:

     Who could (speak, say, state) your silent charm, stained glass windows of the Middle Ages? Mystical fire, windows opened upon a better world, translucent alleluias, luminous symphonies, damascened blades of the archangelic sword: all that, but more. And how to express that “more” that eludes the word? They don't get enough, never, the eyes, of looking at them, and because it is mandatory to leave, we leave giving up, with a sigh, on (at?) finding the right and impossible metaphor to define them: the most (sagacious, clever, perspicacious, astute) commentary before them is “Ah!”, is “Oh!”

Note:
Sentence 4: renunciar a + infinitive means "to give up on + doing," but the fact that the prepositional phrase "con un suspiro" (with a sigh) separates "renunciar" from "a" suggests that that expression isn't really being invoked here. And since "Ah!" and "Oh!" are themselves sigh-sounds, maybe the sigh of wistfulness on having to leave isn't so different from the sigh of appreciative wonder.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

DRAFT ONE:

     Who could speak your silent charm, stained glass windows of the Middle Ages? Mystical fire, windows opened upon a better world, translucent alleluias, luminous symphonies, damascened blades of the archangelic sword: all that, but more. And how to express that word-eluding “more”? Never do the eyes get their fill of looking at them, and because it is mandatory to leave, we leave with a sigh, giving up on ever finding the right and impossible metaphor to define them: the most astute commentary before them is “Ah!”, is “Oh!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

DRAFT TWO:

     Who could speak your silent abracadabra, stained glass of the Middle Ages? Mystical fire, windows opening into a better world, translucent alleluias, luminous symphonies, damascened blades of the archangelic sword: all that, but more. And how to express that word-eluding “more”? The eyes never get their fill of looking at them, and because leaving is obligatory, we leave in resignation, with a sigh, only to discover the perfect, impossible metaphor to define them: the most astute commentary before them is “Ah!”, is “Oh!”

Tweaks:
Sentence 2: "opening into" was that open into
Sentence 4: "leaving is obligatory" was leaving is inevitable
Sentence 4: "in resignation, with a sigh, only to discover" was in resignation, with a sigh at discovering; before that it was with a sigh, giving up on ever finding
Sentence 4: "perfect, impossible" was perfect yet impossible; before that it was impossibly perfect

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 05-12-2019 at 11:26 PM. Reason: Draft Three
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  #2  
Unread 05-07-2019, 03:43 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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I think you get everything right, but so does the literal crib, and I'm not sure what quality of the Spanish you wish to draw out. What you wrote certainly does the trick, and I don't think it distorts anything, so I have no "corrections" to offer. And since it's prose, that takes the subject of rhyme and meter off the table, so all I can do is throw out some general ideas.

Though I do not have specific suggestions, as a general matter I'd observe that the Spanish uses various words with fairly close English cognates, and sometimes when that happens it's quite tempting just to pick the English cognate rather than looking for other words that might fit the meaning but somehow sound better in the translation. I haven't translated prose, but I can imagine that it might be harder to allow yourself a bit more stylistic liberty when you don't have the excuse of needing to do so in order to preserve rhyme or meter.

But I would suggest that this could be pepped up a bit by giving yourself a bit more of that liberty to turn the prose into something a bit more sumptuous, or which allows you to get a more fluid rhythm going. Instead of "charm," could it maybe be "allure" or "glamor"? Instead of "luminous symphonies," could it be "shining symphonies"? And "Never do the eyes get their fill" seems a bit labored to me compared to, say, something like "The eyes can't get enough..." or "The eyes never tire of looking at them".

I'd maybe change "opened upon" to "open to".

I'm not claiming that any of what I've said is better than what you have. I just mean to suggest as a general matter that you give yourself more permission to write this as more energetic and flowing prose. Maybe that would make it better than the Spanish? I'm not sure. But the Spanish does seem to convey a bit more wonder and reverence than the English version so far, though you are close to being there.
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Unread 05-07-2019, 03:50 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Julie,

I enjoyed your translation and Roger's comment thereafter. One line stood out to me in his comment: "maybe that would make it better than the Spanish. " This to my mind opens a can of worms. If a translation can be better than the original, is it our job to make it so? Clearer in meaning, less clumsy in phrase or music? Maybe it is. The French Ultras in the period 1815-1830 were described as more royalist than the king.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 05-07-2019, 04:09 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Thanks, Roger! Very helpful. [And cross-posted with John--sorry! Thanks for your thoughts, too. I think my comment on the hyperbaton below gets at what Roger might have meant about "better than the Spanish."]

I'll take this away and will fuss with it, but immediately I see, thanks to Roger's suggestion, that using "abracadabra" instead of "charm" for "encanto" would more easily convey the theme of the writer's feeling of futility at trying to use language to espress the ineffable.

(And yet that professed humility doesn't deter the essayist from going on for eight more paragraphs....)

Hyperbaton (syntactical gymnastics) comes up again and again in Golden Age poetry, and I'm sure González de Mendoza means to evoke some of the Gongorisms of that throwback, high-literary style; but since the weird syntax doesn't have those connotations for readers of English, I think you're right that I should just make it read more smoothly. In verse translations, I'm never quite sure to what degree I should try to maintain that odd combination of awkwardness and elegance. Deciding how to deal with it in prose will be helpful for figuring out how to approach certain Baroque poetry.

I do think I want to keep the triple "lu" of "translucent alleluias, luminous symphonies" for "aleluyas traslúcidas, sinfonías luminosas," but in general I'll consider whether cognates are really the best way to convey the whole experience as well as the meaning.

I'll also consider whether repeating "windows" is a good idea. I could just go with "stained glass" the first time, as I did in the title, but then I've got to change most of the plurals that refer to them. (Which is probably fine in this paragraph, but in some of the later paragraphs it will be more problematical.)

Draft Two now posted with various tweaks. Thanks, Roger and John.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 05-07-2019 at 05:06 PM.
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Unread 05-08-2019, 07:55 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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Comments on Draft Two:


Instead of "Who could speak" try "Who could pronounce"?

Consider "incantation" for "abracadabra", since the latter is arguably a bit too fanciful in its diction than the original allows for. (Also, it indirectly introduces some Christian allusions that are out of place here, since, I believe, the expression has something to do with Jesus's tomb -- though I may be wrong about that).

I'd just make it "windows to a better world" and leave out "opened".

I notice that the "expresar" sentence doesn't have question marks, which I suppose ought to carry over to the translation.

I'm not sure whether the last sentence means to say we leave while giving up the idea of finding a perfect metaphor, or we leave and with a sign we discover that perfect metaphor, which is saying ah or oh. I think it's the former, but I'm not certain. It's that comma after renunciando, and the lack of a comma after suspiro, that create the ambiguity for me.

I would say "comment" instead of "commentary". And maybe change "before them" to "beholding them" (since "before" briefly miscues me to think in terms of temporal sequence, and sounds a bit fusty).
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Unread 05-11-2019, 06:31 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Hey, Rogerbob!

Thanks very much for continuing to wrestle with this, much as I have been continuing to wrestle with it. So short a piece of writing, yet so many complications....

I think I'll go with the simple "say," but will keep "abracadabra" (which I think you're confusing with "hocus pocus," which comes from a mishearing of "Hoc est corpus meus," "This is my body," before the transubstantiation in the Mass). Yes, it's a little more fanciful, but I'm de-fanciful-izing a few other spots, so on average I think it's okay.

[Edited to say: Arrghhh, now I want to go back to "speak." I think "speak" is better than "pronounce," because he's a writer referring to the impossibility of putting the magic of the stained glass into words, whether orally (as in the case of visitors rendered speechless) or in writing (as in his own case, in the current essay).]

I've decided to meet you halfway on "windows into."

I thought long and hard about adding the question mark, and I think I've done right. My gut tells me that that and the lack of a comma in the final sentence are editorial sloppiness/typos rather than intentional.

I've fussed with the final bit, too, thanks to your nudging. Much appreciated.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 05-12-2019 at 05:11 PM.
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