Translator's notes

preparing a plate of olives

By Olga Xirinachs Díaz

This poem was published in 1978, in the collection Clau de Blau, by the Institut d’Estudis Tarraconenses. It is simple, plain and direct, but for one potentially mysterious line.

For a translator, things seem straightforward: the words have recognisable roots and forms, and many are recognisable to an English speaker in themselves. The punctuation is clear, and manoeuvres the meaning with a gentle, and uncomplicated touch. There are no difficult cruxes of language or meaning. The form is natural, in lines and as a whole. 

But a small, elegant, clear, plain and classical poem might, in fact, be the hardest of all to re-render into another language. It might be like trying to rearrange some Mozart into any form but its own. 

Here, the literal rendering is given by Dr Anna Vives.

There is not much room for alternative vocabulary: or is there? A plate of olives is a plate of olives, bread is bread, cheese is cheese, and wine is wine. But ‘rusty’ may not have to be ‘rusty’, and ‘nourish’ might not have to be ‘nourish’, and on such an apparently little choices, the tone of your translation might rest.

And what about ‘listen to the hour of the wood’? Are ‘listen’, ‘hour’ and ‘wood’ non-negotiable ? If you choose something different, some other words, will the tone still suit the gentle plainness of the rest ? And might the line mean something subtly other, and how does the subtly other get expressed while staying itself.

And could the last 3 lines, of welcome, and identification, perhaps, of friends and visitors with ties that go beyond a mere evening together, be made deeper, clearer, quieter or stronger with other words ? Is ‘reaffirm’ replacable ? Can ‘old bonds’ be ‘ancient’, ‘timely’, or ‘lasted’ ‘links’, ‘community’ or ‘closeness’?

In such small decisions, your translation will be its own : three or four carefully chosen words, and the poem, in English, will tilt in your direction. 

Is what you feel, what you decide, and what you like, right ?

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