Thoughts on Translation

When working on my translations I had trouble with the translation in terms of how to convey both the beauty and the message of the poem, which was difficult for me at first just from reading the Spanish, as Sor Juana uses syntax in ways that, as someone who is very familiar with, but not fluent in the language I struggle. It makes sense of course, because in English we also use complex syntax in poetry, but the difference here I feel is that the languages change syntax in slightly different ways. Sor Juana’s poetry contains many reflexive verbs, and because the third person and formal second person overlap greatly, I have to make judgement calls on who the poem is referring to in the context of the sentence. The verb forms are difficult because of this, and I have always had trouble with reflexive verbs, which compounds the problem. Furthermore, the poems often leave out a subject, or reference a subject that was in a previous line or stanza, and so keeping track of the persons can be difficult for me, especially since I am not a native speaker.

Another struggle I have with this poetry is that the poems do not have titles, and so I am in an ambiguous position in terms of creating one or sticking with just a number. The question of whether or not to title the poems is a conflict for me, because while I may wish to title the poems as my own, I wonder whether doing so would be claiming too much of what isn’t necessarily mine.

This of course comes back to the question of whether the translated work belongs to the translator, or the original creator. Then I wonder what Sor Juana would think about my translations, and I wonder again whether it is fair to change the words of someone long-dead.

Where is the line? Have I crossed it or am I just not there yet? Will I ever get there?

Or is it a line that doesn’t exist except in my mind?

These are questions that I think deserve further thought. I hesitate to say that the author is dead – especially as I am a creator of original works in addition to being a translator. So basically I’m not even sure what I think. I just have a lot of thoughts in a lot of places, and grappling with them is probably something I will be doing for a long time.

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