A friend and fellow poet, Gavriel Navarro, invited me a few days ago to translate a sonnet he’d just written in Spanish. It was a casual invitation—if I happened to be around and had a few minutes, perhaps I would enjoy seeing what might come of it.
At the chance, I leaped, and here’s why. In 2011, when poetry was the furthest thing from my mind and experience, Gavriel thought I might be the right person to translate “a few poems he’d written.” There were 130 of them! It was an 8-week fugue of indescribable intensity. From that venture, we organized 49 poems to become his first published volume of verse, The Wind and the Sea: Poems and Reflections on the Voyage of No Return.
What I never attempted was a sonnet in translation. Gavriel is a free-verse kind of guy, and sonnets are the one form that make me feel like a scullery maid in the dining room. There’s way too much cutlery; I don’t know what silver pointy thing to pick up first.
Nonetheless, what is life for if not to overcome a fear of salad forks? Thanks to time zones, Gavriel lives fourteen hours into my future, so he’d already posted a free verse translation of his Borgean sonnet. I was under no pressure, except of the ABBA ABBA CDC CEE, decasyllabic kind. According to Hispanic scholars, this was the favoured rhyme scheme of Jorge Luis Borges when he composed sonnets. No offense, G., but an opportunity to tramp in the footsteps of that brilliant, inimitable Argentine was my real motivation.
A note on the translation: While I did keep to the rhyme scheme as much as English and my limited experience of sonnets would allow, I had to forego the strict 11-syllable meter in favour of (mostly) pentameter. In Latino poetry—prose, too, for that matter—emotions are writ large, and there is no shortage of compact, flowing words to accommodate them. English, on the other hand, stores almost none of her emotional vocabulary on low shelves. Fortunately, scullery maids have no fear of ladders or pantries.
I hope you enjoy Gavriel Navarro’s “Desires of Skin and Peach”, in both English and Spanish.
Desires of Skin and Peach
From the languid torpor of your exhales
your breasts spilled out covering my body
and concealed with roses the disharmony
that stole away with the wind lightly veiled
So, ‘neath your tender shade I did avail
myself to sit, a claimed authority
and far beyond mere bounds of satiety
eyes closed, I sigh, offer up my countervail
How is it possible from loves not to die
when far away, absence tearing cries from me
setting free, and loudly, that I’m terrified?
My love for you, I know you don’t deny
in realms sublime, I shall possess you fully
mad I am, meanwhile, to desire you so fiercely…
Deseos de Piel y Durazno
Desde los aires tibios de tu aliento
en mi cuerpo se derramo tu pecho
encubriendo de rosas al despecho
que partió sigiloso con el viento
Así, bajo tu sombra tome asiento
bajo tu ternura, que es mi derecho
y mas allá de quedar satisfecho
cierro los ojos, suspiro y consiento!
¿Como es posible no morir de amores
cuando lejos, la ausencia rompe el grito
en llanto desatando mis temores?
¡Yo sé bien que mi amor no esta proscrito
mientras en lo sublime te posea!
Loco de mi, quien tanto te desea…
© Gavriel Navarro, 2013
Image by Gavriel Navarro, 2013, used with permission
Translation © Elaine Stirling, 2013