Hopkins Lectures 2000

Translations into Spanish of Gerard Manley Hopkins Poetry

Patrick Sheeran Valladolid University

The poem of Hopkins whose translations into Spanish I like to talk about, The Wreck of The Deutschland, was written a century and a quarter ago, yet there are surprisingly few translations into Spanish of what is generally recognized as Hopkins’s greatest poem and one of the landmarks of English poetry in general.

I would like to begin this talk by taking a brief look at the state of translations into Spanish of Gerard Manley Hopkins's poetry at the beginning of this new millenium. At the outset, I think it can be fairly said that Hopkins’s poetry with its advanced technique and startlingly new approach (which wasn’t so really new at all), ushered to an end a millenium of Anglo-Saxon poetry and pointed a way for writers who were willing to take the cue.

The poem of Hopkins whose translations into Spanish I like to talk about, The Wreck of The Deutschland, was written a century and a quarter ago, yet there are surprisingly few translations into Spanish of what is generally recognized as Hopkins’s greatest poem and one of the landmarks of English poetry in general. This lack of translations is both surprising and explicable.

It is surprising in the first place given the importance of the poem and of the poet in the canon of English Literature, and in the second place given the affinity of the theme with that of much of Spanish poetry: poetry of religious or mystical import abounds in Spanish literature from the time of San Juan de la Cruz to Miguel de Unamuno. On the other hand, the lack of translations is explicable due to the simple fact that the poem is difficult and idiosyncratic. I will come back to this point in a moment, but first I would like to elaborate a little more on the surprising lack of translations.

Hopkins's poem was, as I said, written a century and a quarter ago, yet I have been able to trace only two translations into Spanish and one into Catalan, in the catalogues of the Biblioteca Nacional Española, in Madrid.

The three references are:

  1. Gerard Manley Hopkins: Antología bilingüe: traducción y estudio preliminar, by Manuel Linares Megías, published in Seville (1978;

  2. El Naufragio del Deutschland y otros poemas: edición bilingüe; by Emilio del Río (1984), published in Madrid - both the above are in Spanish, (Castellano)

  3. El Naufragio del Deutschland - Versió i Pròleg, by Idisre Martinez Marzo (1992) Valencia - this last is in Catalan.

Of course there may be more translations into Spanish of Hopkins’ poem, which are not catalogued in the Spanish National Library. Two cases in point are the book, Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poemas: Versión y prólogo, by Edison Simón, published in Madrid (1974) and the translation by Mª Jesús Pérez Martín, published in 1971, in ES, the literary Review of the Department of English of Valladolid University , titled El Naufragio del Deutschland; una interpretación, which, together with the translation by Manuel Linares Megías and Emilio del Río, I want to examine today.

The point I am making, in any case, is that the Hopkins poem, given its importance, is surprisingly little translated into Spanish. Granted that it was not brought out in book form until 1918, when it was first published by Robert Bridges, yet it antedates both The Waste Land and Ulysses by four years. Both these mould-breaking works suppose difficulties for the translator equal to or greater thanThe Wreck of the Deutschland, and this is especially the case of Ulysses, yet Joyce’s novel, under the title, Ulíses, has been translated three times into Spanish – by Salas Subirat, published in Buenos Aires in 1974, by José M. Valverde, published in Barcelona in 1984, and latterly by García Tortosa published in Madrid in 1999. Eliot’s poem, in the same period has been translated, under the title, La tierra balídia, at least four times into Spanish, and even once into Bable, the dialect of Asturias, in the north of Spain, under the title of La tierra ermo.

Translation has been a mainstay of Spanish letters for many centuries. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the bulk of the translations were from the French, because the main literary currents flowed from that country. But in the past century the majority of translations into Spanish from any language and on any subject are logically from English.

These translations, like translations anywhere, are sometimes good, sometimes bad or, in the majority of cases, fairly correctly done but totally insipid and unmemorable. Up until recent times practically no attention was paid to the science, or the art, of translation in Spain; translations were done as the whim took the translator or as the needs of the market stipulated, and the finished work was rarely subjected to the scrutiny of informed critics with a good knowledge of the source language.

But things are changing; there are now Departments or Faculties of Translation in many Spanish universities – Madrid, Granada, Salamanca, Valladolid, etc., etc., - the teaching of English in the schools is compulsory from the age of five, there are numerous academies and translation agencies dotted throughout all the big cities and the people travel more frequently to English – speaking countries. Also, the reading public is better informed and more demanding; standards are expected to be achieved and maintained, and they generally are except in the cases of translations of authors like Agatha Christie, James Hadley Chase or Barbara Cartland, where more or less anything goes.

Let us now return to the subject of Hopkins and specifically to that of translations done of him into English and at the same time let’s look at the three categories of translators mentioned by Nabakov in his The Art of Translation, published in 1941. Nabakov categorizes possible translators as

  1. the scholar , who, he says, “commits fewer blunders than the drudge, but who must have in addition to learning and diligence, some imagination and style”,

  2. the well-meaning hack, who “ laboriously strings words, phrases and sentences together in intelligible but stylistically-barren ways”, and

  3. the professional writer, who “may miss the point in the translation because he lacks the scholar’s insight, or who may tend to dress up the real author to look like himself.

Hopkins, because he is first, a poet, second, a difficult poet and third, for all his importance, of interest only to a minority, has been favoured with the attention only of the scholar-type translator. The four translations I want to look at today were done by the academic-type translator; not by professional writers and certainly not by "hacks": Mª Jesús Pérez Martín was Professsor of English Literature at the University of Valladolid until recently and the late Manuel Linares Megías was a member of the Society of Jesus, who wrote extensively on Hopkins and his work. Of the other two translators I have no biographical knowledge, but judging by what they hve produced, the translations are obviously a "labour of love", though the results may not always do justice to the original. The four translations, then, though different in their approach are, for different reasons, quite faithful either to the spirit or the letter of the original, and in the best of the cases to both, though that of Pérez Martín, as I hope to show, is the better translation in almost all respects.

Pérez Martín and Linares Megías were in many senses pionneers in their field: the translation of the former of the Wreck of the Deutschland, written in 1971, is the first into Spanish of that poem, and the anthology by Linaes Megías is the only one to date of Hopkins' complete poetic ouevre. Emilio del Río, together with his co-translator, Angel Martínez Baigorri, include only nine poems of Hopkins in their book, whileEdison Simón in his book translates seventeen poems of Hopkins together with fourteen extracts from his diaries and five extracts from his letters.

Translating poetry is at the same timeone of the easiest and the most difficult types of literary translation, and it is the kind to which those with a bent for literary translation generally first turn their hand, very often at university in student magazines. It is easy in the sense that a poem may be short, even extremely short, and yet be a complete text, which "says something" and fills its translator with the satisfaction that he or she has done something of import, has, in a sense, assisted at a new birth. But it is also difficult, as all translation is difficult. To quote Eugene Nida, in his book Towards a Science of Translating,

The translator's task is essentially a difficult and often a thankless one ...successful translating involves one of the most complex intellectual challenges known to mankind

Poetry translation, like any translation, must comply with the four basic requirements, mentioned by Nida:

        1. 1. It must make sense

        2. 2. It must convey the spirit and manner of the original

        3. 3. It must have a natural and easy form of expression

        4. 4. It must produce a similar response

And, if we add another: It must also read like poetry, we can see the almost insurmountable difficulty it entails. Yet, poetry translation is an extremely popular pastime because it always offers challenges which test the translator's ingenuity and which are met with greater or lesser success.

Criticizing a translation or contrasting two or more trasnlations with the original or with each other is amuch less challenging and, maybe, even an unfair pastime. Yet that is what I propose to do here, not with any sense of being an expert in the field and much less so considering that the target language is not my own, but in the hope of pointing out a few things. I have not time to consider the four complete translations of The Wreck of the Deutschland; I will rather mention some of their formal differences and similarities and concentrate on what Seamus Heaney in his article The Fire ' the Flint ...; calls ... the famous fourth stanza ... where the portagonist has emerged from the experience, at once terrible and renovating of Christ's sudden irruption into his life

he format of the four translations, as I mentioned before, is different. That by Pérez Martin is published in a literary review and the other three in a book. Three of the translations are in parallel texts, with the original and the translation on facing pages, but that by Edison Simón is a single-language text. And here I may say that presenting a translation in a parallel text is an act of bravery when not of foolhardiness, as a reader with some knowledge of both the source and target languages may more easily fall to marveling at the ingenuousness rather than the ingenuity of the translator. Yet, I must also say that the final result of the three parallel text translations of The Wreck ...is on the whole, satisfactory.

The translations by Pérez Martin and Linares Megías contain explanatory notes, in the case of the former, extremely copious, lengthy explanations, and in that of the latter, much briefer and fewer, there being eighteen in all the poem. Neither the translations by Emilio del Río nor Edison Simón contain notes of any kind" which I think is an important omission, as Hopkins is a poet who requires explication. Consequently, the number of pages devoted by each to the translated poem differs widely, from the seventeen pages in Edison Simón's single-language text to the massive 156 pages which the Pérez Martin translation takes up, principally with her interpretations. In fact, she titles her translation El Naufragio del Deutschland; una interpretació; the other three title theirs simply El Naufragio del Deutschland

Hopkinss poem, as you well know, opens with a dedication:

To the
happy memory of five Franciscan nuns
exiles by the Falck Laws
drowned between midnight and morning of
Dec. 7th, 1875

and it is divided into two parts, which the author terms Part The First, with ten stanzas, and Part The Second, with twenty-five. One of the translators, Pérez Martin, doesn't translate the Dedication or the title, Part The First, though she does translate Part,The Second. The other three translate the Dedication, but only one of them, Edison Simon, respects the the line-lengths used by the author. It is he also who translates more correctly the words exiles and Falck Laws, by exiladas (which should really be exiliadas), and Leyes Falck, with capital letters and without the preposition de. The other two, Linares Megías and Emilio del Río, translate exiles by desterradas, which really means exiled, and Falck Laws by leyes de Falk, with a small letter for Leyes, and with the preposition de. Both Edison Simon and Emilio del Río respect Hopkins' use of inversion in translating the terms Part the First and Part the Second with Parte Primera and Parte Segunda respectively. Linares Megías translates the first term without inversion as Primera Parte but uses inversion for the second, Parte Segunda Pérez Martín translates only the term Part The Second, which she calls Segunda Parte without making use of inversion.

These are slight but niggling differences and omissions, though there is no reason why they should exist, since it is the translators' duty to make sure that his version respects the original as fully as possible. It is however the body of the translation that is important and in which we can see how well the translator goes about his or her task. Hopkins' poem is of 35 stanzas of eight lines each which rhyme ABABCBCA and with a determined number of stresses in each of the lines. He also makes great use of metaphor, alliteration, neologisms and, above all, of grammatical conversion, which Robert Bridges felt caused his verse to be obscure. Robert Bridges said:

English swarms with words that have one identical form for substantive, adjective and verb and such a word should never be so placed as to allow of any doubt as to what part of speech it is used for; because such ambiguity or momentary uncertainty destroys the force of the sentence...

As F.R. Leavis commented, This criticism assumes that poetry ought to be immediately comprehensible and, of course, there is no reason why it ought. In fact it is this very use of converted words as well as some coinings and dialect words that gives Hopkins's verse its vigour. Now, grammatical conversion is practically nonexistent in Spanish, with the infrequent exception of adjectives or verbs being converted into nouns. For instance, one can say: El joven pidío un corto = The young man asked for a small glass of beer, where the adjectives joven and corto are converted into nouns, or Tiene un andar pausado = He has an unhurried walk (or gait). This latter is a case of an infinitive being converted into a substantive. But substantives, adjectives, adverbs or prepositions are not used as verbs , nor are nouns ever converted into adjectives as they can freely be in English. Word?coining is also frowned upon in Spanish, something which makes it difficult for the person who has to translate Hopkins and sheer agony for the one who tackles Joyce, especially Finnegans Wake, though the "Anna Livia Plurabella section of this has been put into Spanish quite cleverly by García Tortosa.

With regards alliteration and rhyme, the former occurs frequently enough in Spanish poetry as does the latter, but Spanish rhyme is predominantly assonantal, like Gaelic verse, and, as Austin Clarke said, "assonance takes the clapper from the bell of rhyme. Now, both alliteration and consonantal rhyme are important in Hopkins' poetry, so a translation which ignored these two elements would lose quite a bit. Of the four translations here in question, that by Pérez Martín is the one which makes the greatest effort to capture both these elements, especially at the beginning of the poem. Here are the first four lines of the original and the different translations:

translation,Spanish,Thou mastering me
God! giver of breath and bread;
World's strand, sway of the sea;
translation,Spanish,Lord of living and dead;

Tu, adueñándote de mí
Dios! dador de aliento y alimento;
Orilla del mundo, vaivén del mar
Señor de los vivos y los muertos
translation,Spanish, Pérez Martín



Tu dominándome
Dios! Dador del pan y el aliento
Orilla del mundo, vaivén del mar;
Señor de vivos y muertos
translation,Spanish,E. del Río

Tú me dominas
oh Dios, dador del aliento y del pan
margen del mundo, vaivén del mar
de vivos y muertos Señor;
translation,Spanish,Linares Megías

¡TU maestreando me
Dios! Dador de hálito y pan;
Mundo-su playa, vaivén del mar;
Señor de vivos y muertos;
translation,Spanish,Edison Simón

Links to Hopkins Literary Festival 2000

St Augustine and Gerard Manley Hopkins || Creativity in Hopkins World || Czech Perspective on Hopkins Poetry || Eugenio Montale and Hopkins Poetry || German Perspective on Hopkins Poetry || Heraclitus and Hopkins ||
GM Hopkins in Kildare
|| Hopkins and the Resurrection || Spansih Perspective on Hopkins Poetry ||