Friday, January 27, 2012

making sweet honey from old failures

This poem came to me as just an excerpt in the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.  I was so taken by the second, beehive stanza that I went to look up the rest and found that I had mistakenly thought that Antonio Machado was a New World poet, and also that this is a rather well-known poem since its inclusion in a collection called Ten Poems to Change Your Life, published in 2003.


Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

~ Antonio Machado
tr. Robert Bly

I've been thinking on this poem for a couple of weeks and found myself a little put off by "--marvelous error!--".  It might not have bothered me, except that it's important enough to be repeated in four of five stanzas.  Apart from the odd technical quality of the word "error," which doesn't seem to fit here, I kept thinking that "marvelous mistake" would work so much better:  alliteration, of course, but also that dreams are full of images that we take to be one thing or another, mis-takenly.

So I thought I'd go and see if anyone else had tranlasted the poem in a different way.   And now--duh--I find that Antonio answers my concern himself, with his original version in Spanish (please join me now in trusting the internet).  The imaginations of the poem are neither errors nor mistakes; they are "illusions, " and I'm inclined to believe Google Translate when it suggests "blessed illusion!"

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que una fontana fluía
dentro de mi corazón.
Dí: ¿por qué acequia escondida,
agua, vienes hasta mí,
manantial de nueva vida
en donde nunca bebí?

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que una colmena tenía
dentro de mi corazón;
y las doradas abejas
iban fabricando en él,
con las amarguras viejas,
blanca cera y dulce miel.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que un ardiente sol lucía
dentro de mi corazón.
Era ardiente porque daba
calores de rojo hogar,
y era sol porque alumbraba
y porque hacía llorar.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que era Dios lo que tenía
dentro de mi corazón.


I'm so in awe of those who have the language comfort to translate poetry, that most language-bound of genres, or to write in two languages.  I'm so far from that, that I have to question my right to nitpick over the choice of a single word, and yet --marvelous, blessed illusion and mistake!--isn't it fun to be led somewhere by a single word?
    
The roundup today is with Jim at Hey, Jim Hill!, which for some reason I find to be just about the best blog title ever.  : )

13 comments:

  1. Loved your post, Heidi! I'm glad you followed that trail to see where it would lead you.

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  2. Just looked it up and another translation says, "wondrous dream!"

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  3. Loved your idea of looking it up to find a different way to say, and I read the poem all the different ways. With illusion, we do approach the rest of each verse differently, rather than using error which is harsher, not what one might think of in a dream, which isn't real anyway. I enjoyed the thoughts you caused me to think!

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  4. Lovely poem. I do like "wondrous dream" or perhaps "wondrous illusion." "Error" seems wrong somehow . . .

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  5. Heidi,
    How did you know that Antonio Machado was one of my all time favorite poets? He has some absolutely drop dread gorgeous lines. I can remember when I was first introduced to his poetry--I felt like my life had been radically changed for the better. He is the poet I turn to when I'm feeling grumpy and moody.
    Thank you for this post.
    See you in Honesdale in May.

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  6. I read over the poem and then re read your post several times, Heidi - you are right in feeling a jarring quality to "error" - but how marvelous that you were able to follow your own instincts and thereby get closer to the poet's original intent.

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  7. Your entry piqued my curiosity so I asked my neighbor (a HS Spanish teacher) what she thought. With no context she replied:
    Literal: blessed illusion.
    Possible:blessed dream
    Sarcastic: damned ...
    Then I emailed her the first stanza and she came up with "what a dream!" as a possible translation...

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  8. Great post, beautiful dream!

    Take care
    Marinela

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  9. Heidi,

    I just tried an experiment -- I read the poem out loud three times, each time with a different version of the phrase -- your two, "marvelous error" and "blessed illusion" and Tabatha's "wondrous dream" -- and heard three interesting but subtle differences.

    Maria

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  10. Hi Heidi. One of my greatest frustrations is not having enough patience to really learn another language. I've had the customary foreign language courses in the university - French, Spanish - and I did get exceptional marks for them. But without practice or immersing oneself in their literature - its nearly impossible to master it with such fluency. Thanks for your lovely musings about this translated poem.

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  11. Oh the problems of translating poetry! It must be so hard to get the same number of syllables- I have a hard enough time as a technical translator without worrying about that!

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  12. It has nothing to do with linguistic translation, but the word I'd put in for "error" would be "escape" --

    "Last night as I was sleeping,
    I dreamt -- marvelous escape! --"

    --because it seems that the speaker's waking world is weighing him/her down and it is only through sleep and dreaming that s/he can find comfort and answers to life's challenges and burdens. (and maybe because I've been feeling perpetually exhausted recently...)

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  13. Interesting. When I first heard this poem some years ago, I felt the same way. The word "error" jsut didn't seem to fit. I to went to the original and with the help of a Spanish/English dictionary came up with the same idea--it works much better as "marvelous Illusion." I brought this up to a well educated person who was doing a reading and he said he knew about the translation but wanted to stick with the original Bly translation. I disagree. I'm staying with marvelous illusion. I found this page by googling "marvelous illusion" for a paper and it worked!

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