Spain in the Heart: Hymn to the Glories of the People at War.
In a recent speech at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C., long-time Neruda translator Alastair Reid expounded on the difficulties of interpreting the poetry of the Chilean Nobel laureate in English. As exact translation of the words would fail to convey the richness of the verse, he explained, because English is too clipped to capture Neruda's musicality. Furthermore, Neruda's exquisite images of exotic places are sometimes perplexing for North American readers unfamiliar with the realities he describes. Neruda, said Reid, did not expect him to translate his verses word for word, but to "make them better," Thus, it is up to the translator to enhance the work, to make it intelligible and meaningful for foreign readers, to capture its tone, rhythm and melody, and yet to harness his own creativity so that he remains appropriately in the background.
Spain in the Heart presents particular obstacles, for it refers to events that occurred more than fifty years ago, when fascism and communism were on the rise and the Spanish Civil War was seen by many as a prelude to the inevitable clash between these two titanic forces. The political panorama has changed radically since then, but Neruda's verses, which depict the struggles and dreams of simple, rugged, earthy people, still move us.
In spite of the difficulties, Richard Schaaf has done a beautiful job of interpreting Spain in the Heart for the English-speaking reader. Neruda's original verses transcend the limits of the historical moment by appealing to our innate desire to be free. His use of natural images taken from the mineral and vegetable worlds, his enumeration of the artifacts of daily life (bells, clocks), and his personification of the Spanish countryside create a sense of unity between man and his surroundings a sense of wholeness, that is suddenly shattered by cruel and unnatural forces. Schaaf deftly recreates Neruda's vivid imaged, conveying the same intensity as the poet. His lines from "Como era Espana," for example, portray the rough, arid Spanish landscape torn by war: "Spain was taut and lean, a diurnal/drum of darkest sound,/barren plains and eagle's nest, the silence/of a scourged inclemency." In many cases Schaaf even succeeds in duplicating Neruda's phrasing and cadence, imbuing the English verses with the same vitality and force as the original.
The introduction by Leonard Lamb, a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, provides historical context, while the Foreword by Fernando Alegria describes Neruda's role as poet-witness to one of the most brutal episodes in twentieth-century history. The Afterword by Marjorie Agosin highlights Neruda's major themes and stresses their relevance to today's reader.
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|Publication:||Americas (English Edition)|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1991|
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