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Woman, Apple, Moon September 9, 2013

Posted by Alex Sawit in In My Opinion, Stuff in General.

By Alex Sawit

September 9, 2013


I’ve been revisiting Pablo Neruda’s poetry a lot lately.

It’s not that I ever need an excuse but the current controversy about what really happened to him forty years ago continues to move me to re-read my favorite Neruda poems while the world awaits the final verdict of investigators in Chile. Indeed, I’d been reading them so intently that I found myself going back and forth between the English translations and the original texts in Spanish.

One of my special favorites is Sonnet No. 12 from the author’s collection entitled Cien Sonetos de Amor (“One Hundred Love Sonnets”). This is the Neruda poem that I most vividly understand. It is also the one that I was most frustrated over because I had never previously found an English translation that rendered this poem to its full glory from the original Spanish.

Now, I don’t speak Spanish. I can’t understand it apart from the following exceptions by virtue of my being Filipino: 1) I had to take compulsory Spanish units in university; 2) I was raised in a society steeped in centuries of Spanish colonialization that affects our cultural sensibilities to this day; 3) I grew up surrounded by my family’s Spanish speaking friends; 4) I can figure out enough bits and pieces to get by hilariously with the menus in our local Spanish restaurants; and 5) I can sing at least one classic Spanish song.

That’s it, pansit.

But being Filipino also means that we are a people with a Hispanic heart. “Oriental spirit, Hispanic passion,” is how I explain our uniqueness to Westerners who are bewildered by the ease with which we live and breathe our dual nature. It’s with good reason that the Spaniards call us as “the Latins of Asia”. We love to emote our speech and we catch the fire in Spanish expressions better than most other native English speakers (in case you didn’t know, we have plenty of native English speakers over here in the Philippines).

And that is why I have always felt frustrated by the way Sonnet No. 12 was rendered in English. Every translation I have ever come across has always been a less courageous version of the original, the translators choosing to settle for timid abstractions in places where there should instead have been unapologetic, burning intensity. In those instances, they just don’t get Neruda.

So after weeks of revisiting, it occurred to me that I should just take matters into my hands: I opened the Spanish-to-English conversion software, compared different English versions to the original text, reflected on Neruda’s intentions and then crafted my own translation.

Here it is. I welcome Neruda fans who may not agree with this English translation to bring their arguments to the wine shop, that we may happily debate over a bottle of good wine until, naturally, you surrender to my being right. And of course, the bottle is on you. ¡Salud!





Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet XII


Woman ripe, carnal apple, sultry moon,
thick aroma of seaweed, mud and light mashed together,
what obscure clarity opens between your columns?
What night of ancient arousal does man touch with all his senses?

Ah, to love is an excursion with water and with stars,
with suffocated air and brusque whirlwinds of flour:
to love is lightning combat in continuous flashes
and two bodies defeated by a single drop of honey.

From kiss to kiss I travel across your small infinity,
your borders, your rivers, your diminutive villages,
and the genital fire transformed into delight

runs through the slender roadways of the blood
until it rushes to open itself like a nocturnal carnation,
until it is and is nothing but a glistening sweetness in your shadow.



Translated by Alex Sawit
September 3, 2013








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