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Romance Sonambulo
Romance Sonambulo
by Federico Garcia Lorca

Sound Check

Read this poem aloud. What do you hear?

We like the translation we've used by William Logan. Really, we do. But, frankly, like a lot of translations, it pales in comparison to the original, especially in terms of the poem's sound. Sorry, Willy, but it's true.

Just compare, "Green, how I want you green" to "Verde que te quiero verde" (1). There's just a much more pleasing sound in the Spanish version. The repeated v's roll smoothly through the line, and the "que te" ("kay-tay") quick rhyme is followed right up with another q sound ("KEE-air-oh"). Lorca really paid attention to the way his lines sounded to the ear, and the English translation just can't do this justice.

To his credit, Logan does try to capture the some of Lorca's alliteration, as with "the forest, cunning cat, / bristles its brittle fibers" (19-20). Here, Logan is able to capture a sense of the repeated beginning sounds, as well as the internal consonance (the consonant sounds of the s's, b's, l's, and the t's in "forest," "bristles," "brittle," and "fibers"). We see this same kind of sound-play in the original lines: "gato garduño, / eriza sus pitas agrias." In the Spanish version, though, there are more repeated vowel sounds here, or assonance, as in line 20: "air-EE-za soo PEE-ahs a-GREE-ahs." All in all, Logan gives a good effort, but English just can't duplicate the intricacies of the original Spanish version.

To be fair to Logan, though, every poem in translation is going to fall short of the original in some way. Language is so subtle and rich that even the best translators can usually only come close to the complexities of the original, rarely duplicating them. Much like the speaker, climbing to his gypsy love, Logan (like all translators) is on a journey that's destined not to be fulfilled.

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