To Julia de Burgos: Jack Agüeros’s Translation

Jack Agüeros’s translation of “To Julia de Burgos” is different and I think more concentrated use of language and poetic diction than the Grace Schulman translation I previously posted. As well, Schulman’s version appears to be a truncated version of what appears below. Agüeros’s translation appears in the hefty Curbstone Press edition, Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos.

by Julia de Burgos

Already the people murmur that I am your enemy
because they say that in verse I give the world your me.

They lie, Julia de Burgos. They lie, Julia de Burgos.
Who rises in my verses is not your voice. It is my voice
because you are the dressing and the essence is me;
and the most profound abyss is spread between us.

You are the cold doll of social lies,
and me, the virile starburst of the human truth.

You, honey of courtesan hypocrisies; not me;
in all my poems I undress my heart.

You are like your world, selfish; not me
who gambles everything betting on what I am.

You are only the ponderous lady very lady;
not me; I am life, strength, woman.

You belong to your husband, your master; not me;
I belong to nobody, or all, because to all, to all
I give myself in my clean feeling and in my thought.

You curl your hair and paint yourself; not me;
the wind curls my hair, the sun paints me.

You are a housewife, resigned, submissive,
tied to the prejudices of men; not me;
unbridled, I am a runaway Rocinante
snorting horizons of God’s justice.

You in yourself have no say; everyone governs you;
your husband, your parents, your family,
the priest, the dressmaker, the theatre, the dance hall,
the auto, the fine furnishings, the feast, champagne,
heaven and hell, and the social, “what will they say.”

Not in me, in me only my heart governs,
only my thought; who governs in me is me.
You, flower of aristocracy; and me, flower of the people.
You in you have everything and you owe it to everyone,
while me, my nothing I owe to nobody.

You nailed to the static ancestral dividend,
and me, a one in the numerical social divider,
we are the duel to death who fatally approaches.

When the multitudes run rioting
leaving behind ashes of burned injustices,
and with the torch of the seven virtues,
the multitudes run after the seven sins,
against you and against everything unjust and inhuman,
I will be in their midst with the torch in my hand.

* * *

Addendum: as well, this ending is so resolute, the opposite of the romantic ending of Schulman’s version. I wonder now why Schulman decided to end her version where she did, and I wonder whether her decision had anything to do with this definitive, unromantic (or anti-romantic), violent ending. Here, de Burgos’s I is saying, this is where the I and you part ways. This is where the I resolves to do away with the you. When comes the revolution, your socially proper, socially abiding you cannot save you.

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7 thoughts on “To Julia de Burgos: Jack Agüeros’s Translation

  1. I call what Jack Agüeros has done for Julia De Burgos’ poetry nothing short of a public service. She is a muscular, uncompromising poet, and in the past she’s suffered from translations that, while earnest, don’t really capture how much teeth and jaw is in her word choices and grammar. Agüeros does not miss the nuance, and he does not miss or muddle Julia’s grammar.

    A look at the first line, in Spanish:

    Ya las gentes murmuran que yo soy tu enemiga

    Agüeros, in translation, forces us to reckon with “Ya” and “murmuran,” and does not miss the poet’s cheek, that present sense/tense of being knee deep in the bochinche:

    Already the people murmur that I am your enemy

    Already. Ya. As in, look how little time it takes for people to gossip. And they actively murmur, murmuran: they don’t say or speak passively. No pillory here, no article in the New York Times. Just some old-fashioned ‘chinche with bite, present tense.

    Big book, that Curbstone volume. It’s invaluable, though.

  2. Hi Rich, Thanks for your comment. I am happy to read this. You know, when I read translators discussing “capturing” or “conveying” the spirit of a poem versus abiding rigidly with its grammar, specific words, and and specific word orders, I tend to wonder how when straying from a poem’s grammar, specific words, and word orders, a translator is still able to convey the spirit of the original poem.

    Yes, this Curbstone volume is immense.

  3. Sometimes translators genuinely work hard to “capture the spirit.” Other times, they have given up on the grammar and are just too lazy to reconstruct it. The “spirit” is in the language here. I mean, jeez, isn’t that why we speak?

    Hmm…words actually MEAN things…now there’s a lesson for American poets.

    To be fair, Schulman does the best she can, and the poem seems to have moved you upon the initial read, so on some level the translation still works. But I do heartily question the decision to cut the poem off at its knees. I wonder if they simply excerpted the piece to fit in the chapbook. I’d hope so. Also, again, to more directly compare Schulman and Agüeros on that first line…it is a vastly different thing in PR Spanish to “murmur” something versus to “say” something. “Decir” is quite direct. “Murmurar” implies bochinche.

    See, all this talk is gonna make me pull Guillen off my shelf and go to work myself. Oh the joy!

  4. Hey Rich, thanks for this. Yeah I see what you mean re: Agüeros conveying the community “bochinche,” as I understand its similarities to Filipino tsismis (chisme), which is behind the back/never directly to the face, and I feel also that the murmuring public/social parties and the social circumstances are specifically named in this version so that when we get to “the social ‘what will they say’,” it’s pretty clear.

    I am thinking that the Schulman version underscores instead the individual’s internal monologue that’s really a dialogue between selves. That the Schulman version is more concerned with this public I and private I as a personal conflict. And this I think doesn’t speak to the concerns of communities whose collective social values, whose we-ness, is/are primary (versus an individual’s needs).

  5. Dear Barbara Jane Reyes,
    Thank you for introducing me to Julia de Burgos. My Spanish is not good enough to tackle the original version, but this English version grabbed me. I’m just getting into Puerto Rican writers, as we’re thinking of moving there from Philadelphia. I am a writer and musician. I want to enter the culture through this door. Thanks for opening it for me.
    David Reichenbacher
    (I just ordered a copy of her complete poems)

  6. Pingback: A Julia de Burgos (To Julia de Burgos) | Moving Poems

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