Darío Goldgel Carballo on translating Federico García Lorca

Darío Goldgel Carballo

on translating Federico García Lorca

I read several English translations of this famous poem and always encountered the same problem: the words of the poet are treated as a sacred material, and the translator’s objective is to find the closest intelligible approximation. Yet here Lorca combines both literary exquisiteness with a sort of childish nonsense (as is the arbitrary repetition of some words), which conveys what I believe to be the poem’s universality. Moreover, the octosyllabic verse is the traditional form of the popular song in Spanish, and breaking it results in a text intended to be read and not to be listened to. Perhaps out of stubbornness, I decided to keep the octosyllable. However, as I felt this structure sounded too foreign in English, I rearranged it into iambic tetrameter. Now, those familiar with Spanish may know it is quite verbose as a language, so filling up some of those verses was a challenge. Sometimes I even had the opposite problem as seen in the example of the word olivar (“field of olive trees”). After accepting the limitations of the translation process, my solution was either to heretically add my own words or to mutilate the text, so I could preserve the musicality (perdón, Federico).

about the author

Federico García Lorca (1898–1936) is perhaps the most renowned Spanish poet and playwright of the twentieth century and one of the main figures of the avant-garde in Spain. This poem, from his 1928 book Romancero Gitano (lit. Gypsy Songbook), combines the influence of classical poets from sixteenth-century Spain with the surrealist movement of its epoch. It also references the popular song from the subaltern classes of southern Spain and features a strong influence from its Arabic roots. As such, many of his poems (this one included) have been adapted as flamenco songs during the years.

A supporter of socialism, García Lorca was arrested and assassinated by fascists at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

about the translator

Darío Goldgel Carballo is a PhD candidate in the romance languages department at the University of Pennsylvania, where he analyzes movies no one will watch and books no one will read in order to reflect on the social realities of Latin America. Darío really hates writing his own biography, as he feels it sounds like boasting, and will hope that DoubleSpeak is informal enough to forgive him. He has, indeed, done some stuff in his life, but nothing that can trick the readers into taking his translation more seriously.