poet and pretender

Last week, someone sent me a text that included this translated quotation from Pessoa:

El poeta es un fingidor.
Finge tan completamente
Que hasta finge que es dolor
El dolor que de veras siente.

No attribution was given to the translator, but it seems to be faithful enough to the original Portuguese that perhaps that isn’t necessary:

O poeta é um fingidor.
Finge tão completamente
Que chega a fingir que é dor
A dor que deveras sente.

Now, though, I’m wondering how on earth I’d say that in English.

For a start that third line is very, very hard to deal with without introducing a subject to precede the verb ‘es’; and if we do that, it results in something fairly ugly like this:

The poet is a faker.
He pretends so well
that he even pretends that this is pain,
this pain he really feels.

That is inadequate in many respects, but it serves as a literal interpretation. Clearly, though, it ignores the poetic function of repeating three different forms of ‘fingir’, not to mention the end rhymes. And no doubt there are other things I’ve missed in the original.

Still, it has intrigued me, so I started looking around and discovered this page where there are sixteen different versions of the complete Pessoa poem. It’s interestingly designed so that you can compare any two of the versions side by side, or see any one of them alongside the original.

Personally, I can see things I want to ‘improve’ in almost all the English versions I’ve read there, but that doesn’t stop me admiring the attempts at translations. I’m still mulling over how best to make my own attempt.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

One thought on “poet and pretender”

  1. This is probably a slightly more natural translation, though it no longer follows the sequence of the original so closely; I’ve also had to split it over five lines to make it more or less balance on the page:

    “The poet is a faker.
    He pretends so well
    that he even pretends
    this pain he really feels
    is, indeed, pain.”


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