for the birds

peacock with open tail

Visiting the Google page this morning, I discovered it was the anniverary of the birth of John James Audubon. Why Google had chosen to commemorate the 226th anniversary, I don’t know, but they had one of their doodles depicting a number of the birds drawn by Audubon.

(Incidentally, that link to the Google doodles page is worth a click – it appears to lead to an archive of the different logos they’ve used in all the different language and geographic versions of the Google page.)

Not having anything particular to post today, I thought I’d see if I had a photo of a bird that might do. Hence the peacock.

It seems appropriate, too, to add some poetry about birds. The earliest version of the piece I’ve chosen goes back at least to 1999, so I suspect I’d write something quite different today. It was written when I lived in a flat in Madrid which had a balcony from which I could see a small part of one of the large plazas where the Rastro – the Sunday fleamarket – is held.

Since I’m off to a conference tomorrow where we’ll be discussing poetry and translation, rather than post a long and rather naive poem, I’m posting the original first verse in English with the corresponding version that I wrote in Spanish. Even the translation seems to date from five or six years ago, so, again, I’m not suggesting it’s as good as it could be.

Spanish birds at dusk

Repetitive and unmelodic,

the sparrows are singing the day’s last song;

hidden by a curtain of green leaves

they chatter and chirp:

fat little birds,
jostling for a better perch for the night.

Pájaros españoles al atardecer

Insistente y disonante,

los gorriones cantan la última canción del día;

ocultados tras una cortina verde

parlotean y gorjean:

pajaritos regordetes

codeándose, colándose

dando empujones y empellones

para conseguir un buen sitio para la noche.

I remember some of the problems the translation gave me. In fact, I wrote a long – and probably rather tedious – account of the translation process, which I am surprised, and somewhat relieved, to find doesn’t appear to be on-line. The problem is that even a single word can provoke hours of soul-searching for the translator, and the process is probably only interesting if you are actually involved in the discussion.

Still, the final verse convinces me rather more (the Spanish version, anyway; I realise the English is a series of clichés and needs a bit of a shake up.) Hopefully seeing the two versions together gives an idea of the way I feel about the liberty of the translator to improvise according to the norms and cultural connotations of the target language.

On the street corner,
Sleek and plump,
Other fine birds primp and preen
Under the eagle-eye
Of the gypsy hunters.

En la esquina,
orondas y rollizas,
otras pajaritas se pavonean,
mientras los cazadores gitanos
las observan
con ojos de lince.

With the verb pavonearse, the last verse in Spanish also brings us nicely full circle to the original photo of the pavo real.

I wonder whether there’s any chance a native speaker would also pick up on the association with la edad del pavo – that difficult age ‘en que se pasa de la niñez a la adolescencia, lo cual influye en el carácter y en el modo de comportarse’, as the Real Academia define it. Indeed, I wonder whether most Spaniards have noticed that a ‘peacock’ is just a ‘royal turkey’.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

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

3 thoughts on “for the birds”

  1. It is incredible how Google manages to come up with new and surprising logos again and again. I think they are not all by the same artist. However, notice one big sad fact: relatively few logos for writers and none for poets. It is next to impossible to draw something that might have something to do with Cela, Machado, or even Shakespeare.

    One of the founders of Google is of Russian origin. So I thought maybe sooner or later there will be a logo to represent one of those novelists that are hard to spell, but you’d know who I mean…


    1. They have managed some writers – the recent Jules Verne logo was an animated one – but it’s true I don’t remember any specific poets. They could always use an illustration with links to one of the more well-known of the writer’s works, though. I think one of the appealing things about the logos is the variety of disciplines, people and events that are represented, and am glad to have found that page where they are all archived; it’s amazing to think they go back to 1999.


  2. Pingback: Danilo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.