Las blancas teorías
con los ojos vendados
danzaban por el bosque.
Lentas como cisnes
y amargas como adelfas.
Pasaron sin ser vistas
por los ojos del hombre,
como de noche pasan,
inéditos, los ríos;
como por el silencio
un rumor nuevo y único.
Alguna entre su túnica
lleva una gris mirada
pero de moribundo.
agitan largos ramos
de palabras confusas.
No viven y están vivas.
Van por el bosque extático.
¡Enjambre de sonámbulas!
(Lentas como cisnes
y amargas como adelfas.)
Federico García Lorca
with blindfolded eyes
waltz through the woods--
Slow and majestic as swans,
bitter as oleander.
Pass they unseen by men's eyes,
as pass by night unprecedented rivers,
as through great silence passes
unheard of and singular murmuring.
Some one of them in robe or shroud
wears a greyish frown, moribund.
rustle long branches of bewildered words.
Not living still they are alive.
Through the ecstatic forest they waltz--
a swarm of sleep-walkers.
(Slow like swans and bitter like oleander)
Tr. E. A. Costa 6 July, 2015 Granada, Nicaragua
N.B.: One notes that in the translation the whole tense
structure has been changed to the present. In the original
“dance” or, as in the translation, “waltz” (danzaban) is in
the imperfect and “pass” (pasaron) is in the simple preterite.
The hinge is the generality of the simile (como pasan...ríos),
followed by lleva, agitan, viven & están—all in the present.
So the theories were dancing and passed, but though they do
not live, they are still alive, including the one that is morabund.
In the translation one attempts to transfer this subtle half-life
wholly to the present, with “not living still they are alive”
bearing the brunt of the complicated temporality of the original.
At base the Greek word “theoria” implies something seen,
later used in Geometry and Aristotle, and so forth, quite like
the modern scientific “theory”, adding depth to Lorca's
implication that, though they are alive, they are not seen
sensually by the eyes but by the mind's eye. As a poetic
commonplace, on the other hand, Swans do not sing, but
are considered visually beautiful, much like theories.
Nor clearly is the poem only about scientific theory, but also about
poetic theory, including the theory of his own poetry and
this poem, which, new and unprecedented, fully lives
while reducing the old theories to alive but without life.
The intent, however, is not a historic present but just the reverse.