Borges’ Spinoza Metered and Rhymed

I am by no means qualified to translate poetry, but reading Borges’ sonnet Spinoza translated into English unrhymed and unmetered disappointed me so much that I thought an attempt at a rhymed and metered English version of the Spanish original wouldn’t offend too gravely. And because Borges admired Shakespeare so much, I supposed translating Spinoza into the classic Shakespearean sonnet form would be the most appropriate option.

Anyway, here’s Richard Howard and César Rennert’s version; here’s Willis Barnstone’s version (which is rhymed, although the meter is all over the place); here’s a literal version; and below is my own version along with the Spanish original:

The Jew’s translucent hands robustly work
The lenses in the late penumbral dark.
The dying evening cold where terrors lurk,
One evening, every evening always stark.
His hands, his space of hyacinth and blue
That pale within the Ghetto’s borderlines
Hardly exist for him the silent Jew
Who dreams a labyrinth’s lucid, clear designs.
He undisturbed by fame — what comes reflected
From dreams within another mirror’s dreams.
Free from a maiden’s timid love confected
And metaphor and myth’s distracting streams.
He works resistant glass: the endless One
He maps, whose shining stars no skies outrun.

Las traslúcidas manos del judío
labran en la penumbra los cristales
y la tarde que muere es miedo y frío.
(Las tardes a las tardes son iguales.)
Las manos y el espacio de jacinto
que palidece en el confín del Ghetto
casi no existen para el hombre quieto
que está soñando un claro laberinto.
No lo turba la fama, ese reflejo
de sueños en el sueño de otro espejo,
ni el temeroso amor de las doncellas.
Libre de la metáfora y del mito
labra un arduo cristal: el infinito
mapa de Aquel que es todas Sus estrellas.

3 thoughts on “Borges’ Spinoza Metered and Rhymed

  1. I liked your translation very much. I also like leaving this comment in this abandoned blog, eight years later,
    where no one will read it. Borges would be pleased, I think.

Leave a Reply