Wednesday, November 25, 2009



Eric Thomson writes in an email:
Thanks for the translation of Borges's Shinto - proof, if any were needed, that Italian translators of Borges have a rather easier time of it than their English counterparts. Even so, I thought 'piccola chiave' in line 11 a bit feeble while 'slight key' was off-key in a rather different way (like 'throb' [of the hexameter] which I'm fairly sure would have met with the author's disapproval, if not scorn). The original has 'breve llave' which is not a natural collocation since 'breve' is primarily an adjective of duration. However, Borges was fascinated by hypallage, so while 'breve' ostensibly qualifies 'key' it functions adverbially in regard to the turning of the key and the swift unlocking of the house. That said, I'd be at a loss to translate it. 'Brief candle' is one thing, 'brief key' another.

Incidentally, I wonder if you know 'A Leopoldo Lugones', Borges's foreward to El Hacedor (1960)? In addition to the two striking examples of hypallage, there is a haunting evocation of the library, of feeling 'almost physically, the gravitation of the books, the enveloping serenity of order, time magically dessicated and preserved'. Sound familar?

"Leaving behind the babble of the plaza, I enter the Library. I feel, almost physically, the gravitation of the books, the enveloping serenity of order, of time magically dessicated and preserved. Left and right, absorbed in their shining dreams, the readers' momentary profiles are sketched by the light of their officious lamps, to use Milton's hypallage. I remember having rememberd that figure before in this place, and afterwards that other epithet that also defines these environs, the arid camel of the Lunario, and then that hexameter from the Aeneid that uses the same artifice and surpasses artifice itself:
Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbras.
These reflections bring me to the door of your office. I go in; we exchange a few words, conventional and cordial, and I give you this book. If I am not mistaken, you were not disinclined to me, Lugones, and you would have liked to like some piece of my work. That never happened; but this time you turn the pages and read approvingly a verse here and there­ perhaps because you have recognized your own voice in it, perhaps because deficient practice concerns you less than solid theory.

At this point my dream dissolves, like water in water. The vast library that surrounds me is on Mexico Street, not on Rodríguez Peña, and you, Lugones, died early in '38. My vanity and nostalgia have set up an impossible scene. Perhaps so (I tell myself), but tomorrow I too will have died, and our times will intermingle and chronology will be lost in a sphere of symbols. And then in some way it will be right to claim that I have brought you this book, and that you have accepted it."


Buenos Aires, August 9, 1960

"Los rumores de la plaza quedan atrás y entro en la Biblioteca. De una manera casi física siento la gravitación de los libros, el ámbito sereno de un orden, el tiempo disecado y conservado mágicamente. A izquierda y a derecha, absortos en su lúcido sueño, se perfilan los rostros momentáneos de los lectores, a la luz de las lámparas estudiosas, como en la hipálage de Milton. Recuerdo haber recordado ya esa figura, en este lugar, y después aquel otro epíteto que también define por el contorno, el árido camello del Lunario, y después aquel hexámetro de la Eneida, que maneja y supera el mismo artificio:
Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbram.
Estas reflexiones me dejan en la puerta de su despacho. Entro; cambiamos unas cuantas convencionales y cordiales palabras y le doy este libro. Si no me engaño, usted no me malquería, Lugones, y le hubiera gustado que le gustara algún trabajo mío. Ello no ocurrió nunca, pero esta vez usted vuelve las páginas y lee con aprobación algún verso, acaso porque en él ha reconocido su propia voz, acaso porque la práctica deficiente le importa menos que la sana teoría.

En este punto se deshace mi sueño, como el agua en el agua. La vasta biblioteca que me rodea está en la calle México, no en la calle Rodríguez Peña, y usted, Lugones, se mató a principios del treinta y ocho. Mi vanidad y mi nostalgia han armado una escena imposible. Así será (me digo) pero mañana yo también habré muerto y se confundirán nuestros tiempos y la cronología se perderá en un orbe de símbolos y de algún modo será justo afirmar que yo le he traído este libro y que usted lo ha aceptado."


Buenos Aires, 9 de agosto de 1960.
Hypallage is a rhetorical term meaning "transferred epithet." As others have noted, the translator of Borges wrongly renders "lámparas estudiosas" as if the phrase came from Milton's Paradise Lost 9. 104 ("officious lamps"), whereas it really came from Milton's Areopagitica ("studious lamps"):
Behold now this vast City: a City of refuge, the mansion house of liberty, encompast and surrounded with his protection; the shop of warre hath not there more anvils and hammers waking, to fashion out the plates and instruments of armed Justice in defence of beleaguer'd Truth, then there be pens and heads there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and idea's wherewith to present as with their homage and their fealty the approaching Reformation, others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement.
The example from Vergil, Aeneid 6.268, has long been regarded as an example of double hypallage. Servius (on Aeneid 1.392) says, "ibant obscuri sola sub nocte pro ipsi soli per obscuram noctem, although Lewis & Short, s.v. obscurus, have a different view — "Transf., to the person who is in the dark, darkling, unseen," citing this line from Vergil.

On hypallage in general, see Oskar Hey, "Zur Enallage adiectivi," Archiv für lateinische Lexikographie und Grammatik 14 (1906) 105-112, 268. On hypallage in Vergil, see On hypallage in other Latin authors, seeOn hypallage in Borges, see François Rastier, "L'Hypallage & Borges," Variaciones Borges 11 (2001) 5-33. I'm not aware of any special studies of hypallage in Milton.

Update from J.L. Campos:
The use of breve for small in Spanish is not terribly rare. Pipin the short is called Pipino el breve. There is a verse by Góngora in the first Soledad that reads: breve tabla delfín no fue pequeño ...

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?