Thursday, January 03, 2008

Translation: Pablo Neruda's "United Fruit Company" Poem

So, since I am including Neruda's masterpiece, "La United Fruit Co." in my class this semester, and since the class is being taught "in translation" I decided to translate the poem myself, as all the other ones I could find weren't that good. Poetry is terribly difficult to translate, and I'm not sure how perfect this one is.

For those of you who speak Spanish, I'd love some feedback. Here's the original:

Cuando sonó la trompeta, estuvo
todo preparado en la tierra,
y Jehova repartió el mundo
a Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, y otras entidades:
la Compañía Frutera Inc.
se reservó lo más jugoso,
la costa central de mi tierra,
la dulce cintura de América.

Bautizó de nuevo sus tierras
como "Repúblicas Bananas,"
y sobre los muertos dormidos,
sobre los héroes inquietos
que conquistaron la grandeza,
la libertad y las banderas,
estableció la ópera bufa:
enajenó los albedríos
regaló coronas de César,
desenvainó la envidia, atrajo
la dictadora de las moscas,
moscas Trujillos, moscas Tachos,
moscas Carías, moscas Martínez,
moscas Ubico, moscas húmedas
de sangre humilde y mermelada,
moscas borrachas que zumban
sobre las tumbas populares,
moscas de circo, sabias moscas
entendidas en tiranía.

Entre las moscas sanguinarias
la Frutera desembarca,
arrasando el café y las frutas,
en sus barcos que deslizaron como bandejas el tesoro
de nuestras tierras sumergidas.

Mientras tanto, por los abismos
azucarados de los puertos,
caían indios sepultados
en el vapor de la mañana:
un cuerpo rueda, una cosa
sin nombre, un número caído,
un racimo de fruta muerta
derramada en el pudridero.
--Pablo Neruda, 1950

Here is my translation. My html skills aren't good enough to render a side by side display. Sorry.

Pablo Neruda

"THE UNITED FRUIT CO."

When the trumpet sounded,
all was prepared on the earth
and Jehovah parceled out the world
to Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, and other entities:
the United Fruit Company Inc.
reserved for itself the juiciest bit,
the central coast of my land,
the gentle waist of America.

It rebaptized these lands
as "Banana Republics,"and over the sleeping dead,
over the restless heroes,
who had conquered greatness,
liberty and flags,
The Company established a comic opera,
drove all free will insane,
handed out crowns of Caesar,
unsheathed greed, and attracted
the dictatorship of the flies,
Trujillo flies, Tacho flies,
Carías flies, Martínez flies,
Ubico flies, flies moistened
by humble blood and marmalade
drunken flies buzzingover the tombs of the common people,
circus flies, wise flies
well versed in tyranny.

Among the bloody flies,
The United Fruit Company steps ashore,
devastating the coffee and the fruits,
in its ships that sail
like trays
taking away the treasure
of our drowning lands.
All the while, near the sugary deep of the harbors,
the Indians fell,
buried in the morning mists:
a corpse tumbles, a nameless thing,
a fallen number, a bunch of putrid fruit
thrown on the compost heap.

Translation by Mac Williams


The United Fruit Company steps ashore,
devastating the coffee and the fruits,


I am especially not comfortable with these two lines

10 comments:

chattypatra said...

A translation by John Mitchell:

When the trumpet sounded
everything was prepared on earth,
and Jehovah gave the world
to Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, and other corporations.
The United Fruit Company
reserved for itself the most juicy
piece, the central coast of my world,
the delicate waist of America.

It rebaptized these countries
Banana Republics,
and over the sleeping dead,
over the unquiet heroes
who won greatness,
liberty, and banners,
it established an opera buffa:
it abolished free will,
gave out imperial crowns,
encouraged envy, attracted
the dictatorship of flies:
Trujillo flies, Tachos flies
Carias flies, Martinez flies,
Ubico flies, flies sticky with
submissive blood and marmalade,
drunken flies that buzz over
the tombs of the people,
circus flies, wise flies
expert at tyranny.

With the bloodthirsty flies
came the Fruit Company,
amassed coffee and fruit
in ships which put to sea like
overloaded trays with the treasures
from our sunken lands.

Meanwhile the Indians fall
into the sugared depths of the
harbors and are buried in the
morning mists;
a corpse rolls, a thing without
name, a discarded number,
a bunch of rotten fruit
thrown on the garbage heap.
_________________________________

Another one by Jack Hirschman. This translation comes from Mark Eisner's marvelous anthology The Essential Neruda (2004), pages 95-97.1:

When the trumpet sounded, everything
on earth was prepared
and Jehovah distributed the world
to Coca Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors and other entities:
The Fruit Company Inc.
reserved the juiciest for itself,
the central coast of my land,
the sweet waist of America.
It re-baptized the lands
"Banana Republics"
and on the sleeping dead,
on the restless heroes
who'd conquered greatness,
liberty and flags,
it founded a comic opera:
it alienated free wills,
gave crowns of Caesar as gifts,
unsheathed jealousy, attracted
the dictatorship of the flies,
Trujillo flies, Tachos flies,
Carias flies, Martinez flies,
Ubico flies, flies soppy
with humble blood and marmelade,
drunken flies that buzz
around common graves,
circus flies, learned flies
adept at tyranny.

The Company disembarks
among the blood-thirsty flies,
brim-filling their boats that slide
with the coffee and fruit treasure
of our submerged lands like trays.

Meanwhile, along the sugared up
abysms of the ports,
indians fall over, buried
in the morning mist:
a body rolls, a thing
without a name, a fallen number,
a bunch of dead fruit
spills into the pile of rot.
_________________________________


Hope this helps you, Mac!

Josel said...

I love it! This is my favorite work by Pablo Neruda. Que viva la libertad de expresion.

- Saludos.

IamJedimike said...

in this context, i think "arrasar" is 'fill to the brim' or 'level off' - you could 'level a house to the ground' and it would be destroyed. awesome translation.

Linda said...

Hi Mac, a student in one of my advanced grammar classes this summer has given me your blog address because we are also studying Neruda's poem, although not in translation. You said:
"The United Fruit Company steps ashore,
devastating the coffee and the fruits,

I am especially not comfortable with these two lines."
and I agree. In class we decided to translate them as:
filling the ships to the brim with coffee and fruits, serving up the treasure of our drowned lands as if on a tray.
Posted by Linda

Anonymous said...

Hello Im taking spanish IV right now and we just read this poem, the Closest translation that stays true to Neruda's poem and is grammatically correct is the translation by Jack Hirschman.

Maryvel Saranguero my e-mail add. mary_friendly09@yahoo.com said...

i'm very much aware of reading this poem because our teacher told us to do so..but..i don,t really know some of the translations..because i,m a filipina..this was very nice poem for me even though i'm a filipina...=)

Cyndi said...

Thanks for the translation. I have been investigating bananas since I found mini-bananas by Chiquita in the grocery store. I love bananas, but I'm reticent about some of the companies that bring them to us in the United States!

Anonymous said...

I think your translation is FANTASTIC! In way of thanks, I tried my hand at those tricky lines:

Amidst the blood-thirsty flies,
The United Fruit Company strides ashore,
gorging on coffee and fruit,
its ships sail away
like buffet trays
overloaded with the treasure
of our sinking lands.

All the while, in the sugary depths of the harbors,
the Indians fell,
buried by the morning mist:
a corpse tumbles, a nameless thing,
a fallen number, a bunch of dead fruit
tossed on the compost heap.

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Beverly said...

This translation is lovely! The only thing I would change para la poesia would be to change "the garbage heap" to "the heap of garbage".