What is the value of translation? It bridges a cultural gap. It helps us share values between groups. The following poem may illustrate this. It is a poem I grew up with in Argentina. Bécquer lived in Seville from 1836 to 1970 and is a favorite in the Spanish-speaking world. It was required reading in high school.


Rima número 7, by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

Del salón en el ángulo oscuro,
de su dueño tal vez olvidada,
silenciosa y cubierta de polvo
veíase el arpa.

¡Cuánta nota dormía en sus cuerdas,
como en pájaro duerme en las ramas,
esperando la mano de nieve
que sabe arrancarlas!

¡Ay! -pensé- ¡Cuántas veces el genio
así duerme en el fondo del alma,
y una voz, como Lázaro, espera
que le diga: “¡Levántate y anda!”


My translation

In a dark corner of a room,
probaby forgotten by its owner,
silent and covered in dust,
a harp waited.

How much music slept in its strings,
as the bird sleeps in the branches
waiting for the snow white hand
that knows how to draw it!

“Oh!” I thought. “How often genius sleeps
in the depth of the soul
and, like Lazarus, waits for a voice
to tell it, ‘Get up and walk!’”

I kept the Spanish capitalization system for the translation. As a reader, it helped me move from one line to the next.

I taught my children this poem when they were in high school and came to understand the message it carries as we live in a multicultural society. But more fundamentally, it is simply beautiful. The rhythms and music of the language just made us pause. I read it almost every time I engage people who ask me why they should work on their writing skills. Bécquer loved his people and he loved Spanish. The poem is musical, artistic, luscious. It is as beautiful as a Monet painting. That is why I read his writing. It helps me fall in love with Spanish writing every time I read his work. I recommend the Rimas, leyendas y narraciones by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer.