Translating meter and rhyme: "Yo" by Jorge Luis Borges

Back in March, Premee Mohamed shared a favorite sonnet by Jorge Luis Borges, but lamented that their rhythm and rhyme schemes usually aren’t preserved in English translations. So, of course, I had to make an attempt myself at a translation that’s strict on meter and rhyme.

Whereas the Spanish is anapestic, I used iambic meter in the English, as it’s more familiar for sonnets. Perhaps I’ll attempt an anapestic translation in the future—I love to see different translations of the same poem. (For more in that vein, check out Chogwa Zine.)

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

por Jorge Luis Borges

La calavera, el corazón secreto,
los caminos de sangre que no veo,
los túneles del sueño, ese Proteo,
las vísceras, la nuca, el esqueleto.
Soy esas cosas. Increíblemente
soy también la memoria de una espada
y la de un solitario sol poniente
que se dispersa en oro, en sombra, en nada.
Soy el que ve las proas desde el puerto;
soy los contados libros, los contados
grabados por el tiempo fatigados;
soy el que envidia a los que ya se han muerto.
Más raro es ser el hombre que entrelaza
palabras en un cuarto de una casa.

by Jorge Luis Borges

translated by S. Qiouyi Lu
with help from David O. Bowles

The skull, the secret core,
the paths of blood that I don’t see;
the roads through dreams, Proteus leads;
the guts, the nape, the bones’ support.
These are the things I am. Incredibly
I am also the flashback of a blade,
the dazzle of a single sun that sets, rosy,
and gilds the world, the void, the shade.
I am the one that sees the prows beyond the door;
I am the few rare books, the few
in print, for when fatigue falls on the crew;
I am the one that envies those who are already moored.
But stranger still is being one who weaves
together words in one room under eaves.