TRANSLATIONS

The following poem “Espejos” (Mirrors) by Jorge Luis Borges was published in Selected Poems (edited by Alexander Coleman, Penguin Books, 1999). The two translations by AR and myself (MW) are provided to show the range in translation, and demonstrate that translation is rarely a 1:1 map. The first does not maintain the rhyme scheme and includes errors. The second is hopefully seen as an improvement.

Yo que senti el horror de los espejos

No solo ante el cristal impenetrable

Donde acaba y empieza, inhabitable,

Un imposible espacio de reflejos

 

Sino ante el agua especular que imita

El otro azul en su profundo cielo

Que a veces raya el ilusorio vuelo

Del ave inversa o que un templor agita,

 

Y ante la superficie silenciosa

Del ebano sutil cuya tersura

Repite como un sueno la blancura

De un vago marmor o una vaga rosa,

 

Hoy, al cabo de tantos y perplejos

Anos de errar bajo la varia luna,

Me pregunto que azar de la fortuna

Hizo que yo temiera los espejos.

 

Espejos de metal, enmascarado

Espejo de caoba que en la bruma

De su rojo crepusculo disfuma

Ese rostro que mira y es mirado,

 

Infinitos los veo, elementales

Ejecutores de un antiguo pacto,

Multiplicar el mundo como el acto

Generativo, insomnes y fatales.

 

Prolongan este vano mundo incierto

En su vertiginosa telarana;

A veces en la tarde los empana

El halito de un hombre que no ha muerto.

 

Nos acecha el cristal.  Si entre las cuetro

Paredes de la alcoba hay un espejo,

Ya no estoy solo.  Hay otro.  Hay el reflejo

Que arma en el alba un sigiloso teatro.

 

Todo acontece y nada se recuerda

En esos gabinetes cristalinos

Donde, como fantasticos rabinos,

Leemos los libros de derecha a izquierda.

 

Claudio, rey de una tarde, rey sonado,

No sintio que era un sueno hasta aquel dia

En que un actor mimo su felonia

Con arte silencioso, en un tablado.

 

Que haya suenos es raro, que haya espejos

Que el usual y gastado repertorio

De cada dia incluya el ilusorio

Orbe profundo que urden los reflejos.

 

Dios (he dado en pensar) pone un empeno

En toda ese inasible arquitectura

Que edifica la luz con la tersura

Del cristal y la sombra con el sueno.

 

Dios ha creado las oches que se arman

De suenos y las formas del espejo

Para que el hombre siente que es reflejo

Y vanidad.  Per eso nos alarman.

 

 

 

Borges

I have been horrified before all mirrors

Not just before the impenetrable glass,

The end and the beginning of that space,

Inhabited by nothing but reflections,

 

But faced with specular water, mirroring

The other blue within its bottomless sky,

Incised at times by the illusory flight

Of inverted birds, or troubled by a ripple,

 

Or face to face with the unspeaking surface

Of ghostly ebony whose very hardness

Reflects, as if within a dream, the whiteness

Of spectral marble or a spectral rose.

 

Now, after so many troubling years

Of wandering beneath the wavering moon,

I ask myself what accident of fortune

Handed to me this terror of all mirrors-

 

Mirrors of metal and the shrouded mirror

Of sheer mahogany which in the twilight

Of its uncertain red softens the face

That watches and in turn is watched by it.

 

I look on them as infinite, elemental

Fulfillers of a very ancient pact

To multiply the world, as in the act

Of generation, sleepless and dangerous.

 

They extenuate this vain and dubious world

Within the web of their own vertigo.

Sometimes at evening they are clouded over

By someone’s breath, someone who is not dead.

 

The glass is watching us.  And if a mirror

Hangs somewhere on the four walls of my room,

I am not alone.  There's an other, a reflection

Which in the dawn enacts its own dumb show.

 

Everything happens, nothing is remembered

In those dimensioned cabinets of glass

In which, like rabbis in fantastic stories,

We read the lines of text from right to left.

 

Claudius, king for an evening, king in a dream,

Did not know he was a dream until that day

On which an actor mimed his felony

With silent artifice, in a tableau.

 

Strange, that there are dreams, that there are mirrors.

Strange that the ordinary, worn-out ways

Of every day encompass the imagined

And endless universe woven by reflections.

 

God (I’ve begun to think) implants a promise

In all that insubstantial architecture

That makes light out of the impervious surface

Of glass, and makes the shadow out of dreams.

 

God has created nights well-populated

With dreams, crowded with mirror images,

So that man may feel that he is nothing more

Than vain reflection.  That’s what frightens us.

 

 

AW

 

I who have felt terror before mirrors

And not just by their impenetrable glass,

The beginnings and ends their reflections cast,

That space where every inhabitant disappears

 

But also upon pondering the waters that mime

The other blue in its depths of sky

Scratched at times by the false fly by

Of an inverted bird or a troubled ripple line

 

Or before the frozen pose

Of subtle ebony whose soft shine

Repeats like a dream the white fine

Vagueness of a marble or a rose,

 

Now, after so many troubling years

Of roaming below a shifting moon,

I have to ask what accident has hewn

In me this fateful fear of mirrors.

 

Mirrors of metal or the blotched

Mahogany surface whose mists erase

And soften like the sunset this face

That watches and is watched,

 

I see them as endless elemental

Hangmen of an ancient pact

To multiply like the generative act

In a world sleepless and fatal,

 

Stretching out with their reflective web

This vain world, uncertain and dizzying;

That at times is steamed in the evening

By the breath of someone not dead.

 

The glass is watching us and I will always know

That if in the room there is a mirror

I am not alone.  Someone else is here.

Someone in the dawn enacting their own secret show.

 

Everything occurs and no memory is left

In those framed glass eyes

Where like unreal rabbis,

We read the lines of text from right to left.

 

Claudius, king for an evening, king in a dream

Who not knowing he was so dreamed until that time

When with silent art an actor mimed his crime

And exposed on stage the error of his scheme.

 

Strange that there are dreams, that there are mirrors,

That the same tired habits of every day

Include the illusory world they convey

In reflections woven reveringly into spheres.

 

It has dawned on me that God puts a will

In each and every untouchable construction

Which builds light off of glass conduction

And shadows from what only dreams can fill.

 

God has made the nights never ending 

With dreams in the forms of mirrors

So that only man’s vanity perseveres.

It is this, which we find so frightening.

 

 

MW

Mirror BG1