Thursday, October 30, 2014

Chinese Translation of "Cultivo una rosa blanca"



原作者:José Martí
译者:yuyuliuxiahui (translator)

Literal translation of the Chinese version:

I planted a white rose
In the heat of July
And in the cold of January,
And I put it in the hand
Of my true friend.

And for my enemy,
Who cruelly tears my living heart,
I place in his hand
Neither thorns nor nettles:
For him, also, I planted a white rose.


Vana said...

He did pretty good, though a lot is lost in translation.

Prettier in Spanish.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

The Chinese Communists belatedly issued in 1955 a commemorative stamp to mark the centenary of Martí's birth in 1953. No European country did and only a handful of Latin American republics. Why is this significant? Because the Chinese obviously saw whence the ill-wind was blowing and the opportunities it would provide for Marxists on the island. The Soviets, apparently, had no clue; then, again, there wasn't a large and historically significant Russian-Cuban community in Cuba at the time. The Chinese had been in Cuba for 100 years and very much attuned to and a part of our history and culture. Hence, I believe, they saw the importance of Martí long before the Russians did and to a degree which the Russians never did. Suffice it to say that the other Westerner who was honored with a postage stamp by the Chinese that year was Copernicus.

The Chinese translation of "Cultivo una rosa blanca" shows that this interest is still alive, and, apparently, less politicized than it once was in the Soviet Union. The Russians were always comparing Martí to Marx and Lenin. The Chinese, however, always likened him to Sun-Yat-Sen, not Mao.

The literary merits of the translation I cannot completely judge, because, of course, I do not speak Chinese. Still, the literal translation does not stray very far from the original. Indeed, it is remarkable that so much was preserved in the transition from Spanish to Chinese, the two not being analogous languages. This may not be so much a merit of the translator as a testament to the universality of Martí's poetry. There are some amplifications that I especially like, such as "In the heat of July / And in the cold of January" and the idea of placing the rose in his friend's hand and in the hand of his enemy. "Planted" is also the perfect word to use in the translation; "cultivate," which many have used instead, would have killed the poem at the onset (certainly in the English version).

I had meant to include an introduction to the Chinese translation, but decided to let it speak for itself. Your comment, however, encouraged me to make some observations about it that were still on my mind, and these now stand in lieu of an introduction.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

One final observation: There are those who might ask what possible purpose does a Chinese translation of Martí's signature poem serve? The serious answer is that translation is a bridge between cultures and that such bridges are the closest approach that we can make to a better understanding of each other.

A more flippant answer would be that given the current Western craze for tattooing Chinese characters — each pictograph being a miniature work of art — it is well to make available suitable snatches of Martí's poetry in Chinese, so that the meaning is not subordinate to the design, as is sometimes the case with unintended comical results.

Vana said...


Right you are when you say, the Chinese have been with us for a hundred years, they better understand the Cuban psych than the Russians ever will. Thank you dear friend for all you teach and expose us to.