A Poem a Day: Borges and Chess

A half-offering today:

Jorge Luis Borges is an imposing figure in Latin American literature. The works of this Argentinian writer are known for their erudition, for their non-linear narratives, for their magical realism, for making the reader doubt if the author is truly in control of the story any longer. His Ficciones made my head spin, and alas, not truly from much comprehension. A friend of mine comforted me: “Remember, Borges would spend his free time reading dictionaries. For fun. The guy was kind of weird.” Fun fact (for us, not him): Borges was among other literary giants to never be awarded the Nobel Prize. Others include Nabokov and Joyce (authors who, like Borges, connected their native culture to more global views in their writing), Proust, Zola, etc.

I took a hand at translating one of his poems, “Ajedrez.” I have only completed one of the two stanzas, but I’ll present the first in the original Spanish, and then my translation (if you like my rendition, be sure to check out my post on Pushkin). The biggest challenge was to keep the meter (translating from a Romance language to English often involves some fancy footwork with iambs) and rhyme scheme without fluffing up the lines with extra words or meanings not in the original:

“Ajedrez”

I

En su grave rincón, los jugadores
rigen las lentas piezas. El tablero
los demora hasta el alba en su severo
ámbito en que se odian dos colores.

Adentro irradian mágicos rigores
las formas: torre homérica, ligero
caballo, armada reina, rey postrero,
oblicuo alfil y peones agresores.

Cuando los jugadores se hayan ido,
cuando el tiempo los haya consumido,
ciertamente no habrá cesado el rito.

En el Oriente se encendió esta guerra
cuyo anfiteatro es hoy toda la Tierra.
Como el otro, este juego es infinito.

“Chess”

The players in their solemn corner govern                                                                                    The pieces slowly. The board til dawn delays                                                                               Them here, in their severe, staid realm, it stays                                                                       Them here, where two colors hate one another.

The figures shine inside with magical                                                                                 Preciseness: Homer’s rook, the swift, light knight,                                                                     The armored queen, the king prepared for flight,                                                                     Oblique the bishop, pawns irascible.

When all the players leave this martial stage,                                                                          When, all consumed, the victims of the age,                                                                               This ancient rite will doubtless not have ceased.

It was the East that witnessed this war’s birth,                                                                            Whose battleground now covers all the Earth.                                                                           And like the first, this game knows no surcease.

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