Amor de la Selva

Part 5 of several
(no, that’s not a typo)

When I hunted the jaguar verse this time around, I found that it was part of a longer poem by Jose Santos Chocano (which looks even longer here on account of the formatting).  Having found it, I was pleased to read the last verse in context; though the ending has a touch of the macabre about it, the other verses set that morbidity in the frame of desire for the beloved’s beauty, a jealous craving for contact, and a lust that grows ever more daring.  Nor is it unlike a duel, the speaker changing shapes like a wizard.

I’ve attempted to translate it.  Admittedly, it’s been a couple years since I’ve studied Spanish in any great depth, so by all means correct me if I’ve misinterpreted the pronouns or otherwise mistranslated; the third verse and the end of the sixth verse were especially difficult for me.  Also, whether you understand Spanish or not, I’d encourage you to try reading the Spanish original.  No translation can capture the rolled r’s, the flipped “nyuh” of the ñ’s, or the sensual rhythm of it.

Yo apenas quiero ser humilde araña
que en torno tuyo su hilazón tejiera
y que, como explorando una montaña,
se enredase en tu misma cabellera.

I just want to be a humble spider
that around your [hair] its spinning weaves
and which, as if exploring a mountain,
Tangles itself in your same hair.

Yo quiero ser gusano, hacer encaje;
dar mi capullo a las dentadas ruedas;l
y así poder, en la prisión de un traje,
sentirte palpitar bajo mis sedas…

I want to be a worm, making lace;
to give my cocoon  to the toothed wheels
and so to be able, in the prison of a suit,
to feel you pulse under my silks…

¡Y yo quiero también, cuando se exhala
toda esta fiebre que mi amor expande,
ir recorriendo la salvaje escala
desde lo más pequeño hasta lo más grande!

And I want also, when all this fever
that extends my love is breathed out,
to go roaming the ladder of the wild
From the smallest thing to the biggest!

Yo quiero ser un árbol: darte sombra;
con las ramas, la flor, hacerte abrigo;
y con mis hojas secas una alfombra
donde te hecharas a soñar conmigo…

I want to be a tree: to give you shade;
with the branches, the flower, to make you a shelter;
and with my dry leaves a rug
where you would lie down to dream with me…

Yo quiero ser un río: hacer un lazo
y envolverte en las olas de mi abismo,
para poder ahogar con un abrazo
y sepultarte en el fondo de mí mismo.

I want to be a river: to make a loop
and enfold you in the waves of my abyss,
so as to drown with an embrace
And bury you likewise in the depth of me.

Yo soy bosque sin trocha: abre el sendero,
yo soy astro sin luz: prende la tea.
Cóndor, boa, jaguar, ¡yo apenas quiero
ser lo que quieras tú, que por ti sea!

I am a forest without trail: open the path,
I am a star without light: light the torch.
Condor, boa, jaguar, I only want
To be that which you desire, to be it for you!

Yo quiero ser un cóndor, hacer gala
de aprisionar un rayo entre mi pico;
y así soberbio…, regalarte un ala,
¡para que te hagas de ella un abanico!

I want to be a condor, to make a show
of trapping a thunderbolt in my beak
and thus magnificent…, to give you a wing,
That you may make of it a fan!

Yo quiero ser una boa: en mis membrudos
lazos ceñirte la gentil cintura;
envolver las pulseras de mis nudos;
y morirme oprimiendo tu hermosura…

I want to be a boa: in my brawny
loops to cinch your gentle waist;
to wrap the bracelets of my knots
and to die pressing your beauty…

Yo quiero ser caimán de los torrents;
y de tus reinos vigilar la entrada,
mover la cola y enseñar los dientes,
como un dragón ante los pies de un hada.

I want to be a caiman of the torrents,
and to guard the entrance of your kingdoms,
lashing the tail and showing the teeth,
Like a dragon before the feet of a sprite.

Yo quiero ser jaguar de tus montañas,
arrastrarte a mi propia madriguera,
para poder abrirte las entrañas…
¡y ver si tienes corazón siquiera…!   

I want to be the jaguar of your mountains,
to drag you to my own den
so as to open up your chest
and see if, at least, you have a heart!


3 thoughts on “Amor de la Selva

  1. First of all congratulations for the translation. I’ve also tried to translate some poems in the opposite direction (English to Spanish) and know how difficult it is to get it right. Great job!
    Some observations:
    I don’t think morbid is a good word to describe the poem. It’s certainly daring, but that fits very well in the Latin American tradition. I’ve heard bricklayers in buildings shouting to beautiful passing-by girls phrases like: “I would like to be a suitcase to be always by your hand” (and others that are indeed much more “daring”). You may dislike this approach as too bold or physical, but you cannot deny a certain poetic spirit in it. The poem expresses this same desire with beautiful images.
    As you left an open door for suggestions, here they go:
    – I would prefer to see :breathed out” at the end of the verse:
    And I want also, when all this fever
    that extends my love is breathed out…
    – Abrigo in Spanish can mean both “coat” and “shelter” from cold. You could say: “quiero darte abrigo” and that does not refer to a physical coat. “Quiero darte un abrigo” means an actual coat. As my grammar is very weak, I cannot explain why the article makes the difference. What an awful spanish teacher I would be!… Anyhow, in the verse I think it could be better to use shelter or something like it.
    In the same stanza instead of “cast” I think “lie” it’s more fitting for the rug image.
    Lastly, I suggest either to get rid of the “even” in the very last verse or to say
    “and see if at least you have a heart”
    Take them as what they are: mere suggestions.

    • ¡Muchisimas gracias para sus comentarios y consejos!

      You’re right, “morbid” isn’t quite the word. What I mean is that as the speaker seeks greater and more extreme ways to express the intensity of his love and desire, he employs this language of death to do it – not simply “I would die for you,” that expression of sacrifice uttered so often in love poetry, but even “I could die of you, and you of me,” a thought with such sensual undertones. And the “mor-” root of “morbid” led me astray. I can’t quite call it death-centered, or death-obsessed, but it certainly is death-concerned.

      Thank you very much for your guidance on the translation! The odd thing about “hecharas” was that every dictionary I looked in said “Umm, that word doesn’t start with h” or else translated it as “you made.” So I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

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