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Translator's Note: Echo

BY FORREST GANDER

 

Written at a difficult time in the poet's life, at a time when her life was emphatically at stake, this poem includes an echo of Emily Dickinson's #1295:

I think that the Root of the Wind is Water—
It would not sound so deep
Were it a Firmamental Product—
Airs no Oceans keep—
Mediterranean intonations—
To a Current's Ear—
There is a maritime conviction
In the Atmosphere—

In Pura López-Colomé's "Echo," it seems as though the poet, going under in both the sedative and the psychological sense—"the last consideration to go"—finds her mind looping a Dickinson poem concerned with going under, for if air is water, we drown in it. (There are allusions to other Dickinson poems as well.) But Dickinson's re-de-transformational language brings her into the living poet's present, even as that present may be slipping away. (I'm reminded of Shakespeare's hope that "in black ink my love may still shine bright.") Dickinson's addictive syllables and rhythms bring her to life—her flesh takes on color (so the melanin). And López-Colomé, who has been speaking to herself alone, finds in herself a place where another poet is speaking to herself.

What is most difficult in the translation is the fact that in Spanish, the title word eco (echo) is a near homonym for the first word in the penultimate line, hueco (void or cavity). Literally, the last lines might read:

void of the voice,
the one that speaks alone.

My sense is that by hueco, López-Colomé suggests that in some cavity within her own being, Emily Dickinson's voice is alive. I could translate hueco as "hollow" and get an off-rhyme for "echo." But I thought the effect might be too subtle; it might go unnoticed in English, and the effect in Spanish is obvious. In English, "echo" doesn't have any homonyms and doesn't even have many rhymes. I thought about an "echo" being "let go" and the voice letting go. But, at least provisionally, I've tried to have my sound and meaning, too. I let the "echo" echo, by repeating it. But I also allow for a transformational sound, "low" recurs in "hollow." And with "hollow," I bring in the meaning of hueco.—FG

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2009

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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