Letter to the Editor
My copy of the June issue of Poetry has just arrived, and I went immediately and joyfully to the translation of a poem I’ve known and loved for many years, Lorca’s “La casada infiel.” But what a disappointment: it has several glaring and important errors.
The original doesn’t say that the speaker was “certain that she was still a virgin,” but that he “believed she was single.” The words for “virgin” are “virgen” and “doncella.” The word “mozuela,” used in the original, means “young girl” or “lass.” The lines translated here as “it dawned out there/to leave my lip bitten” are peculiar, and nothing like the original lines, which mean “common sense taught me to be reserved.”
As for the final eight lines, they are entirely wrong: the speaker describes himself as a “legitimate gypsy” or “true gypsy,” which he thinks of as a motive for pride; he is not condemning himself as a “blackguard.” He is proud of the present he “gave,” not “offered,” to his one-night stand, and that present was a “costurero,” a sewing basket, not a creel, which is “nasa” in Spanish, and is used by fishermen.
And the most serious inaccuracy of all comes at the end, where the original says, “I had no wish to fall in love with her, because she had a husband, although she told me she was single.” This story is about a woman who lied, and a man who gave a gift and extricated himself from a situation that could have led to a mortal encounter with her husband. It’s not about a man who is bragging about deflowering someone else’s oddly still-virgin wife. What the speaker is bragging about, to a degree, is his common sense, and the handsomeness of the gift that sealed the incident, the generous gift of a “true gypsy.”
Rhina P. Espaillat was born in the Dominican Republic under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. After Espaillat’s great-uncle opposed the regime, her family was exiled to the United States and settled in New York City. She began writing poetry as a young girl—in Spanish and then English—and has published in...