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Living Languages

The blog for the Institute of Modern Languages Research

Future Directions in Modern Languages: Action Points

Charles Burdett, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research, discusses the recent symposium held on 25 February 2022 and issues that the event raised.

The question at the heart of the workshop on 25 February 2022 (Future Directions in Modern Languages) that was organised by the IMLR together with AULC, the UCML, and Bilingualism Matters was how the disciplinary area, broadly defined as Modern Languages, can develop to ensure its relevance and purpose. The importance of thinking about future challenges was foregrounded at the beginning of the event with the presentation of the work of the AHRC Future of Language Research Fellows. This was followed by presentations from researchers of Bilingualism Matters on how thinking concerning ‘community’ languages can advance decolonising approaches to the study of language and culture. The latter part of the day focussed on how the work of the four OWRI projects can be integrated within the subject area and inform developments more generally.

Many questions concerning the future shape of the disciplinary area were raised by the conference and all of these questions require a great deal of further strategic thought and engagement. One can, nevertheless, point easily to three issues that were present in all discussions. The first is how we can successfully move beyond a distinction between ‘modern’ and ‘community’ languages. The stratification of language learning is increasingly difficult to justify and serves no one’s interests. It might well, therefore, be a good idea to dispense with the adjective ‘modern’ and to seek to construct a broad, but nevertheless definable, subject area that has different emphases and inflections, but which is connected by the integrated study of language, culture, and society; that is grounded in the multilingual and multicultural realities that we all inhabit; and in which there is a strong emphasis on cultural and linguistic mobility.

The second issue that all speakers addressed was the necessity of intense, joined-up, and inclusive thinking concerning the teaching of languages and cultures. If we think about language teaching as an important element in the way in which we expand the nature of our contact with societies around the world, then it is clearly important that what is taught in schools is strongly connected with the subject area as it is understood and practiced in Higher Education. Innovative approaches to teaching, to the interface with creative practice, and to inclusivity need to be shared across the education sector as a whole.

The third issue concerns the need to demonstrate the relevance and applicability of the analytical frameworks that are used within the disciplinary field. All of the papers of the conference showed the powerful impacts that can be made by the subject area and how it can engage in cross-disciplinary research of crucial importance. The engagement of teams of researchers in high-profile funding initiatives such as OWRI leads to innovation in teaching practice and to changes in public perception.

The conference, with short interventions focussing on issues of strategic significance to everyone within the sector, provides an excellent model for future events. The recording of the event is available here:

 

Charles Burdett, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research

 

Translating César Vallejo’s poem ‘Trilce III’

Cynthia Stephens translates this poem from the collection ‘Trilce’ (1922). This is a literary translation, which attempts to create a new poem while remaining faithful to the original.  Some of the difficulties which arise in such a translation are discussed, as it is a semantically complex poem in which multiple meanings echo through the voice of the scared child to that of the terrified adult.

 

 

 

 

Poet – César Vallejo

Original Poem:

Trilce III

Las personas mayores
¿a qué hora volverán?
Da las seis el ciego Santiago,
y ya está muy oscuro.

Madre dijo que no demoraría.

Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel,
cuidado con ir por ahí, por donde
acaban de pasar gangueando sus memorias
dobladoras penas,
hacia el silencioso corral, y por donde
las gallinas que se están acostando todavía,
se han espantado tanto.
Mejor estemos aquí no más.
Madre dijo que no demoraría.

Ya no tengamos pena. Vamos viendo
los barcos ¡el mío es más bonito de todos!
con los cuales jugamos todo el santo día,
sin pelearnos, como debe de ser:
han quedado en el pozo de agua, listos,
fletados de dulces para mañana.

Aguardemos así, obedientes y sin más
remedio, la vuelta, el desagravio
de los mayores siempre delanteros
dejándonos en casa a los pequeños,
como si también nosotros
no pudiésemos partir.

¿Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel?
Llamo, busco al tanteo en la oscuridad.
No me vayan a haber dejado solo,
y el único recluso sea yo.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Poet – César Vallejo

Translation:

Trilce III

Where have the grown-ups gone?
When will they get home?
Darkness has fallen in our village now,
it’s six o’clock and the light has gone.
Blind Santiago is ringing the bells.

Mother said she wouldn’t be long.

Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel,
be careful going out there, where
the souls of the dead have just passed,
sounding a death knell.
Double sorrows, ghosts,
are dragging their twanging memories
through our silent yard,
squawking, suffering, haunting.
So the sleeping hens
have been spooked and frightened away.

Better for us just to stay here quietly.
Mother said she wouldn’t be long.

We mustn’t be sad now.
Let’s go and look at our toy boats.
Mine is the prettiest of them all!
We’ll play with them the whole blessed day,
without fighting, as it should be:
they’re still in the pool, ready,
loaded up with sweet things for tomorrow,
ready for departure.

Let’s wait like this then, obediently,
not that we have any choice.
Let’s wait for them patiently,
for an apology from the two-faced grown-ups,
who are always ahead,
leaving us, the little ones, at home,
as if we couldn’t
as if we couldn’t also go away.

Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel?
I’m afraid of this punishment.
I call out, groping in the darkness,
searching through trial and error.
Surely they haven’t left me all alone,
in jail, doubled-up in pain.
Why am I the only prisoner?
The only condemned one!

Translation by Cynthia Lucy Stephens
Copyright © 2022

Commentary:

This haunting poem by the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo is about fear and loss. It expresses grief at the deaths of his brother Miguel followed by his mother, and the dreadful solitude following the break-up of his family and the end of his childhood. I see also the persecution and solitude later felt by Vallejo in his prison cell in Peru in 1920, held under never-proven charges, before he escaped on a boat to France and a life of exile.

I have tried to capture some of the multiple meanings echoing throughout this evocative poem. I divided the long sentence, in order to express double-edged meanings in the phrase “gangueando sus memorias / dobladoras penas”. “Gangueando” means “twanging” and “speaking through the nose”. I chose “squawking” because of the hens, but also because its discordant tones convey the difficulty of expressing painful memories. I focused on the active presence of the dead. “Penas” can mean “sorrows” or “souls of the dead” or “punishments”. “Dobladoras” could be “double”, “duplicitous”, or “doubled-over”, but I also wanted the sense of “doblar campanas”, to “toll”, or “doblar a muerto”, to “sound a death knell”, so as to connect with the blind bell-ringer Santiago from his childhood village.

The souls of the dead follow the child and the man, as the child waits in the village for his parents to come home, and in the last stanza the man reaches out for his lost siblings in the jail. He is afraid, like the hens from his childhood yard; he fears he may be left alone forever in a prison cell. This is a poem about departures and people not coming back home. Perhaps also a fear of his own future exile can be glimpsed within the ambiguous connotations of this complex poem.

Cynthia Stephens is a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (MCIL), the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI), and the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA). She studied English and Spanish at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, graduating in 1978, and that is where she discovered the poetry of the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo. She has recently translated a chapter of the book César Vallejo’s Season in Hell, from Vallejo en los infiernos by Eduardo González Viaña, co-ordinated by Stephen M. Hart.

Translating César Vallejo’s poem ‘Enereida’

Cynthia Stephens translates this poem from the collection ‘Los heraldos negros’ (The Black Heralds) (1918). This is a literary translation, which attempts to create a new poem while remaining faithful to the original. Some of the difficulties which arise in such a translation are discussed, including how to render the made-up word title, which is probably a reference to January and a departure.

 

 

 

 

Poet – César Vallejo

Original Poem:

Enereida

Mi padre, apenas
en la mañana pajarina, pone
sus setentiocho años, sus setentiocho
ramos de invierno a solear.
El cementerio de Santiago, untado
en alegre año nuevo, está a la vista.
Cuántas veces sus pasos cortaron hacia él,
y tornaron de algún entierro humilde.

¡Hoy hace mucho tiempo que mi padre no sale!
Una broma de niños se desbanda.
Otras veces le hablaba a mi madre
de impresiones urbanas, de política;
y hoy, apoyado en su bastón ilustre
que sonara mejor en los años de la Gobernación,
mi padre está desconocido, frágil,
mi padre es una víspera.
Lleva, trae, abstraído, reliquias, cosas,
recuerdos, sugerencias.
La mañana apacible le acompaña
con sus alas blancas de hermana de la caridad.

Día eterno es éste, día ingenuo, infante,
coral, oracional;
se corona el tiempo de palomas,
y el futuro se puebla
de caravanas de inmortales rosas.
Padre, aún sigue todo despertando;
es enero que canta, es tu amor
que resonando va en la Eternidad.
Aún reirás de tus pequeñuelos,
y habrá bulla triunfal en los Vacíos.

Aún será año nuevo. Habrá empanadas;
y yo tendré hambre, cuando toque a misa
en el beato campanario
el buen ciego mélico con quien
departieron mis sílabas escolares y frescas,
mi inocencia rotunda.
Y cuando la mañana llena de gracia,
desde sus senos de tiempo,
que son dos renuncias, dos avances de amor
que se tienden y ruegan infinito, eterna vida,
cante, y eche a volar Verbos plurales,
jirones de tu ser,
a la borda de sus alas blancas
de hermana de la caridad, ¡oh, padre mío!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Poet – César Vallejo

Translation:

Fly Free January

In the fledgling morning
my ancient father,
with his seventy-eight long years,
can scarcely drag his winter branches,
all seventy-eight of them,
into the warmth of the sun.
He sees the local cemetery of Santiago de Chuco,
anointed by a merry New Year.
Many a time he took the village shortcut here,
walking, to attend some humble burial,
then making his way back home again, on foot.

Now it’s a long time since my father even left the house!
His children have fluttered and scattered away,
as if having some kind of a joke.
In the past he would discuss city matters,
public life and politics, with my mother;
but today he leans on his distinguished walking stick,
which sounded better in past times,
when the Government was in power.
My father is a different person now,
fragile and unfamiliar.
He’s on the eve of a big event,
awaiting a new beginning, a rebirth.
Withdrawn, he picks things up
and then puts them back again,
relics, memories, suggestions of things past.
The pleasant morning accompanies him,
with its Sisters of Charity white wings.

This is an eternal day, naïve and innocent;
child-like and choral, it resembles a prayer;
time is crowned with doves,
and the future is planted with caravans of roses
moving towards immortality.
Father, everything is still awakening;
January is singing, with mirth,
for the rebirth of the year;
your love echoes and rings on its journey to Eternity.
You will be laughing soon at your own little baby ones,
and their triumphal racket will fill the silence of the Void.

It will still be New Year’s day, like long ago.
Festive pies will be served, and I will be very hungry
when the bell is rung for mass in the blessed belfry,
by Santiago, the good blind man.
His conversation was so lyrical,
when I used to chat with him,
and share my fresh schoolboy syllables,
my resounding innocence.

When the new morning comes, full of grace,
its breasts of time two renunciations,
two points of love advancing;
Sister of Charity nuns, with white veils flowing,
and white sheets laid out, will pray,
reciting the Word, for infinite, eternal life.
The morning will sing out loud, and plural Verbs,
the tatters of your fragile self, will be set free;
white wings sailing over the edge, into Eternity.
Oh, my fledgling father, in January
you too, like a white dove, will fly away.

Translation by Cynthia Lucy Stephens
Copyright © 2022

Commentary:

This haunting poem by the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo is a filial tribute expressing love. It is about Vallejo’s old fragile father, who is struggling with his life after the death of his wife and the break-up of his family. The poem takes place on New Year’s day, and the father is portrayed as being like a young bird about to fly away sometime in January.

The title “Enereida” is a made-up word, possibly from “Enero” (January) and “ida” (departure). There may also be a reference to Virgil’s Aeneid, in which the themes of rebirth and filial piety are both important. I found translating the title the hardest part; I started with an ugly made-up word, but I ended up with a title that I like the sound of and that I think is more optimistic.

I tried to capture some of the multiple meanings within this valedictory poem. The last stanza was particularly challenging due to many interacting symbols, and entangled syntax. I split this stanza into two; in the second section I have been more “creative”, so as to encompass the wider connotations. For instance, I focus on the Sister of Charity nuns, and their white wings become white veils; also white sheets, which are laid out; this is justified by the text, as “tender” can mean to lay out a dead body. I also added the reference to a white dove in the last line, but I think this is justified as doves are mentioned in the poem, and their white wings reflect those of the nuns.

The poem is imbued with religious imagery. I used the full name of Santiago de Chucho, the village where Vallejo grew up, as for British readers Santiago tends to mean Santiago de Compostela; and I gave the blind man his real name, Santiago. Language parts participate in the poem, in the form of Syllables and plural Verbs. I have the praying nuns reciting the Word. At the end of the poem I make explicit the idea that the fragile father, like a fledgling bird, will soon fly away to a new life in Eternity.

Cynthia Stephens is a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (MCIL), the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI), and the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA). She studied English and Spanish at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, graduating in 1978, and that is where she discovered the poetry of the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo. She has recently translated a chapter of the book César Vallejo’s Season in Hell, from Vallejo en los infiernos by Eduardo González Viaña, co-ordinated by Stephen M. Hart