LOST IN TRANSLATION
I speak Tagalog perfectly. And by Tagalog, I mean the language used in 1930s Manila, which is now totally archaic. Some examples are aklat/book, himlay/rest, sapagkat/because — like I said, it’s archaic and no one I know really uses it anymore (except for the State of California with its Tagalog forms and instructions which even my mom couldn’t understand so that she ends up requesting the English version, anyway).
The Tagalog I grew up with more closely resembles what is now known as “Filipino.” Having said that, I very rarely write in Filipino — the reason being, I’m not confident enough to use it with sustained grace (and heaven forbid I revert to Taglish! And by this, I mean the class-rooted 1980s version). I did translate a poem by Albert Alejo from Tagalog to English, and another by Eileen Tabios from English to Tagalog. And regardless of the literary value (or lack of) of my translated work, I find the practice and process absolutely delightful — like putting together a challenging puzzle.
I decided to try Romaji next (this is the Westernized version of Japanese writing, and the nearest I will probably get to being remotely proficient in the language). I started with the two haikus I wrote for The Asahi Shimbun (although only the English versions were accepted and published):
From the Golden Gate Bridge, / a glimpse of what was golden / summer of ‘67
(Asahi Shimbun, September 1)
send me a postcard / of that City by the Bay / with gold in her hair.
(Asahi Shimbun, September 29)
And my rough translation:
Eikō no keshiki, / Gorudengetoburijji / Natsu Showa / 42
(Glorious scene / Golden Gate Bridge / Summer of / 67)
Sanfuranshisuko / Hagaki / Kanojo no kami no kin
(San Francisco / Postcard / Her golden hair)
While I can be as florid as I wish when translating into and from Tagalog/Filipino, with Japanese, I have to be the most concise that I can be (distilling each line into a single word, if possible), given that I neither have the command nor finesse required when translating any source text. (But that surely doesn’t stop me from trying!)
My most recent attempt is a labor of love. I translated a verse from “For Paul” — my wedding poem — into Japanese, the only language, apart from English, that I have in common with my husband (and we’re both truly terrible at it — but like I said, it’s a labor of love). Some 10 hours later, this:
I will love you in the manner / of good wives, in the manner / of our grandmothers who walked / in faithfulness. I will stand / by you each day in the manner / of good men. I will lie down facing / you each night in the manner of hearts.
was shaped into this:
Ī tsuma no you ni / Watashi wa itoshi teru / Chūjitsu ni / Watashi wa aruku / Watashitachi no sobo no michi / Otoko no you ni / Otetsudai shimasu / Mainichi / Maiban / Watashi wa anata no tonari ni nemuru / Kokoro no you ni
(Like a good wife / I love / Faithfully / I walk / Our grandmothers’ way / Like a (good) man / I support you / Everyday / Every night / I sleep next to you / Like a heart)
I then asked someone who speaks Japanese at a native level to edit, and this is what she came up with (with credit and much gratitude to Gabri-san):
ii tsuma no you ni / watashi wa anata (w)o / aisuru / sobo-tachi no you ni / shinkou no michi (w)o / issho ni ayumu. / zennin no you ni / mainichi, soba de / shienshi-tsudzukeru / muki-au kokoro no you ni / maiban / kao (w)o awasenagara / soba de nemuru
(In the manner of good wives / I will love you / In the manner of our grandmothers / I will walk the path of faith with you / In the manner of good men (people) / Everyday, by your side, I will continue to support you / In the manner of hearts that face towards one another / Every night, while facing you, / I will sleep by your side)
which is the version most closely resembling the original poem. To make it more cadenced, I tweaked it to read:
ii tsuma no you ni / watashi wa anata aisuru / sobo-tachi no you ni / shinkou no michi wo issho ni ayumu / Meiyo aru hito no you ni / mainichi, soba de shienshi-tsudzukeru / maiban kao wo awasenagara / Hata de nemuru / Kokoro no you ni
(Like a good wife / I love you / Like our grandmothers / I walk the path of faith / Like honorable men / Everyday, I support you / Every night, I face you / Sleep beside you / Like a heart)
(Okay, so perhaps Gabri’s version is best.)
And why do translations matter? Because language is fluid, and it is one way to ensure that written texts survive. A thousand years from now, when everything I know has either evolved or eroded, I would like to think that my love still lives, battle-worn and heartstrong.