The Oak Grove


Ivan Shishkin. ‘The Oak Grove’. Oil on canvas, 1887. The Museum of Russian Art, Kiev, Ukraine.

Here is a poem I originally wrote in Spanish, then translated myself into English. I am more comfortable with the Spanish and found it difficult to create a satisfactory English version, retaining something of the rhythm of the original without sacrificing too much of the literal meaning. Eventually I gave up being too strict in the latter department and ended up adding a few words that weren’t present in the Spanish. All of which points out a conviction of mine, and one I share with many others: though derivative in its beginnings, a translation, unless it is merely a tool for understanding the original work, must stand on its own as a piece of writing. That is what I have attempted to do here. The painting shown above is of course quite Russian. Yet it has an oddly Californian spirit to it. Were I to walk into such a scene, it would never occur to me that I had so much as crossed the line into a neighboring American state, much less two continents and an ocean.  

The Oak Grove

The oak grove is deep and overly pensive.
In light diffused and dryish of nights,
The mischievous pranks of leaves encounter
In a freshet invading the places of reeds.

Here in my sandy and shifting arroyo
The pallid air is fragile and wan
And memories once so heavy and laden
Empty with advent, with coming of day.

Where is the garden of personal past?
Where the inflowing of stream everlasting?
The future condensable, yet to be turned,
Will be quicksand unsteady and earth distilled.

Fig trees with sun and breezes would suit me,
A sky of watered silk, of resin and blue,
With suspect cherry trees there at their center
And high in their branches a chattering moon.

El Robledo

El robledo está demasiado pensativo.
En las trasluzes ya sequízos de las noches,
Las mataperradas de las hojas se encuentran
En una riada que invade la izaga.

Aquí en mi arroyo sabuloso
El aire macilento es quebradizo,
Y los recuerdos en otro tiempo tan cargados
Se vacían con el adviento del nuevo día.

¿Donde está la huerta de mi pasado?
¿Donde el afluente duradero?
El futuro erial y condensable
Sera arena movediza y sosería.

Un higueral con sol y brisas me gustaría,
Un cielo de muaré, azul, teoso,
Con cerezos sospechosos en su centro
Y una luna habladora en sus ramos.


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