Monday, May 25, 2009

Ramon de la Serna: Greguerías

For an updated version of this project

This may well be a lifetime project, but I have decided to translate the entire work into English. There doesn't seem to be an existing translation of the entire work in print, although collections of selected greguerías are out there. I also hope it will improve my Spanish. There are thousands of them, so check back to this post regularly as I slog my way through them, bit by colloquial bit. Since this is not to be seen as a scholarly translation, I have taken liberties to make them sound more natural in English. I am under the impression that translators do this regularly anyway . . . for those of you who don't know, the Greguerías is a collection of traditional saying from the Spanish populace.

The inside of a piano is a loom, and weaves tasseled veils.

Garlic practically drops onto amateurs chefs.

How strange life is! Always, the brush is left, but the glue is gone.

To prepare a bath carefully is like brewing good tea.

The violin bow sews, like needle and thread, notes and souls, souls and notes.

The spine is the cane we swallow at birth.

When a woman orders fruit salad for two, she perfects the original sin.

"Ditto" is a good pseudonym for plagiarism.

He who splits sausage is a false purse (this one clearly contains some figure of speech that escapes my translation skills).

The laboratory rabbits murmur, "They wouldn't dare to do this if we were bears!"

The poet feeds himself on cookies from the moon.

Sometimes we wonder how terrible people survived The Great Flood with Noah and his family--but we have to realize that they stowed away.

That unique, passionate fruit, the pomegranate, holds life ajar so we can see it.

The machine gun was born from the hunter's crazy desire to have a belt between the trigger and the barrel.

The unit of power for airplane engines shouldn't be horsepower, but hippogriffpower.

The artichoke is the food of carpenters, cabinetmakers and woodcarvers.

The hussars go around dressed as X-rays of themselves.

The train seems like the firecracker of the landscape.

I never know if the rooster's comb is a king's crown, or a peasant's cap.

When we call a shotgun wedding a "nuptial feast", it feels like the festival of the last dance.

The moon of the skyscrapers is not the same as the moon of the horizon (one of my favorites so far).

The usher's flashlight leaves a stain of light on the suit.

Eve was born from Adam's rib, but she later returned it with interest in the form of children (I've probably taken the most liberties with this one).

Photographs plant us in the most unnatural poses, while pretending that they are the most natural.

The pari of eggs we eat seem like twins, but they're not even third cousins.

Mushrooms and toadstools come from the world of gnomes.

Every Saturday, Dante went to the theater to trim his laurels.

Plumes of grain tickle the wind.

A chicken is the only cook who knows how to make, out of a little corn with no eggs, an egg with no corn.

A man who cups his hand to his ear to hear seems to hunt for the fly of what is said.

Wednesday: a long day by any account--even by number of letters (again, a few liberties taken).

Whoever spills the last beer might as well have taken the butler in his arms (even my students couldn't help translate this one. I expect this is a terrible translation).

"Penguin" is a word attacked by flies (WTF? I bet they're talking about the umlaut over the word, not a common punctuation in Spanish).

Only the poet can take the full measure of the moon (liberties).

The moon is a little mirror in which the nearby playful and impertinent sun reflects as he peeps over the balcony.

Women are so silly: pantyhose can't be wrinkled, but gloves can.

Ice sleeps in a glass of whisky like a crystal bell on a goat.

The spade is the ultimate friend of man: at first in the sandbox, at last in the grave.

Dogs show us their tongue as if we had taken them to the doctor.

The horsefly sings dirges for the flowers.

A monologue means a mono (monkey) talking to himself (this hinges on a play on words, and loses something in the translation).

Haikus are poetic telegrams.

"T" is the hammer of the alphabet.

You know the chicken is grilled perfectly when it is the color of a violin.

Sparks are the sneezes of Satan.

Hosting a party is like playing a musical instrument (liberties taken).

The most important thing in life is not to die.

There aremore germs on a banknote than dollars in a bank.

The have to use both your nostrils to perceive distant gardens.

There are no magicians anymore. Nowadays, everybody has crystal shoes!

Falcons are the hunting dogs of the sky.

Academics have to have the right to use their sleeping caps during lessons.

El Cid made a knot in his beard to conciliate those about to die.

The electric iron seems to serve coffee to the shirts.

The wind rides the weather vane like a bicycle (liberties).

The crocodile is a suitcase that travels on credit.

An orator is a wind instrument that one plays solo.

Dogs anxiously search for a dream they had in a past life.

The moon needs cats, but she cannot make what nobody gives her back.

Frogs are always right in the heat of a swimming contest.

English Saturday is a graft of Sunday and Friday.

A demon is nothing more than the smartest of monkeys.

The camel is always moth-eaten.

The moon is the bank of ruined metaphors.

The sculpture museum is where fathers listen to their kids saying, "Papa! It hasn't even stuck a leaf out at me!" (translation doubtful).

The crocodile is a shoe with the nails pulled out.

A caterpillar of toothpaste.

"Bring me a bottle of carbonated water."
"Ah yes, the water that cramps and tastes like a sleeping foot."

The moon is the eye of an ox on the boat of the night.

All the jewelers blushed. They had seen a communist!

All cameras want to be accordions, and vice versa.

The moon and the sand made frenzied love.

The green lobster gets its red choler up when boiled.

We can't really enjoy the song of the nightingale, because we always doubt if it is really a nightingale.

The man carrying a double bass seems like an ant carrying a splinter that is too big for him.

The accordion juices musical lemons.

The Dictionary wants to say "Millionaire" in words.

The sea is always wanting to make corkscrews, but never quite succeeds.

The banana is a fruit dressed up in red skin.

Nostalgia: neuralgia of the memories.

The edges of the fog are rags.

The real turkey is a jubilant myth.

The swallow shrinks its shoulders in mid-flight

Camoens and Cervantes are like two friends in an asylum: one missing an eye, the other missing a hand.


Unknown said...

wish you would include the original as well - brillinat idea!

La sombri said...

Hey, this is a wonderful post! I never though that anybody could dare to translate greguerías. If you post the originals, maybe I can help you to explain some of them. Ramón Gómez de la Serna not only played with the form of the object he was describing but also with the word itself. That's why sometimes gregerías are so difficult to translate.

dennysaze said...

Hey - these are great - I wonder if you'd let me use these (attributed of course) on my new Gregueria's twitter site - you could reply on there with some - I'm a writer and creative writing lecturer in the UK and would love people to contribute translations or new greguerias to my twitter page!/Greguera1

Brandon said...

Hey, I'm sorry it took me a while to respond to these. I guess I never realized anyone actually read my blog, so it didn't occur to me to look for comments. Sure you can use my translations! Wow, I'm flattered!

Γ.Σιδέρης said...

I really enjoyed your translations, thanks! made me order a book of De la Serna's Greguerias in Spanish, it's crazy how many he wrote. Hundreds of really good ones

Brandon said...

Thanks, I'm tempted to finish up this project, but finishing things has never been my strong suit, and I seem to have forgotten all my Spanish now that I'm learning Korean . . .

Peter Bakowski said...

Dear Brandon, I'm a big fan of Ramon Gomez de la Serna. I'd love you to email me a PDF of all the ones you've translated into English if it's not a hassle. Greetings from the Napoémien Valley, New Caledonia. I also like the ultra-short poems/aphorisms/monostiches of Antonio Porchia. Do you know his book "Voices" ? Every good wish, Peter

Brandon said...

In light of the fact that this and related posts get more random interest than all others combined, I suppose it might be a good idea to resume this project. When I do, I'll be sure and send you a PDF of the result! Thanks for the recommendation, also.

Peter Bakowski said...

Dear Brandon, If you email me your email address, I'll send you an aphoristic poem inspired by years of reading Romon Gomez de la Serna's ultra-short poems. Every good wish, Peter

Brandon said...

I'd like that very much.

By the way, I recently started polishing up these translations again after letting them sleep for years. I'll send you the next version.

Unknown said...

Wow this is great ! Ramon Gomez de la serna was my father's uncle, so I guess that make me his neice once removed . I have most of his books and personal letters and belonging that my father had till sadly he passed away in 2017 . I now have them in my possession , this was such a lovely surprise I just wish my father was here to see it . My father was his number one fan , well done with the translation , I'm Spanish so I say you've done an excellent job , keep going !

Brandon said...

I'm so encouraged and flattered by this last comment. What a fantastic confluence. Thank you so much for your kind words. They make me want to continue this project. I'd be grateful for any thoughts you have about my more recent adjustments to the translations.

Thumbsup said...

Great job. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Brandon --

You said that Gomez de la Serna wrote "thousands" of his witty aphorisms. About how many



Dear Brandon, I've cut and pasted from an email I've received from New York poet Bill Zavatsky:- Thousands of greguerías. The Total de Greguerías published in 1962/3? by Aguilar in Argentina contained approximately 1,500 pages of
gregs. You could spend days counting them. And new ones are being discovered all the time.