Enrichment Workshops: Translating 'El aleph'

Two groups of sparky year 13 UCS students translated a section from Jorge Luis Borges's El aleph. Their goal was not only to translate this challenging text in a way that sounded idiomatically English, but to create the same feeling and mood that they felt when reading and discussing the original Spanish. 


Arribo, ahora, al inefable centro de mi relato; empieza, aquí, mi desesperación de escritor. Todo lenguaje es un alfabeto de símbolos cuyo ejercicio presupone un pasado que los interlocutores comparten; ¿cómo transmitir a los otros el infinito Aleph, que mi temerosa memoria apenas abarca? Los místicos, en análogo trance, prodigan los emblemas: para significar la divinidad, un persa habla de un pájaro que de algún modo es todos los pájaros; Alanus de Insulis, de una esfera cuyo centro está en todas partes y la circunferencia en ninguna; […]

I arrive now, at the ineffable centre of my story. My struggle as a writer starts here. Every language is an alphabet of symbols, the use of which presupposes a past shared by those who use it. How to convey to others the infinite nature of the Aleph, which my fearful memory hardly brings up. The mystics, with the same difficulty, depend on these symbols in order to define divinity. A Persian speaks of a bird which in some way is all birds. Of Alanus of Insulis, of a sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.


[…] En la parte inferior del escalón, hacia la derecha, vi una pequeña esfera tornasolada, de casi intolerable fulgor. Al principio la creí giratoria; luego comprendí que ese movimiento era una ilusión producida por los vertiginosos espectáculos que encerraba. El diámetro del Aleph sería de dos o tres centímetros, pero el espacio cósmico estaba ahí, sin disminución de tamaño. Cada cosa (la luna del espejo, digamos) era infinitas cosas, porque yo claramente la veía desde todos los puntos del universo. Vi el populoso mar, vi el alba y la tarde, vi las muchedumbres de América, vi una plateada telaraña en el centro de una negra pirámide, vi un laberinto roto (era Londres), vi interminables ojos inmediatos escrutándose en mí como en un espejo, vi todos los espejos del planeta y ninguno me reflejó, vi en un traspatio de la calle Soler las mismas baldosas que hace treinta años vi en el zaguán de una casa en Fray Bentos, vi racimos, nieve, tabaco, vetas de metal, vapor de agua, vi convexos desiertos ecuatoriales y cada uno de sus granos de arena, vi en Inverness a una mujer que no olvidaré, […]

On the lower part of the stairs, towards the right, I saw a small iridescent sphere, with an almost intolerable brightness. First I thought it was revolving. I then understood that this movement was an illusion produced by the dizzying sights that it contained. The diameter of the aleph looked about two or three centimetres long, but the cosmic space was there without a reduction in size. Each thing (the moon of the mirror, let’s say), was infinite things, because I used to see these clearly from all points in the universe. I saw the crowded sea, I saw the dawn and dusk, I saw the crowds in America, I saw a silvery spider web in the centre of a black pyramid. I saw a broken labyrinth (which was London), I saw interminable pairs of eyes immediately scrutinising me. I saw all the planets’ mirrors and not one reflected me. I saw a backyard in Soler Street, the same paving stones that thirty years ago I saw in the hallway of a house in Fray Bentos. I saw clusters, snow, tobacco, sheets of metal, water vapour, I saw convex equatorial deserts and each of the grains of sand in it, I saw in Inverness a woman whom I’ll never forget.


[…] vi la noche y el día contemporáneo, vi un poniente en Querétaro que parecía reflejar el color de una rosa en Bengala, vi mi dormitorio sin nadie, vi en un gabinete de Alkmaar un globo terráqueo entre dos espejos que lo multiplican sin fin, vi caballos de crin arremolinada, en una playa del Mar Caspio en el alba, vi la delicada osatura de una mano, vi a los sobrevivientes de una batalla, enviando tarjetas postales, vi en un escaparate de Mirzapur una baraja española, […]

I saw night and day simultaneously. I saw a westerly wind in Querétaro that seemed to reflect the colour of a rose in Bengal. I saw a room without anyone in it. I saw a cabinet made of Alkmaar, and a terrestrial globe between two mirrors which multiplied the image without end. I saw horses with flowing manes on the beach of the Caspian sea at dawn. I saw the delicate bone structure of a hand. I saw battle survivors sending postcards. I saw a Spanish deck of playing cards in a wardrobe from Mirzapur.