Translations and Transformations

by Tony Barnstone

Jorge Luis Borges

Antes que los remeros de Odiseo
Fatigaran el mar color de vino
Las inasibles formas adivino
De aquel dios cuyo nombre fue Proteo.
Pastor de los rebaños de los mares
Y poseedor del don de profecía,
Prefería ocultar lo que sabía
Y entretejer oráculos dispares.
Urgido por las gentes asumía
La forma de un león o de una hoguera
O de árbol que da sombra a la ribera
O de agua que en el agua se perdía.
De Proteo el egipcio no te asombres,
Tú, que eres uno y eres muchos hombres.


Di dí in dí vo cangiando il viso e ’l pelo,
né però smorso i dolce inescati hami,
né sbranco i verdi et invescati rami
de l’arbor che né sol cura né gielo.

Senz’acqua il mare et senza stelle il cielo
fia inanzi ch’io non sempre tema et brami
la sua bell’ombra, et ch’i’ non odi et ami
l’alta piaga amorosa, che mal celo.

Non spero del mio affanno aver mai posa,
infin ch’i’ mi disosso et snervo et spolpo,
o la nemica mia pietà n’avesse.

Esser pò in’prima ogni impossibil cosa,
ch’altri che morte, od ella, sani ’l colpo
ch’Amor co’ suoi belli occhi al cor m’impresse.

translation by Tony Barnstone

Before the oarsmen of Odysseus
strained their arms against the wine dark sea,
I see strange forms, as if in prophesy,
of that old god whose name is Proteus.
He was the herdsman tending to the seas
and had the gift of reading omens too,
but he preferred to hide most things he knew
and wove odd scraps into his auguries.
When urged by people he would take upon
himself a lion’s shape, be a huge blaze,
grow treelike by the river, giving shade,
and then like water in a wave be gone.
Don’t shrink from Proteus the Egyptian,
you, who are one, and yet are many men.

Sonnet 195
translation by Tony Barnstone

Relentlessly, my face and hair grow old
but still I need the hook and lure so sweet
and still can’t let go of the evergreen,
the Laurel tree that scorns both sun and cold.

The sea will drain of water and the sky
of stars when I no longer dread and need
her gorgeous shadow; only then I’ll cease
to hate and love love’s wound I cannot hide.

I cannot hope to rest from breathless work
until I’m flayed, demuscled and deboned,
or till my nemesis will sympathize.

Though everything impossible occur,
still none but she or death can heal the wound
made in my heart with her amazing eyes.

She Was Cruel, but in Retrospect Perhaps
She Needed to Be to Make Him Understand
transformation by Tony Barnstone

Look at how his face grows fat, and look,
his hair grows only like a sea around
an island of bald rock, and yet he’s found
he still can’t squirm off of this hidden hook.
A subtle needle threads its way through him,
and stitches everything he does with pain.
Each time she says “We need to talk” to him,
he sees the sun go dead, the oceans drain,
the termite-ridden planet rotting through.
He gnaws upon each little thing she says
and feel his bones extracted from the flesh.
When she says “I’d feel better without you,”
he feels his skin pulled off, his muscles flayed.
He needs her more the more she needs him less.


L’aura serena che fra verdi fronde
mormorando a ferir nel volto viemme
fammi risovenir quand’Amor diemme
le prime piaghe, sí dolci profonde;

e ’l bel viso veder, ch’altri m’asconde
che sdegno o gelosia celato tiemme;
et le chiome or avolte in perle e ’n gemme,
allora sciolte, et sovra òr terso bionde:

le quali ella spargea sí dolcemente,
et raccogliea con sí leggiadri modi,
che ripensando anchor trema la mente;

torsele il tempo poi in piú saldi nodi,
et strinse ’l cor d’un laccio sí possente,
che Morte sola fia ch’indi lo snodi.

Sonnet 196
translation by Tony Barnstone

The tranquil aura winding through green leaves
comes murmuring then slaps me in the face
and makes me think of how it was that day
Love first inflicted wounds, so sweet and deep,

and makes me see the lovely face she holds
aloof, that jealousy or anger veils
from me, and her gold hair entwined with pearls
and gems, or blonde as newly polished gold

when with a toss she’d let her hair unwind
and then so charmingly restrain her locks
that thinking back on it still shakes my mind.

Then time entangled me inside those knots
and tied my heart up with a sturdy twine
that only Death will know the method to unknot.

A Sonnet Using the Iris in the Mirror
to Reflect on the Day He Met Her
transformation by Tony Barnstone

The vase of purple iris in the mirror
is cutting at the air like crisscrossed blades
and makes him think of how it was that day
he first was wounded by the sight of her
nipples in outline through her purple blouse.
He swears they stabbed right through his eyes and through
his body. Purple in the glass. He knew
that they’d make love before he asked her out,
but didn’t know she’d move inside his mind.
And so she fell into the mirror, where
she wounds him still and watches time unwind
and wind her name in silver through his hair.
Reflecting on it shakes his brain. No time
has passed inside the glass. He sees her there.