Monday, October 20, 2008


This Colombian bibliophile brings a new meaning to the term portmanteau with his rural walking library, which could best be translated as a "librass." Uses of portmanteau ("un galicismo que significa 'palabra combinada'"), which are not as common in Spanish as in English, (despite my own frequent encounters with and usages of Portanol recently). However the way of forming acronyms in Spanish speaking countries, as well as many other places in the world is very portmanteau-like. The English idea of acronyms taking one letter from each word is rarely true in the rest of the world, and produces what I think are much worse sounding names - like URL (earl?). Even with english's few cooler-sounding acronyms, the extra letters here and there in Spanish acronyms have the benefit of clarifying what the actual composition of the acronym is - most english speakers probably don't even know that laser stands for light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation, not to mention radar and scuba...
May the Biblioburro march on!

The NYT article which brought this article to my attention ends with a stanza from Rubén Darío's poem "A Margarita Debayle":


Margarita, está linda la mar,
y el viento
lleva esencia sutil de azahar;
yo siento
en el alma una alondra cantar;
tu acento.
Margarita, te voy a contar
un cuento.

Este era un rey que tenía
un palacio de diamantes,
una tienda hecha del día
y un rebaño de elefantes.

Un kiosko de malaquita,
un gran manto de tisú,
y una gentil princesita,
tan bonita,
tan bonita como tú.

Una tarde la princesa
vio una estrella aparecer;
la princesa era traviesa
y la quiso ir a coger.

La quería para hacerla
decorar un prendedor,
con un verso y una perla,
una pluma y una flor.

Las princesas primorosas
se parecen mucho a ti.
Cortan lirios, cortan rosas,
cortan astros. Son así.

Pues se fue la niña bella,
bajo el cielo y sobre el mar,
a cortar la blanca estrella
que la hacía suspirar.

Y siguió camino arriba,
por la luna y más allá;
mas lo malo es que ella iba
sin permiso del papá.

Cuando estuvo ya de vuelta
de los parques del Señor,
se miraba toda envuelta
en un dulce resplandor.

Y el rey dijo: "¿Qué te has hecho?
Te he buscado y no te hallé;
y ¿qué tienes en el pecho,
que encendido se te ve?"

La princesa no mentía,
y así, dijo la verdad:
" Fui a cortar la estrella mía
a la azul inmensidad."

Y el rey clama: "¿No te he dicho
que el azul no hay que tocar?
¡ Qué locura! ¡Qué capricho!
El Señor se va a enojar."

Y dice ella: "No hubo intento:
yo me fui no sé por qué;
por las olas y en el viento
fui a la estrella y la corté."

Y el papá dice enojado:
" Un castigo has de tener:
vuelve al cielo, y lo robado
vas ahora a devolver."

La princesa se entristece
por su dulce flor de luz,
cuando entonces aparece
sonriendo el buen Jesús.

Y así dice: "En mis campiñas
esa rosa le ofrecí:
son mis flores de las niñas
que al soñar piensan en mí."

Viste el rey ropas brillantes,
y luego hace desfilar
cuatrocientos elefantes
a la orilla de la mar.

La princesa está bella,
pues ya tiene el prendedor,
en que lucen, con la estrella,
verso, perla, pluma y flor.

Margarita, está linda la mar,
y el viento
lleva esencia sutil de azahar:
tu aliento

Ya que lejos de mí vas a estar
guarda, niña, un gentil pensamiento
al que un día te quiso contar
un cuento.

Rubén Darío (1908)

A Margarita Debayle

Margarita, how beautiful the sea is:
still and blue.
The orange blossom in the breezes
drifting through.
The skylark in its glory
has your accent too:
Here, Margarita, is a story
made for you.

A king there was and far away,
with a palace of diamonds
and a shopfront made of day.
He had a herd of elephants,

A kiosk, more, of malachite,
and a robe of rarest hue
also a princess who was light
of thought and beautiful as you.

But one afternoon the princess
saw high in the heavens appear
a star, and being mischievous,
resolved at once to have it near.

It would form the centrepiece
of a brooch hung with verse, pearl,
feathers, flowers: a caprice
of course of a little girl.

But also, because a princess,
exquisite, delicate like you,
the others then cut irises
roses, asters: as girls do.

But, alas, our little one went far
across the sea, beneath the sky,
and all to cut the one white star
that, high up, made her sigh.

She went beyond where the heavens are
and to the moon said, au revoir.
How naughty to have flown so far
without the permission of Papa.

She returned at last, and though gone
from the high heavens of accord,
still there hung about and shone
the soft brilliance of our Lord.

Which the king noted, said: you,
child, drive me past despair,
but what is that strange, shining dew
on your hands, your face, your hair?

She spoke the truth; her words shine
with the clear lightness of the air:
I went to seek what should be mine
in that blue immensity up there.

Are then the heavens for our display,
with things that you must touch?
You can be altogether too outré,
child, for God to like you much.

To hear that I am sorry, truly,
for I had no plans as such. But,
once across the windy sky and sea
so I had that flower to cut.

Whereupon, in punishment,
the king said, I'd be much beholden
if you'd go this moment and consent
to return what you have stolen.

So sad was then our little princess
looking at her sweet flower of light,
until and smiling at her distress
there stood the Lord Jesus Christ.

Those fields are as I willed them,
and your rose but signatory
to the flowers up there that children
have in dreaming formed of me.

Again the king is laughing, brilliant
in his robes's rich royalty,
he troops the herd of elephant,
in their four hundred, by the sea.

Adored and delicate, the princess
is once more a little girl
who keeps for brooch the star and, yes,
the flowers, and the feathers, the pearl.

Beautiful, Margarita, the sea is,
still and blue:
with your sweet breath have all the breezes
blossomed too.

Now soon from me and far you'll be,
but, little one, stay true
to a gentle thought made a story
once for you.

Rubén Darío (1908)

Translator: C. John Holcombe (2005-2006)

note azahar - great arabic loan word (الزهر)

1 comment:

The Ideophone said...

Back at last! Good to see you posting again.

I agree with you: acronyms that take whole syllables (or at least onset+nucleus) are much nicer. Dutch libroza for 'linker broekzak' or 'left trousers pocket' is so much nicer (and less clinical) than LBZ, to name just one example.