Translation and Retranslation in Modern Hebrew

Romancero gitano, 1924-1927 Primera edición facsimilar del original depositado en la Biblioteca Dámaso Alonso


Federico García Lorca’s Gypsy Ballads Erika Mejia

The Hebrew translations of Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca form a rich and diverse corpus of modern Spanish poetry. They serve as a particularly interesting case study as they enable examination from two perspectives. First, that of the Israeli linguistic and literary fields, which have developed under extraordinary circumstances, where translation played a decisive role in enriching various aspects of the emerging language and its young literature. Second, as part of a classical tradition of translation and reinterpretation, in a manner referring to translation’s role in rereading classical works and in formulating the literary canon.

Initially relegated to the margins of modern Hebrew translation network,[1] Spanish literature gained a more significant presence therein in the second half of the 20th century, as the linguistic and literary system, which had been highly rigid until that time, became more flexible. Published in 1958, Raphael Eliaz’s translation of Lorca’s Gypsy Ballads was the first in Hebrew, heralding the arrival of this change.[2] Since then, Lorca’s works were rendered into Hebrew by various translators, including Rina Litvin and Rami Saari. In the meeting, we examined the first poem in Gypsy Ballads, “Romance de la Luna Luna”, in three translations: by Raphael Eliaz (1958), by Rina Litvin (2011),[3] and by Rami Saari (2019),[4] to explore the analytic potential of cross-referencing the texts. We focused on the approach of each translator to the traditional Spanish ballad form and on the resulting differences in the rhyming schemes, as well as to the poems’ Gypsy-Spanish mythological content. The ensuing productive discussion touched upon the role of translation in Israeli culture and beyond, raising questions regarding the translator’s responsibility, the ownership of the translation, and its role as an engine of cultural productivity. Potential affinities were examined between Lorca’s poem and German works such as Goethe’s Erlkönig. Finally, the discussion focused on the dialogue among the various translations, or conversely, their intrinsic patricidal motivation.

[1] Dikman, Aminadav, “Translations: Modern Hebrew”, Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics (3rd ed.), Leiden: Brill, 2013.

[2] García Lorca, Federico, Selected Poems, trans. Raphael Eliaz, Tel Aviv: Sifriat Poalim, 1958. The First Gypsy  Ballads (Primer romancero gitano 1924-1927) were published in Spanish in 1928 by Revista de Occidente. The collection was republished multiple times since 1929, and quickly became Lorca’s most popular work, and in fact, the best-known poetry book in modern Spanish literature, beloved by scholars, critics and translators alike.

[3] García Lorca, Federico, Dream and Bronze, trans. Rina Litvin, Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2001.

[4] —–, Gypsy Ballads, trans. Rami Saari, Jerusalem: Carmel, 2019.

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