Joaquín’s translation of Rizal’s “Mi Último Adiós

A few years ago, Señor Gómez and I were discussing the last poem that Rizal wrote, as well as its several translations. When we got to the part about Nick Joaquín’s translation, I could never forget his words: Joaquín’s English version of “Mi Último Adiós” is one instance wherein the translation is far more superior compared  to the original. I never gave it much thought until then. So off I went to review both poems later on. I also compared Joaquín’s version to other well-known English translations (Charles Derbyshire, Encarnación Alzona, etc.). I could say that Joaquín’s has more depth and mystery. But since I’m not exactly a fully bloomed poet in Spanish, it’s hard to tell if I could agree on Señor Gómez’s observation.

People who read this now will argue that it’s really just a matter of opinion. However, it should be noted that Señor Gómez is a poet in four languages: Spanish, English, Tagálog, and Hiligaynón. Furthermore, it is no secret that he tends to be more leaning towards the Spanish language compared to English. Nevertheless, a website dedicated to José Rizal and his works seems to agree with him: “In many translated Rizal works, one writer stands out: Nick Joaquín”.

Without further ado, here is Joaquín’s English rendering of Mi Último Adiós…

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Joaquín’s translation of “Mi Último Adiós” is included in this book.

JOSÉ RIZAL’S VALEDICTORY POEM

Land that I love: farewell: O land the sun loves:
Pearl of the sea of the Orient: Eden lost to your brood!
Gaily go I to present you this hapless hopeless life:
Were it more brilliant: had it more freshness, more bloom:
Still for you would I give it: would give it for your good!

In barricades embattled, fighting in delirium,
Others give you their lives without doubts, without gloom.
The site nought matters: cypress, laurel or lily:
Gibbet or open field: combat or cruel martyrdom
Are equal if demanded by country and home.

I am to die when I see the heavens go vivid,
announcing the day at last behind the dead night.
If you need colorcolor to stain that dawn with,
Let spill my blood: scatter it in good hour:
And drench in its gold one beam of the newborn light.

My dream when a lad, when scarcely adolescent:
My dreams when a young man, now with vigor inflamed:
Were to behold you one day: Jewel of eastern waters:
Griefless the dusky eyes: lofty the upright brow:
Unclouded, unfurrowed, unblemished and unashamed!

Enchantment of my life: my ardent avid obsession:
To your health! Cries the soul, so soon to take the last leap:
To your health! O lovely: how lovely: to fall that you may rise!
To perish that you may live! To die beneath your skies!
And upon your enchanted ground the eternities to sleep!

Should you find some day somewhere on my gravemound, fluttering
Among tall grasses, a flower of simple fame:
Caress it with your lips and you kiss my soul:
I shall feel on my face across the cold tombstone:
Of your tenderness, the breath; of your breath, the flame.

Suffer the moon to keep watch, tranquil and suave, over me:
Suffer the dawn its flying lights to release:
Suffer the wind to lament in murmurous and grave manner:
And should a bird drift down and alight on my cross,
Suffer the bird to intone its canticle of peace.

Suffer the rains to dissolve in the fiery sunlight
And purified reascending heavenward bear my cause:
Suffer a friend to grieve I perished so soon:
And on fine evenings, when prays in my memory,
Pray alsoO my land!that in God I repose.

Pray for all who have fallen befriended by not fate:
For all who braved the bearing of torments all bearing past:
To our poor mothers piteously breathing in bitterness:
For widows and orphans: for those in tortured captivity
And yourself: pray to behold your redemption at last.

And when in dark night shrouded obscurely the graveyard lies
And only, only the dead keep vigil the night through:
Keep holy the place: keep holy the mystery.
Strains, perhaps, you will hearof zither, or of psalter:
It is IO land I love!it is I, singing to you!

And when my grave is wholly unremembered
And unlocated (no cross upon it, no stone there plain):
Let the site be wracked by the plow and cracked by the spade
And let my ashes, before they vanish to nothing,
As dust be formed a part of your carpet again.

Nothing then will it matter to place me in oblivion!
Across your air, your space, your valleys shall pass my wraith!
A pure chord, strong and resonant, shall I be in your ears:
Fragrance, light and color: whispers, lyric and sigh:
Constantly repeating the essence of my faith!

Land that I idolized: prime sorrow among my sorrows:
Beloved Filipinas, hear me the farewell word:
I bequeath you everythingmy family, my affections:
I go where no slaves arenor butchers: nor oppressors:
Where faith cannot kill: where God’s the sovereign lord!

Farewell, my parents, my brothersfragments of my soul:
Friends of old and playmates in childhood’s vanished house:
Offer thanks that I rest from the restless day!
Farewell, sweet foreignermy darling, my delight!
Creatures I love, farewell! To die is to repose.

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English translations of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo

I always tell friends that reading translated Filipino history could be dangerous at times because it robs the essence of what the texts truly mean. Take for example the founding of the city of Manila on 24 June 1571. Old documents and books (in Spanish and even in French) will tell us that Manila was founded not just as a city but as a capital city (that of the Capitanía General de Filipinas), effectively making our country a state despite its status as an overseas province (provincia ultramarina), but such fact is always ignored. Old texts will tell us that the real name of that intrepid chief of Mactán who defeated Fernando Magallanes (more popularly known as Ferdinand Magellan) and his crew was Pulaco, not Lapu-Lapu. A mastery of Spanish will tell us that La Loba Negra, a novel that has been attributed to Fr. José Burgos, is filled with errors and deficiencies in style, thus its impossibility to be the work of a highly educated priest with Spanish parentage (and I should add that Fr. Burgos was fair-skinned, not moreno as he is always pictured in our minds).

Even Filipino literature (most especially), a body of written works that was originally in Spanish, is not spared from translational errors. One best (or worst) example is the fictional character of Fr. Dámaso Verdolangas, one of the antagonists in José Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. Poor Fr. Dámaso is always portrayed in media as a balding, aging, unappealing, and pot-bellied friar. But is this how he was described by Rizal in the original Spanish?

“A pesar de que sus cabellos empezaban a encanecer conservábase todavía joven y robusto. Sus duras facciones, su mirada poco tranquilizadora y hercúleas formas le daban el aspecto de un patricio romano disfrazado…”

Rizal clearly described Fr. Dámaso as young and robust, with a slight reassuring gaze, and even had herculean features. Rizal’s Fr. Dámaso was ‘macho’. Surprised?

That is why the need for Filipinos to learn Spanish because much of our country’s history and the bulk of past literature was written in it. And since they are not supposed to be considered as trifle subjects, all the more that Spanish should be brought back to our educational system. But for the meantime, while this problem that we have regarding the use of Spanish has not yet been sorted out, then the only recourse is to rely on the most faithful translations available. While there are already many translations of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo (Charles Derbyshire, Virgilio Almario, Harold Augenbraum, etc.), I really recommend only two: those of León Mª Guerrero III and Soledad Lacson viuda de Locsín.

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León María Guerrero III (image: WriteOpinions.com)

Both Guerrero and Locsín’s cradle language was Spanish. And both of them, most especially Locsín, lived at a time that hewed closer to Rizal’s era. That is why they knew exactly what Rizal was talking about, more than any other translator of Rizal’s novels. And since they were born at a time closer to the Spanish era, they had had the privilege of having lived in Rizal’s tradition, a tradition that was Hispanic, that was still authentically Filipino.

But between the two translators, Locsín’s translations are more helpful because they have explanatory notes at the end of each book that define the semantics of Rizal’s time. For example, in describing Teniente Guevara in the first chapter of Noli Me Tangere, Rizal compared his appearance to the Duke of Alba. The ordinary reader will surely scratch his head as to who this duke was. In Locsin’s note, it is revealed that this duke was in fact Fernando Álvarez de Toledo (1507—1582), a celebrated Spanish noble and general during the reigns of Charles V and Philip II. He was said to be bloodthirsty and cruel that his name was used to frighten children.

Soledad Lacson-Locsín (image: PinoyLit).

Locsin’s translations also help us see and recognize places that are no longer around, or have drastically changed. In chapter three of El Filibusterismo, when the steamship Tabo was entering Laguna de Bay from the Pásig River, readers are treated to a breathtaking view of the surroundings:

“Before them lay the beautiful lake circled by green shores and blue mountains… to the right extended its lower shore, forming small bays with graceful curves, and there, far away, almost hazy, the hook of Sugay…”

Yes, during Rizal’s time, Laguna de Bay was still beautiful and circled by green shores that are no longer around (at least, in areas that have been urbanized). And those blue mountains? They are now dotted with houses and other unsightly structures.

But what is this “hook of Sugay” that he was talking about? Locsin’s explanatory note at the final pages of the book helps solve the mystery:

Sugay, Suñgay: Mountains seen in the background as one enters the Laguna de Bay, leaving the Pásig River.

To the uninformed, Sungay (actually, it should have a tilde above the letter n for a more precise pronunciation: Suñgay) is none other than the site of People’s Park in the Sky, one of my family’s favorite places in Tagaytay, Cavite.

Situated at the peak of Mount Suñgay, People’s Park in the Sky is located at 2,351 feet above sea level (FASL). According to early accounts (including that of Rizal’s), its peak was shaped like a carabao’s horn, hence its name. In the book Philippine Islands Sailing Directions (Bureau of Printing, 1906), Mount Suñgay was one of the visible landmarks used by early navigators when sailing to and around Manila Bay (if the mountain was visible from that distance, what more from Laguna de Bay). It was, therefore, previously much higher (recorded at 2,467 FASL). Unfortunately, former President Ferdinand Marcos had it leveled down during the late 1970s to construct a guest house that was meant for his friend Ronald Reagan (who was to become the 40th President of the United States of América) who didn’t even arrive. Perhaps the only compensation is that tourists now have a 360° view of Tagaytay’s environs and beyond. And yes, Bahía de Manila (Manila Bay) and Laguna de Bay (Lake of Bay) are in full view on a clear day.

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Mount Suñgay as seen from the east near Calambâ, La Laguna. Its peak no longer displays its horn-like features due to a Marcos environmental blunder.

The study of the past is truly an engaging activity as it gives us many reasons as to why the present is like what it is today. Readers of Rizal who do not yet know Spanish should be thankful that Guerrero and Locsín sacrificed a lot of their time so that today’s readers would no longer be alienated with the many nuances of Rizal’s novels.