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…
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 color—color 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 also—O 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 hear—of zither, or of psalter:
It is I—O 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 everything—my family, my affections:
I go where no slaves are—nor butchers: nor oppressors:
Where faith cannot kill: where God’s the sovereign lord!
Farewell, my parents, my brothers—fragments of my soul:
Friends of old and playmates in childhood’s vanished house:
Offer thanks that I rest from the restless day!
Farewell, sweet foreigner—my darling, my delight!
Creatures I love, farewell! To die is to repose.