The Differ / La Diferencia / The Difference

Photo by Krisjanis Mezulis on Unsplash

Dorothy Lawrenson: Although I’m by nature a night owl and thus more familiar with the sunset, this poem considers the difference between sunrise and sunset, taking off from the old rhyme, ‘red sky at night, shepherds’ delight; red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning’. I was reading a lot of Robert Creeley when I wrote this, so I think I naturally tended towards the very short lines that are often a feature of his poems – Scots, with its wealth of monosyllabic words of Germanic origin, seems well suited to short lines and stanzas. There are two further literary allusions here: to Rudyard Kipling (‘East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet’) and Robert Frost (a poem ‘begins in delight and ends in wisdom’). It pleases me greatly to have incorporated both the arch-poet of Empire and a towering figure of American poetry into my little Scots verse.

Carlos Llaza: ‘The differ’ is a poem of contrasts. It juxtaposes sunrise and sunset through a masterful array of beats and short lines. For this reason, it was one of the most challenging poems to translate. Words in Spanish are mainly of Latin, Greek and Arabic origin, lacking the physicality and conciseness of Germanic words. For instance, ‘caws canny’ ends up transformed into a dull phrase as ‘demanda cautela’, inevitably losing the distinctive flavour of the line in Scots. Moreover, the beautiful half-rhyme of ‘licht’ and ‘hechts’ could not be reproduced. Still, the impossibility of the perfect or definitive rendering of a literary work is precisely what makes translation not only approachable but also urgent.

Scroll down to see a video of poet and translator reading this poem, with English subtitles.

The Differ
bi Dorothy Lawrenson

Daylicht intae
nicht: a lyart
lift. Atween

nicht and day
-daw, anither licht
-shaw. Twa smaa,

thrang oors –
tane hechts
delicht, tither

caws canny. Aye,
thon’s the differ –
an nivver the twa

maun forgaither.
Bit lik the speir’s
repone, the twynin

o a tryst, muckle ens
in wit that stertit
in delicht.

La Diferencia
traducido al español por Carlos Llaza

Luz vespertina hacia
la noche: cielo
variopinto. Entre

noche y aurora,
otro espectáculo.
Dos horas breves,

trabajosas –
una promete
placeres, la otra

demanda cautela. Sí,
esa es la diferencia –
y no deben encontrarse

Mas, como respuesta
a la pregunta, la despedida

de un encuentro,
si empezó en encanto
termina en sapiencia.

The Difference
translated into English by Dorothy Lawrenson

Daylight into
night: a variegated
sky. Between

night and dawn,
another light
-show. Two short,

busy hours –
one promises
delight, the other

urges caution. Yes,
that’s the difference –
and never the two

must meet.
But like the question’s
answer, the parting

of a tryst, much ends
in wisdom that started
in delight.

One comment

  1. This is lovely. Short lines – often short words – leave their echoes in the mind after reading, as the echoes of ‘licht’ in ‘nicht’ and ‘hecht’ are rounded off in the final ‘delicht’. I especially like the touches of alliteration in ‘lyart/lft’ and ‘caws canny’. The run of monosyllables in ‘ ‘Twa smaa, thrang oors’ both underlines the sense and makes for a pause in the reading. As Carlos points out, the roots of Spanish tends to produce longer words, which give his poem a different(!), but fascinating sound. Vespertino’ – ‘variopinto’ -‘trabajosas’ ! Three of the words to roll around the tongue . . . and beautifully read by Carlos.

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