Combustión Espontánea / Spontaneous Combustion

Photo by Phil Robson on Unsplash

Carlos Llaza: This is another hectic poem. While the opening is clear and straightforward, some of the subsequent lines become rather obscure. The speaker is mainly concerned with achieving inner purification through external signs and symbols, whilst acknowledging that proper reparation is virtually impossible.

Dorothy Lawrenson: For historical, social and political reasons, scientific vocabulary in Scots is underdeveloped. Thus, as translator, I was faced with a choice: to borrow the familiar Latinate phrase ‘spontaneous combustion’ from English, or to coin a term for this phenomenon in Scots by attempting a more literal translation. I opted to split the difference, using the scientific language in the title but ‘raisonless lowe’ in the third stanza.

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

Combustión Espontánea
por Carlos Llaza

La urgencia súbita de reparar,
de atender el dolor de corazón,
de enunciar un propósito de enmienda.
La rehabilitación de mordeduras

que, desde el techo y las paredes, brillan;
donde las cámaras y los ladridos
cuelgan de redes de alambre de púas.
Tus manos resemblan un cernícalo—

tigre como todo pájaro—cuyos
nudillos de piedra, enardecidos
por las plumas, buscan alzar vuelo:
la combustión espontánea que surge

de los latidos de cada promesa.
Tus rodillas se clavan en el lodo
con elegancia digna de escultura,
no obstante, nada permanece donde

nosotros queremos—los platos rotos
pegados con saliva. El apetito
por el sol se extiende: la rebelión
de nuestros días bajo luz de vela.

Spontaneous Combustion
owerset intae Scots bi Dorothy Lawrenson

The suddent need fir fettlin,
fir takkin tent o the hert-stound,
fir spikkin o an ettle tae mend.
The betterness o bites 

that bleeze fae ruif an waas;
whaur the chaumers an the yowlin
hing in nets o pikit weir.
Your hauns is lik a keelie-hawk –

a teeger lik aw burds – whase
stane knockles, alowe
wi fedders, ettles at flicht:
the raisonless lowe that breenges

fae the thrabbin o ilka pledge.
Yer hochs muiv thru the glaur
as brawly as a wirk o art,
yet naethin bides whaur

we wint it tae – the brucken ashets
fettled wi spittle. The drouth
fir the sun spreids: the rebellion
o oor days bi caunle-licht.  

Spontaneous Combustion
translated into English by Carlos Llaza and Dorothy Lawrenson

The sudden urge to repair, 
to attend to the heartache, 
to declare an intention to reform.
The rehabilitation of bites 

that blaze from ceiling and walls; 
where the rooms and the barks 
hang in barbed-wire nets. 
Your hands are like a kestrel –  

a tiger like all birds – whose 
stone knuckles, inflamed 
with feathers, seek to take flight: 
the spontaneous combustion that breaks forth

from the heartbeats of each promise. 
Your knees penetrate the mud
with elegance worthy of a sculpture, 
yet nothing remains where 

we want it to – the broken dishes 
cemented with saliva. The appetite 
for the sun spreads: the rebellion 
of our days under candlelight.

One comment

  1. A lot in this one – I’ll have to read it again!
    (‘Spontaneous Combustion’ always makes me think of Krook in ‘Bleak House: a distraction)
    – However, I have been enjoying the language in the Scots version: “takkin tent o the hert-stound” – “Your hauns is like a keelie-hawk”.
    The word “breenges” gives me a lift of the heart, as it was one my granny often used!
    I loved the ending in Spanish – ‘la rebelion/de nuestros dias bajo luz de vela’ – which seemed appropriately captured by ‘the rebellion/o oor days by caunle-licht’.
    I thought it interesting that Dorothy chose to render ‘escultura’ (gorgeous word!) as ‘wirk o art’; perhaps the more apt image in Scots.

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