Lifting me up like a forkful of grass
My grandfather Sabino was very fine
lifting up forkfuls of grass.
An untitled architect they would never have employed
to build the Temple of Solomon;
because my grandfather, if he had to, would cuss with the best:
he fought in the war, was a prisoner, worked in the mines…
and so he wasn’t afraid even of God.
What’s more, he would have got on well with Him.
Because my grandfather Sabino was very sarcastic,
rough but cheerful, in short,
he had a great gift with people.
And of course, my grandfather, with God
would have talked like an old friend;
because for his grandson, my grandfather
simply was god.
J.I. Pidal Montes, Asturcones
I liked this poem. Sure, it’s sentimental, but there is a space for that sometimes, isn’t there? It also shows up some of the difficulties of translating from one language and culture to another. Look at the end of line 5 where I have put “cuss with the best”. In the original it is “cagábase en dios”, which literally mean “he would shit on God.” You can’t say that in English. It has an entirely different feeling than in Spain, where people are shitting on things all the time. The language has a vulgar expressive force: definitely more Sancho Panza than Don Quijote in the day-to-day.
When my daughter was learning Spanish she wanted to learn how to swear and I taught her, “Me cago en la leche.” “What does it mean?” she asked. “I shit in the milk,” I said. “No!” she exclaimed horrified, “No one would say that! That is just disgusting.” Carmen came through the door, dropped something and it was the first thing she said. And the milk you are shitting in when you use that expression probably has something to do with the Virgin Mary as well. The expression is so inoffensive in Spanish that no one would raise an eyebrow if their grandmother used it.
The other aspect of the poem that was problematic for me is to do with the word “god”. In the original the poet uses lower case for “god” throughout the poem and switches to uppercase for the last word of the poem. This means that the poet’s grandfather was God. Was I wrong to switch it around? It seems to me that was not what he was trying to say, but I could be wrong.