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Three Things (poem by Baltasar de Alcázar) — TWO Translations!

Bal­tasar de Alcázar (1530−1606) is one of the few poets of his day who con­sis­tently allowed him­self to be funny. He is sometimes called the “gas­tro­nomic poet” because he often wrote about food and drink. Here is my trans­la­tion of his most famous poem, “Tres Cosas” (Three Things). The trans­la­tion was orig­i­nally pub­lished in the Rain­town Review and later reprinted in Per Contra.

It is also my honor to present to you a second translation of the same poem, this one by David Rosenthal. While most of the poems that Bal­tasar de Alcázar wrote have not been translated into English at all, "Tres Cosas" has produced at least two rhyming and metrical versions in English. Mine, which is presented below, and David's, which is presented directly below mine. My thanks to David for letting me share his translation, which originally appeared in Measure.

I find it fascinating that both versions work so well at conveying so much of the original (if I do say so myself), yet ultimately they are very different from one another. An analogy that appeals to me at the moment is that of portrait photography. Two photographers can take a portrait of the same person, and both of them may attempt to capture the person's true nature, yet each of them is likely to produce a portrait that is distinct and original. Translators and photographers alike translate reality as best they can (the reality of a poem, the reality of a person), but each will find a unique approach. (The original Spanish can be found here).

By the way, you might also like to have a look at another one of Bal­tasar de Alcázar's poems that I translated. It's called "About Rhymes." You can find it in the drop-down list of the "Translation" button at the top of the page, or just click here.

THREE THINGS from the Span­ish of Bal­tasar de Alcázar (1530−1606)

translated by Robert Schechter

There are three things my cap­tive heart forever dotes upon: beau­ti­ful Inez, smoked ham, and egg­plant parme­san.

Oh lovers, it was sweet Inez whose power over me was such I actually despised what­ever was not she.

She made me sense­less for a year. In truth, I was far gone, until one day she served me ham and egg­plant parme­san.

Inez was first to win my heart, but now I’d be hard-​pressed to choose among the three of them the one I love the best.

In taste, pro­por­tion, and in weight, I’ve noth­ing to go on: I love Inez, I love smoked ham, and egg­plant parme­san.

Inez can boast of beauty, the ham of South­ern Spain, the ten­der aubergine can boast of Span­ish soil and rain.

The com­pe­ti­tion is so close, no win­ner can be drawn. They all are one. Inez, the ham, the egg­plant parme­san.

At least, now that she knows that I love other things as deeply, Inez might sell me favors much more often and more cheaply,

since there is now a coun­ter­weight for her to reckon on: a lus­cious slab of Span­ish ham and egg­plant parme­san.


translated by David Rosenthal

My heart is prisoner to these

three things, no matter where I am:

the beautiful Inés, smoked ham,

and eggplant cooked in melted cheese.

Inés, dear lovers, I confess

had such a power over me,

I only felt hostility

for everything except Inés.

She made me lose my faculties —

a year forgetting who I am —

until one day she served me ham

and eggplant cooked in melted cheese.

At first, Inés was in control,

but now it’s hard to say which one,

when everything is said and done,

is more the master of my soul;

and based on what one tastes, and sees,

and measures, there is not one gram

of difference:  now Inés, now ham,

now eggplant cooked in melted cheese.

For beauty, give Inés the edge;

for birthplace, ham would win the game;

for bloodline, eggplant has a claim

to ancient Spanish heritage —

so equal in their qualities,

objectively it seems a sham

to judge among Inés, smoked ham,

and eggplant cooked in melted cheese.

At least my complicated fate

will bear me this:  Inés will see

that she will have to tender me

her favors at a bargain rate,

for when she’s difficult to please,

and reason isn't worth a damn,

for counterweight, I have my ham,

and eggplant cooked in melted cheese.

(translation by Robert Schechter, orig­i­nally pub­lished in the Rain­town Review, and sub­se­quently pub­lished in Per Con­tra. Issue 24; translation by David Rosenthal originally appeared in Measure)


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