Academic journal article Walt Whitman Quarterly Review

A Translation of Whitman Discovered in the 1912 Spanish Periodical Prometeo

Academic journal article Walt Whitman Quarterly Review

A Translation of Whitman Discovered in the 1912 Spanish Periodical Prometeo

Article excerpt

UNTIL NOW, the first substantial Spanish translation of Whitman was believed to be the 1912 Walt Whitman: Poemas, published in Valencia by the Uruguayan writer Armando Vasseur. But I have now discovered the publication of an earlier, fifteen-page Spanish translation of Whitman's poetry, including a full translation of his long poem "Salut au Monde." In addition to pushing back the date of print entry for Whitman's poems into Spanish, this discovery represents a very early point of print contact between Whitman and the inception of the Spanish- language vanguardias, or avant-gardes. Furthermore, both the text and the context of the translation help explain why the avant-gardes in Spain and Mexico tend to imagine Whitman in Futurist terms. Finally, the Prometeo translations reveal that even Whitman's ostensibly transamerican appropriations may occur through a transatlantic- and in fact a heavily global-network of circulation.

These newly-discovered poems appear in a mostly-prose translation at the beginning of 1912 in the Spanish literary and cultural journal Prometeo.1 Since it was the first of eleven issues published in 1912 (Prometeo was basically a monthly periodical), we can assume this translation predates or is at most simultaneous with Walt Whitman: Poemas, since Vasseur dates his preface as February, 1912, suggesting an even later publication date for his book-length translation.2 Either way, we can see this earlier translation as independent from Vasseur's textual influence. But more importantly, the Prometeo publication marks or colors Whitman's reception in a particular way, by locating the American poet within an increasingly avant-garde context.

First published in 1908 with a modernista3 bent, the journal Prometeo was not always linked with the avant-garde;4 but in 1909, the journal made a radical endorsement of the new aesthetics of Italian Futurism, one of the originators of the global avant-gardes. When the Italian movement's founder, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, published his bombastic "The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism," Prometeo's editor, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, published his own translation of the avant-garde text, alongside a piece celebrating Marinetti-making Prometeo the first Spanish periodical to bring Italian Futurism to Spain. Marinetti's performative text, a hybrid of prose narrative and manifesto, proclaimed the inauguration of a new era, as it celebrated rebellion, violence, the power and aesthetics of machines, and the vitality of industry.5 Then, in 1910, at Gómez de la Serna's personal request, Marinetti even wrote a Futurist address directly to Spain, "Proclama Futurista a los Españoles," again translated by Gómez de la Serna, and for exclusive publication in Prometeo. In it, Marinetti railed against what he perceived as the lassitude of Spanish culture, and called for a revitalization of Spain through radical social change and the development of industry. We see Futurism taking hold in Spain: Gómez de la Serna channels Marinetti's language in his own enthusiastic preface to the "Proclama:"

. . . intersection, spark, exhalation, text like a wireless telegraph or of something more subtle flying over the oceans and over the mountains! Wing towards the North, wing towards the South, wing towards the East, and wing towards the West! Sturdy desire for height, expansion, and speed! Healthy spectacle of aerodrome and oversized runway!6

It is the early language of the avant-garde in Spain-global, techno- industrial, and fixated upon the aesthetics of speed and power.

The spread of Futurism in Spain would have far-reaching effects, influencing Rafael Cansinos Assens (who would himself later publish poetry in Prometeo's pages) to found Spain's first avant-garde movement, Ultraísmo. Cansinos Assens would go on to promote the work of the important Chilean avant-gardist Vicente Huidobro, and the ranks of his own movement would include none other than the young Argentine Jorge Luis Borges. …

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