For those of us accustomed to reading in more than one language, translated versions of our favorite novels and poetry anthologies can present themselves as a bit problematic. Needless to say that having translations handy (good translations that is) at any given moment is wonderful: one could hardly imagine having to go without their Russian, German or Japanese favorites. However, sometimes one is forced to read a translated version despite being able to read it in its original language due to lack of availability of the originals, and this is where discrepancies can arise. For example, reading Charles Bukowski’s poetry in Spanish is already something difficult to comprehend, but reading a poorly translated version can make things far worse.
Let’s take the poem “Alone with Everybody” into consideration. It reads as follows:

the flesh covers the bone
and they put a mind
in there and
sometimes a soul,
and the women break
vases against the walls
and the men drink too
and nobody finds the
but keep
crawling in and out
of beds.
flesh covers
the bone and the
flesh searches
for more than

there’s no chance
at all:
we are all trapped
by a singular

nobody ever finds
the one.

the city dumps fill
the junkyards fill
the madhouses fill
the hospitals fill
the graveyards fill

nothing else

The problem with translating a poem such as this one into Spanish is that different countries and different areas within those countries speak different Spanish dialects, different varieties, different flavors. However, translating “the one” is the main difficulty here, since in English this phrase refers to a significant other, while some Spanish translations have used “el otro” to convey the meaning of another person, which fails to get across the original, intended notion. Also, the last lines of the poem read “nothing else / fills” while in Spanish some have used “nada más / se llena”, which complicates things: the auto referential “se” is certainly not included in the original English version. Saying “nada más / se llena” implies that nothing else fills itself, leaving out the possibility of “fills” being used as an active verb. Needless to say that the rest of the poem and its translation are also forces to be reckoned with.

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