an exercise in fatality

In 2012, in my poetry-writing seminar with Laura Kasischke, I was assigned the task of bringing in a poem that I felt was “perfect.” I chose “Lo Fatal” by Ruben Dário.

I first read the Spanish version out loud, and then the translation. The English translation was not mine. However, there wasn’t a single person in the class who didn’t prefer the Spanish to the translation. Why was that—if they’d never studied the language in depth?

If you have been in Spanish 101 or 201 or whatever you will have almost certainly read the poem I have translated. If you are like anything like me you will have had this poem stuck in your head for a very long time. I have recited this poem to myself over and over—I’ve memorized it out of sheer exposure. I could never quite figure out why it has stuck with me.

So I translated it.

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