She is five years old and daydreams
her legs are like a lean bejuco vine
The literal translation of this poem was made by Nataly Kelly
The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop
Nataly Kelly writes: 'A bejuco is a particular type of woody, climbing vine that grows in the tropics, many of which are reputed to have curative powers. Tradition says that the plant's powers as an antidote were discovered through watching the bird eat the plant's leaves, and even spread the juice on its wings, before attacking snakes. Humboldt observed that proximity of a rod steeped in the juice of a particular type of vine from this family (guaco) was irritating to venomous snakes. He was of opinion that inoculation with it gives perspiration an odor which makes reptiles unwilling to bite.'
María Clara also explains: 'The bejuco connects us to heaven. It was the path to visit the star women that lived in the sky (yaa nua is the Shuar expression for star woman). The bejuco is used for medicinal purposes, artistic purposes, agriculture, childhood games, to move monkeys when they hide in the nooks of trees, and also to help us climb trees and to build Shuar dwellings. The bejuco is used for an infinite array of things, and it's considered a privilege to make use of it.'
Sarah Maguire writes: Although we left the first line of Nataly's literal translation into English unchanged, a lot of discussion went into the second line. We decided to leave 'bejuco' in the text because there is nothing remotely like it in English and, in some instances, a footnote is a far better alternative to mangling the original concept. We thought a lot about what to do with 'thin', in Nataly's version, a direct translation of the Spanish. The poem is about a little girl's daydreams of power and adventure, which we felt 'thin' didn't convey; in the end, we settled on 'lean' because of its connotations of efficiency and energy.
© Poetry Translation Centre 2004-2014