Translation Commentaries (1)

Translation Difficulties in Camilo Castelo Branco’s Works: How to Render Elapsed Time

– By Oliveira Simões

At times, we translators are faced with difficulties on how to render certain time-related phrases in the target language. In this article I tried to demonstrate what would be the best English translation for the Portuguese verb haver in the following passage from a preface of a book reprint by Camilo Castelo Branco (dated 1879).

“E por isso mesmo se reimprime. O bom senso público relê isto, compara com aquilo, e vinga-se barrufando com frouxos de riso realista as páginas que dez anos aljofarava com lágrimas românticas.” (emphasis added)

For purposes of comparison and analysis, I used a personal example side by side with the passage in question.

quadro ilustrativo

Semantic Considerations:

Before getting into the grammar, I want to clarify the meaning of this word, probably unknown to most speakers of Portuguese:

aljofarava – imperfect of aljofarar
aljofarar – speckle / sprinkle / adorn with aljôfar
aljôfar – Derives from Arabic al-jawhar, “the pearl / gem / jewel”. (See etymology below.)

The Priberam dictionary defines aljôfar as a pérola minúscula (tiny pearl), as well as orvalho (dew) or lágrima (tear). Aljofarar is understood to mean: (1) dew (as a verb; orvalhar), (2) embellish with small pearls (enfeitar com pequenas pérolas). Picture the tears from Camilo’s readers falling on the pages of his books as if they were tiny pearls. That’s the image he probably wanted to convey in this passage.

Etymology of aljôfar:
Borrowed from Andalusian Arabic الجوهر‎ (al-jawhar), from Arabic جَوْهَر‎ (jawhar), from Farsi گوهر‎ (gowhar, “jewel, gem , pearl”). Source: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/aljofar

Grammatical Considerations:

Haver is used as an impersonal verb and, therefore, it’s always in the third person singular in some cases; for example, to express elapsed time, in which case it can be replaced with fazer. For instance:

semanas que não o vejo. (I haven’t seen him for weeks.)

When haver can be replaced with fazia, the verb agrees with the imperfect:

Morávamos ali havia dois anos. (We had been living there for two years.)

Source: https://www.infoescola.com/portugues/verbo-haver/

Please notice that in both examples above, the duration of the verbal action is defined. Evidently, both can be expressed by fazer, without any loss of meaning:

Faz semanas que não o vejo. (I haven’t seen him for weeks.)
Morávamos ali fazia dois anos. (We had been living there for two years.)

Notice the parallel between these verb tenses:
faz … vejo => present of the indicative (presente do indicativo)
morávamos … fazia => imperfect of the indicative (pretérito imperfeito do indicativo)

Notice, however, that in Camilo’s passage the verb tenses are not the same.

“O bom senso público relê isto, compara com aquilo, e vinga-se barrufando com frouxos de riso realista as páginas que dez anos aljofarava com lágrimas românticas.” (emphasis added)

Here we have:
faz (present) … aljofarava (imperfect)

If we were to represent the actions of a typical reader on a timeline, they would look like this:

•1869______________________________ •1879___________________________________________
sad face– used to cry over his romantic writings (aljofarava com lágrimas românticas) happy face– rereads (relê)
– compares (compara)
– gets even (vinga-se)
– laughs at his realistic writings (barrufa com frouxos de riso realista)

In other words:
… ten years before, his readers were crying (i.e. shedding “romantic tears”) over the pages of his books. We don’t know for how long they did it (time undefined), but we know for sure they don’t do it anymore since now (ten years later, in 1879) they “sprinkle the pages with bouts of realistic laughter”. This is because Camilo changed his literary style, shifting from romanticism to realism.

Since the duration of aljofarar is undefined, the preposition for (durante) does not apply to the present context. We are left with one option:

ago – In this case, the point of reference is the time of the speech act, that is to say, the time when Camilo wrote the preface of his book. It’s used to refer to the past (1869) in relation to the time of writing (1879).

Looking at the wider context of the passage in question (see Prefácio da Quinta Edição), it appears that Camilo is explaining his transition in literary style in the way his readers react now (1879) and ten years before (1869). This time span seems to be arbitrary, it could be any number of years (20, 25, 30 etc.). The point is that now they laugh over realism whereas before they used to cry over romanticism. Considering the time of the speech act (1879), I would translate há dez anos for ten years ago.

Suggested Translation:
(1) “The public’s common sense reads it over, compares it with something else, then gets even by sprinkling the pages with bouts of realistic laughter, which ten years ago they had speckled with romantic teardrops.”
(2) “The public’s common sense reads it over, compares it with something else, then gets even by sprinkling the pages with bouts of realistic laughter, which ten years ago they would have strewn with romantic teardrops.”