Robert Burns, BOSLIT and the Spanish-Speaking World

By Carlos Llaza

Robert Burns, Poesia, trans. Tomás Lamarca and
Isabel Abelló (Madrid: Yunque, 1940)

As a translator and researcher, BOSLIT has been an invaluable resource. From the early stages of my doctoral project, The Sound of a Rhinoceros: On Translating Robert Burns into Spanish, the database has provided me with foundations and guidance. Having BOSLIT’s catalogue available in this new and more accessible format allows researchers to use their time and energy more effectively, whilst also creating a more rewarding experience. Not only does BOSLIT offer a thorough list of Scottish literature (in its variety of languages) in translation, but it also helps researchers to organise and structure their work. In fact, many aspects of my thesis have been shaped by the translations of Robert Burns’s work into Spanish catalogued on BOSLIT.

My project consists of a creative component and a critical one. The former involves translating a selection of Burns’s poems and songs into Spanish, closely following and expanding the existing canon; whilst the latter entails analysing the role literary translation has played in the creation of an Anglo-Hispanic (or, more precisely, Scottish-Hispanic) literary space. Furthermore, both the creative and critical aspects attempt to explore Burns’s place in the development of Transatlantic culture in general, and Anglo-Hispanic Romanticism in particular.

While the importance of Scottish literature in European Romanticism is undeniable, this international interest in Scotland did not originate with Burns. By the end of the eighteenth century, James Macpherson’s Ossian became an object of cult in Western Europe. Additionally, and in many respects due to its connection to Macpherson’s work, Hugh Blair’s Lectures in Rhetoric and Belles Lettres soon established its influence throughout the continent and across the Atlantic. There is no doubt that James Thomson’s The Seasons, vastly translated since the 1750s, also played a crucial role in the origins of European Romanticism. And a few decades later, Sir Walter Scott’s work was taking European readers by storm. In fact, as Dominique Delmaire has observed, by the early nineteenth century, Scotland was becoming the centre of Romantic Europe and the expression of a new Nordic exoticism. As the material available on BOSLIT reveals, this context influenced the reception of Burns in Spain and the Spanish-speaking world.

Unlike the adoption of Robert Burns in, for instance, Germany, Russia or France, his reception in Spain and Spanish America was not only less problematic, but also slower and more discreet. Of course, translators had to deal with self-censorship during the Franco regime, particularly during the 40s and 50s, albeit this was not a direct cause of Burns’s invisibility. In fact, the first two volumes solely dedicated to Burns’s poetry in Spanish translation were published in 1940 and 1954.

Until recently, it was believed that no poem or song by Burns had been translated into any Spanish language before 1890, when a translation of ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ into Catalan was published. In fact, according to BOSLIT’s current records, no translation of Burns into Spanish—that is, Castilian—existed before 1919. Notwithstanding, we can now confirm that a few of Burns’s poems and songs were translated into Spanish as early as 1857. These versions were part of a travel journal by diplomat, historian, translator and poet, Enrique Lorenzo de Vedia y Goossens (1802–1863). Titled Diario de un paseo a los lagos ingleses y las montañas de Escocia durante el verano de 1857, this fascinating diary was never published in book form. Fortunately, some fragments appeared posthumously in 1868, featuring renderings of ‘The Braes o’ Ballochmyle’ and the second version of ‘The Banks o’ Doon’.

Enrique Lorenzo de Vedia y Goossens (1802–1863)

Vedia y Goossens, a man from the Basque country and with a Flemish lineage, also authored a manuscript containing some of his original compositions, together with versions of Scottish, English and German Romantic verse. Vedia’s Antología Anglo-Germánica o Colección de Poesías Inglesas y Alemanas traducidas é imitadas en verso Castellano included versions of figures such as Goethe, Schiller, Byron, Gray, or, of course, Burns, whose lyrics play a significant role in the anthology. It also featured imitations of a few minor albeit fascinating poets, like, for instance, William Thom, the ‘Weaver Poet of Inverurie’. Vedia’s versions of Burns and other poets finally appeared in good black print in the renowned Antología de líricos ingleses y norteaméricanos, published in seven volumes between 1915 and 1924; a notable editorial enterprise by Venezuelan poet and translator, Miguel Sánchez Pesquera (1851–1920), who also included his own versions of ‘On Seeing a Wounded Hare’ and ‘John Anderson my Jo’.

Of course, there is a lot more to say about these and more recent translations. In the meantime, here is a list of Burns’s poems and songs in Spanish translation not yet listed on BOSLIT:

Unidentified Translator

  • ‘John Barleycorn’, Museo de las familias, Madrid, 1862

Enrique Lorenzo de Vedia y Goossens (1802–1863)

  • ‘The Braes o’ Ballochmyle’, Revista Mensual, Madrid, 1868
  • ‘The Banks o’ Doon’ [B], Revista Mensual, Madrid, 1868
  • ‘The Lament’, Antología de Líricos Ingleses y Angloamericanos, Madrid, 1915
  • ‘Song’ (Again rejoicing Nature sees…), Antología de Líricos Ingleses y Angloamericanos, Madrid, 1915
  • ‘The Deil’s awa wi’ th’ Exciseman’, Antología de Líricos Ingleses y Angloamericanos, Madrid, 1915
  • ‘I look to the North’, Antología de Líricos Ingleses y Angloamericanos, Madrid, 1915
  • ‘Song’ (Behind yon hills where Lugar flows), Antología de Líricos Ingleses y Angloamericanos, Madrid, 1915
  • ‘Song, Composed in August’, Antología de Líricos Ingleses y Angloamericanos, Madrid, 1915
  • ‘I love my Jean’ (Of a’ the airts the wind can blaw), Antología de Líricos Ingleses y Angloamericanos, Madrid, 1915

Miguel Sánchez Pesquera (1851–1920)

  • ‘On Seeing a Wounded Hare’, Antología de Líricos Ingleses y Angloamericanos, Madrid, 1915
  • ‘John Anderson my Jo’, Antología de Líricos Ingleses y Angloamericanos, Madrid, 1915

Fernando Maristany y Guasch (1883–1924)

  • ‘My bony Mary’ (also known as ‘The Silver Tassie’), Las cien mejores poesías (líricas) de la lengua inglesa, Valencia and Buenos Aires, 1918
  • ‘John Anderson my Jo’, Las cien mejores poesías (líricas) de la lengua inglesa, Valencia and Buenos Aires, 1918
  • ‘The Banks o’ Doon’, Las cien mejores poesías (líricas) de la lengua inglesa, Valencia and Buenos Aires, 1918
  • ‘Mary Morison’, Las cien mejores poesías (líricas) de la lengua inglesa, Valencia and Buenos Aires, 1918

One Reply to “Robert Burns, BOSLIT and the Spanish-Speaking World”

  1. This is fascinating. Do you know whether these newly discovered translators worked directly from the original Burns texts or via an intermediary translation into French or other languages?

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