Translating A Hero.

When Words Collide And Meanings Get Lost


Now that I’ve done my own bit of translating 19th century Spanish to 21st century English, I personally know that something is always lost in the translation. In the case of the greatest patriotic poem of that century, ‘Adios, Patria Adorada,’ I hope the loss is not too much of a good thing.

Why did I a non-linguist translate the Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal’s ultimate poem? I didn’t feel comfortable with the translations I had read. While I couldn’t speak Spanish to save my life, I was vaguely unimpressed with what I saw when I compared those translations with the original (consulting the English-Spanish dictionary) and against each other (consulting my own English translation that I kept revising).

Both Filipinos, was Jose Rizal who was a Tagalog writing in Spanish different from a Frank Hilario who is an Ilocano writing in English? That is a question of colonialism. In the late 19th century, wasn’t Rizal a colonial of the Spanish friars, and in the early 21st century am I not a colonial of the Yankees who in the early 20th century came to my beloved Philippine Islands and welcomed themselves and stayed for 50 years?

It was not, it is not a matter of colonialism. Have you forgotten the cardinal rules of communication? One of the major commandments is: Select your target. A writer cannot write for everyone. Journalists and columnists know that, so they go down to the level of the man on the street. That’s freedom of speech along with freedom of choice – I choose to leave them alone. Rizal wanted the intellectuals to read him, not the common man (embracing woman). So do I. So he wrote his best works in Spanish. So I write in English. He was writing to say ‘Goodbye’ while I’m writing to say ‘Hello.’ Our words differ, our aims do not: In the midst of so much obfuscation, to help make the Filipinos think not merely more clearly but more creatively.

Of all the 35 or so English translations in my hands of Rizal’s valedictory poem, why did I choose to compare in this essay Charles Derbyshire’s, Nick Joaquin’s, Edwin Agustin Lozada’s, Luis Garcia’s and Encarnacion Alzona with Isidro Escare Abeto’s? Because Derbyshire’s (1911) is the most popular edition; Joaquin’s (1944) is that of the most popular Filipino writer; Alzona & Abeto’s (1961) is that of Rizal’s translator (Alzona); Lozada’s (2001) and Garcia’s (2003) are the newest translations in the new millennium I’ve seen, except mine dated 2004, 2005, 2006, and this one dated today, 2007 December 30, a revision of the one I published as Adios, Beloved Country’ in 2006 September 1 (; I have revised it in 4 key places. (For the Spanish original and my newest translation, see Attachments below.)

What do people say of Rizal’s last goodbye? Liberal International calls it ‘a masterpiece of 19th-century Spanish verse’ ( I know King of Spain Juan Carlos I considers it ‘one of the most beautiful pages of Spanish literature’ (‘GMA’s Journey To History,’ Gregorio F Zaide (Jose Rizal: Life, Works And Writings, 2003, Quezon City: National Book Store, pages 226-228) says of it:

A most touching poem, with exquisite finesse and sublime feeling, it is a worthy swan song of a great soul.

Of this swan song, I have my own collection of English translations; here are others who have full texts of specific translations:

Philippines Travel Guide publishes the English translation entitled ‘Mi Ultimo Adios’ by Encarnacion Alzona & Isidro Escare Abeto ( Filipino American Student Association (FASA) displays the same English translation but titles it ‘My Last Farewell’ (

Fabulous Philippines displays on its webpage the English translation entitled ‘My Final Farewell’ by Charles Derbyshire (

Commission on Higher Education shows the English translation entitled ‘The Last Poem Of Rizal’ (

Wikipedia showcases the English translation entitled ‘My Last Farewell’ by TAU (the author unnamed) ( The Wikipedia translation is quite similar with Edwin Agustin Lozada’s (2001) that I think this is a revised version by Lozada; else, this is cheap plagiarism. Or another Wikipedia vandalism. (In any case, why doesn’t Wikipedia cite its source?)

The Jose P Rizal website has Charles Derbyshire’s ‘My Last Farewell’ (

The Life and Writings of Dr Jose Rizal reproduces Frank C Laubach’s revised translation (1936) entitled ‘My Last Farewell’ as well as a complete copy of his book Rizal: Man And Martyr (

The Philippine Headline News Online has the English translation entitled ‘Mi Ultimo Adios’ by Luis L Garcia (

123explore! lists ‘Modern English translation by Frank A Hilario, December 2005’ and links it to my website. It also states:

‘Mi Ultimo Adios’ (Spanish for ‘My Last Farewell’) is a poem written by Jose Rizal on the eve of his execution. Although the poem was untitled, this title served as an artifice useful as a quick reference.

Now, about the title, all the other English translations (I have copies of more than 35 of them) have it as a variation of ‘My Last Farewell” or ‘My Last Goodbye,’ following the artificial title ‘Mi Ultimo Adios.’ I am the first to assign it an original title – ‘Adios, Patria Adorada’ – following literary tradition and, dare I say it? common sense. So, my English translation is based on that title – ‘Adios, Beloved Country.’ I don’t translate ‘Adios’ as ‘Farewell’ or ‘Goodbye’ because ‘Adios’ is already its own translation; it’s an English word (check your dictionary!), and it evokes its Spanish heritage that neither ‘Goodbye’ nor ‘Farewell’ does.

Now we go and analyze the translations I listed above. (If you want more comparisons, I can email you a copy of Chapter 13 of my book indios bravos! In that chapter, I name my Top Ten English Translations of Rizal’s swan song.)

Sol Jose Vanzi ( says of Luis Garcia’s 2003 translation:

He felt compelled to create a new version that would take into consideration the poem’s literary content, language imposed in the context of the past, Rizal’s unrivaled command of the Spanish language, and his expressive style and genius, among others.

Garcia tells Vanzi, ‘I have come up with what I feel faithfully reflects all these.’ Noble aim.
Garcia doesn’t quite measure up to his own expectations. Nice try.

Let me simplify my analysis and concentrate on comparing the versions using only the first stanza of the Spanish original:

Adios, Patria adorada, region del sol querida,
Perla del Mar de Oriente, nuestro perdido Eden!
A darte voy alegre la triste, mustia vida;
Y fuera mas brillante, mas fresca, mas florida,
Tambien por ti la diera, la diera por tu bien.

In this first stanza, Rizal expresses his love of country. He refers to her 3 times, twice dearly: ‘Perla del Mar de Oriente’ (literally, Pearl of the Orient Sea) and ‘region del sol querida’ (region beloved of the sun), once dejectedly: ‘nuestro perdido Eden’ (our ruined Eden).

If you knew these were the last words of a just man about to die because of unjust men, even if you didn’t know Spanish (I didn’t), if you recited the first stanza, you would get a lump on the throat. Try it!

Here is Luis Garcia’s translation:

Farewell! land that I love, embraced by sun’s caress
The Pearl of Orient Seas, our Paradise so lost;
Yours is the sad and dreary life that I possess,
But had it been more brilliant, fresh or flower-tossed,
All that it could have been, I’d have given you, no less.

Thankfully, what I have quoted Sol Jose Vanzi as saying (above) of Luis Garcia’s 2003 translation provides us the criteria for judging that and all the other translations:
(a) content
(b) context
(c) command of language
(d) style
(e) genius.

By your measure, you shall be measured. So now, let us examine Garcia’s translation against his own, very handy list of criteria:

Content. Sorry, Garcia’s translation does not contain ‘a darte voy alegre’ (my translation: ‘I go give gladly’). This is the most powerful, most poignant, most expressive phrase of the whole poem. In 4 words, the poet summarizes what he is about to do, that is, to give his life willingly for his loved ones, for his country. That brings tears to my eyes. And, horrors! The translator omits that phrase. What’s the matter with Luis Garcia: He doesn’t want to make me cry?

Context. Sadly, Garcia imposes a metaphor that is not found in the original: That Rizal’s life reflects that of his country. ‘Yours is the sad and dreary life that I possess.’ This is an excellent metaphor but it is incorrect. Rizal’s life was that of the privileged; he had also obtained excellent education abroad. Most important of all, he had transcended the colonial mentality of his own people. I never did like mixed (signals) metaphors.

Command of language. The 5th and last line of the stanza shows what I think is the most brilliant example of Rizal’s command of Spanish: ‘Tambien por ti la diera, la diera por tu bien.’ Note that the words separated by the single comma are mirror images, that is, they reflect on each other – la diera & la diera, por ti and por tu, tambien and tu bien. That is supreme command of the Spanish language if ever I saw one, or any language for that matter. And what does Garcia do when he encounters this superb, joyful Spanish? He makes me sad.

Style. I note that Rizal has an a/b/a/a/b/ pattern of rhymes. Garcia has the same, so I give him full credit for it. But consider Rizal’s ‘Y fuera mas brillante, mas fresca, mas florida’ and the translator’s ‘But had it been more brilliant, fresh or flower-tossed’ – I note that Garcia does not follow the more (‘mas, mas, mas’) iterative style of the original. That makes Garcia’s translation the less.

Genius. Rizal’s genius, I dare say, is to pack in the first stanza of his Adios poem of 14 stanzas the fullness of his self in his act and his faith in the eventual redemption of his country. Garcia’s translation does not equal Rizal’s genius.

That takes care of the last English translation before mine. Before 2003, there was Edwin Agustin Lozada’s 2001 translation, ‘My Last Farewell’ (

Farewell, beloved country, treasured region of the sun,
Pearl of the Sea of the Orient, our lost Eden!
To you eagerly I surrender this sad and gloomy life;
And were it brighter, fresher, more florid,
Even then I’d give it to you, for your sake alone.

So, how does this translation fare with the original Spanish? Lozada’s is much better than Garcia’s in content, context, command of language, but not much better in style; Lozada even changes the rhyming pattern from a/b/a/a/b/ to a/a/b/b/a/. Adept in both Spanish and English, poet Lozada falters in the last 2 lines, failing to translate the reiteration of ‘more, more, more’ and fading in reproducing the last line into reflecting English. That’s the problem with genius translating once and thinking you’re done with it, no revisions necessary. With my genius, I had to revise my translation 4 times in 9 years, starting in 1998.

And now we go to Charles Derbyshire’s most famous translation:

Farewell, dear Fatherland, clime of the sun caress’d,
Pearl of the Orient Seas, our Eden lost!
Gladly now I go to give thee this faded life’s best,
And were it brighter, fresher, or more blest,
Still would I give it thee, nor count the cost.

Does it deserve being the most popular? It is to my mind as good as Lozada’s in context alone and not as good in content, command of language, style. Overall, Lozada’s is much better than Derbyshire’s translation. Derbyshire’s ‘clime of the sun caress’d’ is wrong while Lozada’s ‘treasured region of the sun’ is correct; this is an important difference. If you aren’t be faithful to the original in the first stanza, how faithful are you in the rest of your translation?

And what about our beloved writer Nick Joaquin’s English version?

Land that I love. farewell! O Land the sun loves!
Pearl in the Sea of the Orient: Eden lost to your brood!
Gaily go I to present you this hapless hopeless life;
Were it more brilliant, had it more freshness, more bloom
Still for you would I give it. would give it for your good.

Here’s another genius not revising. Nick Joaquin gravely disappoints me with his lack of rhyme, and so no matter how good the rest of the translation is, I’m going to pass. There is no rhyme to his reason for not translating Rizal in the meticulous manner that he composed his Spanish. And, I understand, Nick Joaquin knew Spanish like a native. So I’m not going to disappoint myself any further by analyzing Nick Joaquin’s lines.

Here is Encarnacion Alzona & Isidro Escare Abeto’s translation:

Farewell, my adored Land, region by the sun caressed,
Pearl of the Orient Sea, our Eden lost;
With gladness I give you my life, sad and repressed;
And were it more brilliant, more fresh and at its best,
I would still give it to you for your welfare at most.

This is better than Nick Joaquin’s and as good as Lozada’s. I need not say more.

And what about Frank A Hilario‘s English translation?

Adios, beloved country, EarthLove of the Sun,
Pearl of the Sea Orient, Eden in ruins bad!
I go give gladly my life shrunk and forsaken;
And were it more brilliant, more fresh, more floral then,
Would for you give I still, still I give for your good.

You be the judge of that: Is it good, better, best?
Don’t ask me; I have already judged it to be better.


Adios, Patria Adorada
Spanish Original by Jose Rizal, 1896 December

Adios, Patria adorada, region del sol querida,
Perla del Mar de Oriente, nuestro perdido Eden!
A darte voy alegre, la triste, mustia vida;
Y fuera mas brillante, mas fresca, mas florida,
Tambien por ti la diera, la diera por tu bien.

Deja que el sol ardiendo las lluvias evapore
Y al cielo tornen puras con mi clamor en pos;
Deja que un ser amigo mi fin temprano llore,
Y en las serenas tardes cuando por mi alguien ore;
Ora tambien, oh Patria, por mi descanso a Dios!

En campos de batalla, luchando con delirio,
Otros te dan sus vidas sin dudas, sin pesar;
El sitio nada importa; cipres, laurel o lirio,
Cadalso o campo abierto, combate o cruel martirio,
Lo mismo es si lo piden La Patria y el hogar.

Ora por todos cuantos murieron sin ventura,
Por cuantos padecieron tormentos sin igual;
Por nuestras pobres madres que gimen su amargura,
Por huerfanos y viudas, por presos en tortura,
Y ora por ti que veas tu redencion final.

Yo muero cuando veo que el cielo se colora
Y al fin anuncia el dia, tras lobrego capuz;
Si grana necesitas para teñir su aurora,
Vierte la sangre mia, derramala en buen hora,
Y dorela un reflejo de su naciente luz.

Y cuando, en noche oscura, se envuelva el cementerio,
Y solos solo muertos queden velando alli,
No turbes su reposo, no turbes el misterio;
Tal vez acordes oigas de citara o salterio:
Soy yo, querida Patria, yo que te canto a ti.

Mis sueños cuando apenas muchacho adolescente,
Mis sueños cuando joven ya lleno de vigor,
Fueron el verte un dia, Joya del Mar de Oriente,
Secos los negros ojos, alta la tersa frente,
Sin ceño, sin arrugas, sin manchas de rubor.

Y cuando ya mi tumba de todos olvidada,
No tenga cruz ni piedra que marquen su lugar,
Deja que la are el hombre, la esparza con la azada,
Y mis cenizas, antes que vuelvan a la nada,
El polvo de tu alfombra que vayan a formar.

Ensueño de mi vida, mi ardiente vivo anhelo:
¡Salud! te grita el alma que pronto va a partir!
¡Salud! ah, que es hermoso caer por darte vuelo,
Morir por darte vida, morir bajo tu cielo,
Y en tu encantada tierra la eternidad dormir.

Entonces nada importa me pongas en olvido:
Tu atmosfera, tu espacio, tus valles cruzare;
Vibrante y limpia nota sere para tu oido,
Aroma, luz, colores, rumor, canto, gemido,
Constante repitiendo la esencia de mi fe.

Si sobre mi sepulcro vieres brotar un dia,
Entre la espesa yerba sencilla humilde flor,
Acercala a tus labios y besa el alma mia;
Y sienta yo en mi frente bajo la tumba fria,
De tu ternura el soplo, de tu halito el calor.

Mi Patria idolatrada, dolor de mis dolores,
Querida Filipinas, oye el postrer adios!
Ahi te dejo todo: mis padres, mis amores;
Voy donde no hay esclavos, verdugos ni opresores,
Donde la fe no mata, donde el que reina es Dios.

Deja a la luna verme con luz tranquila y suave;
Deja que el alba envie su resplandor fugaz,
Deja gemir al viento con su murmullo grave;
Y si desciende y posa sobre mi cruz un ave,
Deja que el ave entone su cantico de paz.

Adios, padres y hermanos, trozos del alma mia,
Amigos de la infancia, en el perdido hogar.
Dad gracias que descanso del fatigoso dia;
Adios, dulce extranjera, mi amiga, mi alegria,
Adios, queridos seres. Morir es descansar.

Adios, Beloved Country
Translation by Frank A Hilario, 2007 December 30

Adios, beloved Country, EarthLove of the Sun,
Pearl of the Sea Orient, Eden in ruins bad!
I go give gladly my life shrunk and forsaken;
And were it more brilliant, more fresh, more floral then,
Would for you give I still, still I give for your good.

In the fields of battle, struggling with delirium,
Others give their lives, without doubts, without regret;
Site matters not; cypress, laurel or lily bloom,
Gallows or open field, fight or cruel martyrdom
Notwithstanding, if but hearth and country request.

I die as I see the sky wash out with color
And at last announce the day, after a dark night;
When a scarlet you need to tinge its aurora,
Empty my blood, pour at such beneficial hour,
And so gild a reflection of the nascent light.

My dreams when I was just a boy adolescent,
My dreams when in youth I had vigor in fullness,
Were to watch you one day, Gem of the Sea Orient,
With those dark eyes now light, head now held eminent,
Sans frown, sans furrows, sans smudges of shamefulness.

Dream of my life, my ardent living fantasy:
Salute! Cries out the soul presently to depart!
Salute! Ah, how lovely to fall so you may fly,
To die so you may live, to die beneath your sky,
And sleep eternally in your enchanted earth.

Should one day you see over my sepulcher burst,
Amidst the thick grass a single humble flower,
Bring but near your lips and you shall kiss my spirit;
And I on my face shall feel down in the cold crypt,
In your tenderness a touch, in your breath ardor.

Let the moon strew over me its light calm and suave;
Let the dawn spread over me its resplendent rays,
Let the wind expel over me its murmur grave;
And if on my cross a bird descends with resolve,
Let that bird there intone its canticle of peace.

Let the passionate sun the rains evaporate
And give back to the sky pure with my last cry heard;
Let a friend weep over my inopportune death,
And in serene evenings, a prayer for me state;
Pray too, oh Country, I may be at peace with God!

Pray for all of those who perish without gladness,
For all those who suffer torments without equal;
For our hapless mothers who wail in bitterness,
For orphans and widows, for captives in distress,
And pray for you to see your redemption final.

And when the dark evening shrouds the cemetery,
And the dead alone in vigil lone keep watching,
Disturb not the repose, disturb not the mystery;
Perceive a note of zither or psalter you may:
‘Tis I, cherished country, ‘tis to you am singing.

And when where I fall by all is recalled no more,
Neither cross standing nor stone indicating place,
Let man by plow work on it and by spade scatter,
And before my ashes to nothing they return,
Turn powder on your floor to carpet your surface.

Then it matters not I am pushed to oblivion:
I shall cross your valleys, your atmosphere, your space;
Vibrant and clear note shall be for you to listen,
Aroma, light, colors, murmur, melody, moan,
Constantly repeating the essence of my faith.

My country idolized, despair of my despairs,
Dearest Filipinas, hear now my last adios.
I bequeath all to you: my elders, my amours;
I go where are no slaves, hangmen nor oppressors,
Where faith does not kill, where God is the Lord of hosts.

Adios, parents and kindred, fragments of my soul,
Friends from my childhood then, all in that damaged house;
Give thanks I lay me down from the weary day’s toil;
Adios, sweet stranger, my friend, my joy, my angel;
Adios, my cherished ones. To die is to repose.

Explore posts in the same categories: Adios Beloved Country, Adios Patria Adorada, Jose Rizal, translations

4 Comments on “Translating A Hero.”

  1. Blogmen Says:

    Good article.But there are inaccuracies in it.

  2. Kindly tell me.

  3. Pepe Alas Says:

    The reason why Nick Joaquín spoke Spanish like a native is because Spanish really was his native language. It wasn’t even Tagalog.

    Like many Filipinos of his day, Spanish was the language which first shaped his mind. This also explains the reason why Nick’s peculiar English is superb and can never be duplicated. Remember that English and Spanish are cognates, “sister languages” so to speak. His Spanish contributed a lot to his English, aside from the fact that his mother was one of the first students of the Thomasites.

    Nick thought in Spanish while writing in English. That makes his poetry and prose a lot more strange.

    I believe this fact should be made common knowledge.

  4. My heartfelt thanks to you for the enlightenment you have shared. I composed the music for Mi Ultimo Adios which is going to be the Finale of the musical Sweet Stranger which will be shown in Chicago at end of Aug. 2011.

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