“I have received so majestic results that I myself was astonished, and it would be a great pity to let it be lost. When you will see it, my dear father, you will also understand it. Now I only can say that I have created a new, different world out of nothing”
– wrote János Bolyai in his letter of November 3, 1823 in Temesvár (Timişoara), in which he announced to his father the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry.
The great Hungarian poet Mihály Babits, when in 1911, shortly after the solemn reburial of the two Bolyais he published in the journal Nyugat his poem Bolyai, choose this last phrase as a motto. And as the Spanish Golden Age glosas expounded the last verse of the introductory copla in a sonnet, so his poem is a virtual commentary to this single phrase. The poem of Babits has contributed to this phrase’s becoming a motto of Transylvanian Hungarian scholarship after 1918.
We have also chosen this poem to introduce our web documentation of János Bolyai’s Appendix, included just some days ago by the UNESCO in the register of the Memory of the World.
The documentation was prepared in three languages: Hungarian, English and Spanish. In the Hungarian version we have quoted the original poem as it was published in the Nyugat. To the English version we had at our disposal the translation of Paul Sohar, made for the occasion when on November 3, 1993 the memorial tablet of János Bolyai was unveiled on the wall of the house in Temesvár where 170 years earlier he wrote his letter. But we wanted to include a translation worthy of the original in the Spanish version, too.
Wang Wei accepted the honorable challenge, and he mastered it in a sovereign manner. His beautiful translation can be read here face to face with the Hungarian original. For a comparison with the English translation, switch over to the English version of the Bolyai site.
Mihály Babits: Bolyai. Wang Wei’s Spanish translation recited by Julia (with a charming porteño accent)
Semmiből egy új, más világot teremtettem.................
– Bolyai János levele apjához –.................
Isten elménket bezárta a térbe.
Szegény elménk e térben rab maradt:
a kapzsi villámölyv, a gondolat,
gyémántkorlátját még csak el sem érte.
Én, boldogolván azt a madarat
ki kalitjából legalább kilátott,
a semmiből alkottam új világot,
mint pókhálóból sző kötélt a rab.
Új törvényekkel, túl a szűk egen,
új végtelent nyitottam én eszemnek;
király gyanánt, túl minden képzeten
kirabolván kincsét a képtelennek
nevetlek, mint Istennel osztozó,
vén Euklides, rab törvényhozó.
He creado un universo nuevo, diferente, partiendo de la nada
—Carta de János Bolyai a su padre—
Dios cerró en el espacio a nuestra mente
y en tal prisión quedó, debilitada.
Ávido halcón, el pensamiento horada
sus muros de diamante inútilmente.
Yo, feliz como un ave que enjaulada
ve el sol, o un preso que hila tenazmente
con telarañas cuerda consistente,
un universo entero de la nada
he creado; con nuevo cielo y leyes
nuevas, y un infinito no pensado.
No hicieron tanto los más grandes reyes.
Un tesoro imposible he sonsacado
a Dios. —Euclides, te burlamos, ciego,
pues tu ley es tu cárcel y no hay ruego.
Wang Wei has taught for long years the poetry of the Spanish Golden Age on the island of the Hesperides, and his translation is also permeated by the images, expressions and music of the poems of the Golden Age. If we did not know what we know, with no doubt we would accept it being published under the name of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza or Francisco de Quevedo. Mihály Babits, the great Classicist, were he still living, would happily translate it into Hungarian.
Gao Qipei (1632-1734). Shanghai Museum