December, snow, and romance: translating a month
2012/11/23 Leave a comment
December brings with it Christmas, Hanukkah, the beginning of winter, and year’s end on the 31st. As we’ll see, it also has interesting romantic associations.
December wasn’t always the end of the year: as the first syllable of its name testifies, it was the tenth month of the calendar in remote Roman antiquity. Indeed, in the Julian calendar predominant until some 400 years ago, New Year’s Day came in March: either the 1st or, in England and elsewhere, the 25th. Later (perhaps around 400-500 BCE), two more months were added to the calendar: January and February. January became the first month of the year, but March continued to be considered the real start of the year all the way up to early modern times: according to the country, either the first of March, the 15th, or the 25th. So December, somehow, continued to retain its status as ‘tenth month’.
As for the month’s snowy connotations (aside from being rarer and rarer in Northern latitudes), these make little sense in the Southern hemisphere, where December marks the start of summer.
Another association that falls flat in the South: the metaphor “a May-December romance” where May (springtime) stands for youth, December (winter) old age. Maxwell Anderson’s 1938 lyric to Kurt Weill’s “September Song” builds a bittersweet love story on the foundation of those two months: “It’s a long, long way from May to December/And the days grow short when you reach September”.
In places like Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, literature oscillates between the system of metaphor inherited from Spain (as in an adolescent girl’s quince abriles, fifteen Aprils) and new adaptations.
Uruguayan lyricist Federico Silva’s 1935 tango, No nos veremos más (Adiós), movingly deploys just such a new poetic coding of the seasons. The man, sadly convinced that his relationship with a much younger woman cannot last, sings: “Tu luz de verano me soleó el otoño…/No puedo engañarte, mi adiós es sincero/Tu estás en enero, mi abril ya pasó”: Your summer light warmed my autumn…/I cannot deceive you, my farewell is sincere/For you it’s January. my April is long past.
Copyright ©2012 Pablo J. Davis. All Rights Reserved.
This essay was originally written for the December 2, 2012 edition of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee), as part of the weekly bilingual column Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation/Misterios y Enigmas de la Traducción.