Kiss me, I'm Catholic.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Silent Night, Holy Night...

Today is the feast of San Juan de la Cruz, so I thought I 'd give you one of his poems, in Roy Campbell's translation. I like the way Campbell englished it; he preserves all the rhymes and most of the meter of the original, while at the same time keeping the sense and making it all sound easy. It's as close to transparent as you can get. Of course he had to add some words that weren't in the original, because Spanish words tend to have more syllables than English, and a perfectly literal translation of a Spanish poem tends to boil down the line into a curt, attenuated utterance reminiscent of William Carlos Williams. Most undesirable. But Campbell is a poet himself, and he really reincarnates the poem in English.

And to think that he did this for ninety pages!

I am green with envy. Verde que te quiero verde.

Which reminds me: Campbell's style fits St. John's much better than it does Lorca's. I love reading his translations of Garcia Lorca; they are vibrant and fast-moving; but Lorca just didn't write like that. He relied more on assonance than on rhyme, and Campbell just barges in and translates everything into rhyming couplets. (Oooh! Check it out: Complete Works of Federico García Lorca. If you can read Spanish, it's a really cool page.)

Romance IX

The Birth of Christ

Now that the season was approaching
Of His long-expected birth,
Like a bridegroom from his chamber
He emerged upon our earth

Clinging close to His beloved
Whom He brought along with Him.
While the gracious Mary placed them
In a manger damp and dim.

Amongst the animals that round it
At that season stretched their limbs,
Men were singing songs of gladness
And the angels chanting hymns,

To celebrate the wondrous marriage
By whose bond such two were tied,
But the wee God in the manger
He alone made moan and cried;

Tears were the jewels of the dowry
Which the bride with her had brought.
And the Mother gazed upon them
Nearly fainting at the thought.

The tears of Man in God alone,
The joy of God in men was seen.
Two things so alien to each other,
Or to the rule, had never been.

Today is your lucky day! Here is another.

Other songs concerning Christ and the soul

A shepherd lad was mourning his distress,
Far from all comfort, friendless and forlorn.
He fixed his thought upon his shepherdess
Because his breast by love was sorely torn.

He did not weep that love had pierced him so,
Nor with self-pity that the shaft was shot,
Though deep into his heart had sunk the blow,
It grieved him more that he had been forgot.

Only to think that he had been forgotten
By his sweet shepherdess, with travail sore,
He let his foes (in foreign lands begotten)
Gash the poor breast that love had gashed before.

'Alas! Alas! for him', the Shepherd cries,
'Who tries from me my dearest love to part
So that she does not gaze into my eyes
Or see that I am wounded to the heart.'

Then, after a long time, a tree he scaled,
Opened his strong arms bravely wide apart,
And clung upon that tree till death prevailed,
So sorely was he wounded in his heart.

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