miércoles, 30 de abril de 2014

The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance #1: Jorge Manrique

The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance (W.W. Norton & Company, 2006)
Selected and translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman
Spain and New Spain, a long time ago...

Jorge Manrique's affecting "Coplas que fizo por la muerte de su padre" [here translated as "Verses Written on the Death of His Father"] (Spain, 1476) doesn't seem like it should be as powerful as it actually is given its metrical simplicity and its apparent lack of verbal pyrotechnics, but it's a poem that did a number on me the first time I read it and a poem that continues to do the same whenever I have the occasion to revisit it.  Of course, the ubi sunt thing can always get to you if you're in a susceptible state of mind.  And Manrique does have at least one good trick up his sleeve for an elegy.  Anyway, to give you an idea of the tenor of the piece and of how Grossman translates the Spanish verse (Grossman: "The meter, called pie quebrado, or broken foot, consists of a fixed alternation of eight- and four-syllable lines in a twelve-line stanza, with a regular rhyme scheme" [1-2]), here's the opening stanza:

Recuerde el alma dormida,
avive el seso y despierte,
contemplando
cómo se passa la vida,
cómo se viene la muerte
tan callando;
cuán presto se va el plazer,
cómo después de acordado
da dolor,
cómo a nuestro parescer,
qualquiera tiempo passado
fué mejor.

 Let the dozing soul remember,
let the mind awake and revive
by contemplating
how our life goes by so swiftly
and how our death comes near
so silently;
how quickly pleasure fades,
and how when it is recalled
it gives us pain,
how we always seem to think
that times past must have been better
than today.

As I hope more than just poetry geeks can tell, Grossman's translation flows admirably in modern English even while mimicking Manrique's repetitions.  However, one example of the riches that can be lost in translation is that the sixth line that the translator renders as "so silently" is, to my mind, much more powerful in the 15th century Castilian: death is tan callando, or "so silencing," a present participle-aided statement of effect that might not translate as smoothly as "so silently" but which is probably more faithful to the vale of tears sorrow that the poet is seeking to evoke.

Elsewhere, Grossman does a marvelous and maybe even an uncanny job capturing Manrique's mood in English: "Our lives are the rivers/that empty into the sea/that is our dying," from the beginning of the third stanza, is a lovely translation of "Nuestras vidas son los ríos/que van a dar en el mar/que es el morir:" with its tricky third line [literally: "which is dying"], and her close to the ninth stanza's "The agility and speed,/the bodily strength and vigor/of one's youth,/they all turn heavy and dense/when entering the sullen precincts/of old age" is a clear winner even without Manrique's rhyming of "joventud" and "senectud" in the original's "Las mañas y ligereza/y la fuerça corporal/de joventud,/todo se torna graveza/quando llega al arrabal de senectud." As for that trick up Manrique's sleeve that I mentioned at the outset?  After using the ubi sunt theme as a prelude to a summary of his father's successes in life (being a friend to friends, an enemy to enemies, and--this being Reconquista Spain--naturally a slayer of Moors), Manrique has Death come knocking at his father's door just long enough to enjoin the caballero to seek eternal life through God rather than the life of this earth, which is fleeting.  The last stanza is the one that slays me, but it's a measure of the escalating power of the poem that this stanza, the third from the end, isn't so bad either.  The voice belong to Manrique's father:

--"No gastemos tiempo ya
en esta vida mezquina
por tal modo,
que mi voluntad está
conforme con la divina
para todo;
y consiento en mi morir
con voluntad plazentera
clara y pura,
que querer ombre vivir
quando Dios quiere que muera
es locura.

"Now let us spend no more time
on this miserable, this worthless
mortal life,
for in everything my will
conforms with the divine will,
the will of God;
and I consent to my dying
and submit to a desire
bright and pure;
it is madness for a man
to wish to live when God wishes
him to die."

Jorge Manrique (1440-1479)

I hope to write at least two more posts about this collection at some point.  In the meantime, please check out the posts below for more on the title.  The Manrique poem appears on pp. 1-37.

Amanda, Simpler Pastimes

Scott, seraillon

9 comentarios:

  1. Richard - Now that both you and Amanda have focused on Manrique, I'm going to have to go back and re-read him. Just in reading the excerpts here, which call to mind the themes in the Quevedo selections, I again find it remarkable that so many of the poems in Grossman's selection overlap in theme, imagery and even the language itself (Lope de Vega even has one that begins word-for-word identically to another by Garcilaso) yet manage to be so singular and hugely rewarding to read.

    Thanks for suggesting this group read; I've enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed anything I've read this year.

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    1. Scott, one of the things I like best about the Manrique poem is the personal touch he injects into the somewhat generic framework. I find it very powerful in part because of that. The stylistic derring do of the other poets in the collection often seems more "high art" to me, but I agree it is remarkable how much individuality is present in them all despite the similarities also present. Pleased, of course, that you liked this group read selection so much--had no idea that it'd turn out to be such a favorite, but I'm very glad to hear that!

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  2. I agree with you on the power of this verse.

    The first stanza that you posted is so very poignant because in my opinion it conveys truth in such a lyrical, and for lack of a better word, "beautiful", way.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed that, Brian! Manrique's "truth," while universal, is personalized in such a way that it really hits hard when you read the whole thing. Hope you get a chance to do that someday!

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  3. So that's eight syllables? The Spanish also count the last one? I thought they were like the Portuguese, who only count up to the last stressed syllable.

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  4. Miguel, those nearly incomprehensible rules are why I limit myself to counting syllables in...prose!

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  5. I always enjoy your posts which touch on translation issues, but this time even more so as I read both the languages at issue. It's very interesting to me, especially as I can see the great difficulty which Grossman faced.

    I still want to reread the Manrique poem--I just find it so powerful, even though as you say, it seems superficially simple. Thanks again for hosting!

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    1. That's very kind of you to say, Amanda, and of course I'm delighted to hear that you enjoyed Grossman's selections and translations so much. I seem to reread the Manrique poem every so often, and it's never failed to deliver. ¡Saludos!

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