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Posts Tagged ‘I know not how or when’

In lieu of an image of Francisco de Medrano, (1570 – 1607) this portrait by El Greco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know not how or when or what it was

I know not how or when or what it was        
I felt, that me replete with sweetness made.
I know but to my arms such beauty came
To partake with me of bliss so avidly.

 

 

I know she came, although with shrinking look,
Almost, I could not then withstand her face,
So stunned was I, as one in obscure night
Loses his bearings, and dares not take a step.

 

Following this great bliss, astonishment – or dream –
I knew not when, nor how, nor what had been
That made all sense and senses quiescent seem.

 

 

 

 

To know nothing at all is yet to know,
So slight is that which merely sense can grasp –
A compass which the soul alone could fit.

 

 

 

 

Translation Dia Tsung.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No sé cómo, ni cuándo, ni qué cosa

No sé cómo, ni cuándo, ni qué cosa         
sentí, que me llenaba de dulzura;
sé que llegó a mis brazos la hermosura,
de gozarse conmigo codiciosa;

 

 
sé que llegó, si bien, con temerosa
vista resistí apenas su figura;
luego pasmé, como el que en noche oscura
perdido el tino, el pie mover no osa.

 

 

Siguió un gran gozo a aqueste pasmo, o sueño;
no sé cuándo  ni cómo  ni qué ha sido,
que lo sensible todo puso en calma.

 

 

 

Ignorarlo es saber; que es bien pequeño
el que puede abarcar solo el sentido,
y éste pudo caber en sola la alma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I set out to attempt the translation of a poem, I usually resort to pen and ink. The keyboard does not connect with my brain as when my hand accepts the task of forming letters. The liquid ink seeping into the paper, the angle of the nib, and even the necessity of coaxing the pen, all play their part in how my mind is enabled to enter the poem. The movement of the hand, helped by the pen, the ink and the paper, forms a system of communication with the mind, as it simultaneously tries to work on several levels.  As the stream of one language flows in, it is welcomed by a different one, and words are exchanged and greeted – or asked to leave. The sound and rhythm is a music provided by an invisible conductor and musicians in the back of the room, and a helpful adviser of sorts sits off to the side at a desk and  busily sorts out the words, explaining  their meanings and deciding on their suitability.

Over all these, there hovers an unseen, but powerfully-felt presence, who draws in all the participants, placing them in accord with each other, while containing the indispensable sense of wholeness  and protecting the atmosphere within  where all things seem to flow within a suspended space.

In order for any of this to happen, the original work must first cast its spell on me, place my mind in accord with its own frequency. I feel this as an indescribable  sensation, which seems to make itself felt in a soundless buzzing behind my forehead, and a feeling of ‘lifting up’ on the top of my head. My hair feels somewhat detached, and there is a tingling along the outsides of my ears.

First drafts, with all their flaws, create the most excitement. All the collaborators work hard to play their parts, and then come the second and third, and as many drafts as are needed in order to feel that there is a ‘fit.’  Then sometimes there has to follow a hiatus – a time of separation and detachment, since the synthesis of all the players makes  further discrimination impossible at that moment.

After that there is a return. The words have determined their places on the page, and have been able to work out their differences, and they have made decisions about where they wish to be placed. Some must leave, and there is a flurry of rearrangement, and some newcomers arrive.  The musicians again begin to play, and the lexical entities determine if they are in accord with their vocable counterparts.  A sober schoolmistress is invited to sit at the head of the classroom, and the students present themselves to her. Sometimes she is pleased, and gives them her nod.  Sometimes she shakes her head and says nothing, and sometimes she comes up with a suggestion, but sometimes she walks out without a word.

Without the Muse there are no acceptable translations – that is if her presence has been evoked in the original work to begin with. Only the Muse can help the translator to mediate between two languages without falling  away from chastity into falsehood. Her stern insistence on clean hands and devoted mind are the only assurance that no lies will  spoken, and no infelicities permitted to  intrude.  The translator must humbly, yet willingly, enter this liminal space, or the result will fail to satisfy.

Besides the presence of  two languages, a third is required – and that is the language of poetry itself. This is the holy trinity. This is the language the original poet and the translator must have in common. If all this sounds like so much presumptuous nonsense, experience must provide the only possible veto.  In my case, there is no other way that can lead me to my desired destination.

When I first read this poem by Francisco de Medrano, it drew me instantly in. I saw and heard and felt some essence of observing the unfolding images which passed before my inward eye, which is how the conviction came to me that the poem was real. The feeling and images lingered in the back of my mind for three or so years, until last night the moment came when they reasserted themselves, and I took up the task of translation.

Medrano, who was born in Seville in 1570, was a Jesuit priest, who gave up religion for poetry, which of course is the more divine vocation of the two.  I wish more people could do this, but alas the inferior requirements of religion are much more easily satisfied than those of poetry, which might account for the greater popularity of the former.

Despite his initial clerical misstep, de Medrano did find his way out of the darkness of the church. He spoke of love in a way that is clearly not merely mystical hocus-pocus. That he felt the influence – or presence – of St. John of the Cross seems evident in the subject and circumstances of the poem, as well as its imagery and vocabulary, yet it is very different from the poetry of St. John.  The locutions suggest to me (perhaps it is from the gender of the nouns) that de Medrano’s Muse, unlike St. John’s, was adamantly female.   This makes his poem more have for me a greater feeling of conviction – of genuineness.  de Medrano’s choice of the last three words of the poem, which include the choice of ‘la alma’ over ‘el alma’ (alma is generally a masculine noun which turns feminine in the plural)  not merely as a preference for the sake of how it sounds, thereby changing the gender of the (singular)  soul to female, seems to affirm this.

When I first read this poem, I felt it was a little creepy – as the suggestion of night visitants are apt to be.  It has the sense of a nightmare, one which had the ambivalent elements of both horror and bliss. Who was this presence who came to Medrano’s darkened room in the obscurity of the shadow-steeped night? Jungians no doubt would say it was his Anima, and that his soul’s shocking encounter with its oppositely gendered part, accounts for the events related and emotions felt.

I cannot refute such an argument, because however she is named, this presence attends all the uncanny states which accompany genuine poetic experience.  I have to stress the word ‘genuine’, because so much twaddle is passed off as poetry as to make the separation of wheat from chaff an onerous job, for the quantity of chaff is vast in comparison to the few grains which might appear at the end of an exhaustive winnowing.  What convinces me that de Medrano’s poem is genuine, besides my own vicarious experience, is that it follows the steps beginning with a feeling of infiltration which then goes on to overcome, and ends with a lysis (not in the pathological sense, or the priggish pederastic sense of Plato, but as the wall or barrier which breaks to permit access to a meaning which can be accessed) that feels true and right.

Genuinely inspired works stand out  brilliantly from among their dull pretenders. When one comes across the former, one feels a sense of wholeness, as when one is swept in the glissando of a well-structured drama which faithfully follows the structure of  rising action, crisis, denouement, and then leaves one with the small grain of resolution that endow it with the power to linger on in the mind, resonating with a persistent tenacity  for months and even years. de Medrano’s lips are sealed about the identity of his visitor – but  of course he knew who she was:  he really did. She was never a stranger to him.

Synchronicity can sometimes be made to serve as evidential proof that one has stumbled across a bit of contagious magic, and so it was last night. My search for a copy of this poem to cut and paste in this post took on a life of its own. Quite by chance (?) I came across a lesbian writer and singer from Argentina, María Elena Walsh, whose work is bound to make a future appearance in this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herewith a brief biography of de Medrano for those who can read Spanish, which I found at this site.

http://www.apoloybaco.com/Francisco%20de%20Medrano.htm

 

Nació en Sevilla hacia el año 1570. Perteneció a la orden de los jesuitas, hasta que en el año 1602 decidió abandonarla y retirarse a disfrutar de una vida sosegada, donde la poesía fue su principal actividad. Se sabe que estudió en Córdoba y Salamanca cuando aún pertenecía a la compañía.

Era un poeta que cultivaba una poesía clásica, de características muy similares a la de los poetas salmantinos del siglo XVI, basando su obra prácticamente en las traducciones de obras clásica, y realización de poesía a imitación de autores del mismo corte, principalmente Horacio. Así el crítico Adolfo de Castro lo refleja, dictanimando que Medrano es, sin duda alguna, el mejor de los imitadores españoles de Horacio.
 
Su escritura era correcta, huyendo del estilo gongorista que se impulsaba en la literatura española de aquella época. Escribió cincuenta y dos sonetos, dotados de una especial sensualidad, además de diversas odas y romances. Entre sus poemas más conocidos se encuentra la oda de La profecía del Tajo -que aquí les muestro- muy similar a la que escribió Fray Luis de León con el mismo título.
 
La muerte pronto vino a visitarle; murió en el año 1607.
Era un poeta que cultivaba una poesía clásica, de características muy similares a la de los poetas salmantinos del siglo XVI, basando su obra prácticamente en las traducciones de obras clásica, y realización de poesía a imitación de autores del mismo corte, principalmente Horacio. Así el crítico Adolfo de Castro lo refleja, dictanimando que Medrano es, sin duda alguna, el mejor de los imitadores españoles de Horacio.
 
La muerte pronto vino a visitarle; murió en el año 1607.

 

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