Posts Tagged ‘Spanish Poetry’

Juana Inés de la Cruz (November 12 1651 – April 17 1695)














En que da moral censura a una rosa,
y en ella a sus semejantes.


Rosa divina que en gentil cultura
eres, con tu fragante sutileza,
magisterio purpúreo en la belleza,
enseñanza nevada a la hermosura;
amago de la humana arquitectura,
ejemplo de la vana gentileza,
en cuyo sér unió naturaleza
la cuna alegre y triste sepultura:

¡  cuán altiva en tu pompa, presumida,
soberbia, el riesgo de morir desdeñas,
y luego desmayada y encogida

de tu caduco sér das mustias señas,
con que con docta muerte y necia vida,
viviendo engañas y muriendo enseñas!

Juana Inés de la Cruz.





In which she gives a rose a  moral censure,
and through her, to those she resembles.


Divine rose, in your gracious and tender blossom,
You are with your most fragrant subtleties,
Bestower of  enroyalled instructions on beauty
Pure as the snow, you teach of loveliness.


Likeness of human form and structure,
Exemplar of  all the vain gentility
Wherein nature is to be found uniting
Both the happy cradle and the lamented grave.


What loftiness there is in your presumption!
And prideful scorn at the mere hint of death’s suggestion.
Yet no sooner than you shrink back in consternation


Of that incipient state, with fainting and withered innuendo,
Of your erudite death and fatuous life, than you signal
You lived deceiving, but in your death enlighten!








Translation Dia Tsung.

Torquato Tasso (March 11 1544 – April 25 1595)



















Quel labbro, che le rose han colorito,



Molle si sporge e tumidetto in fuore,
Spinto per arte, mi cred’io, d’Amore,
A fare a i baci insidioso invito.
Amanti, alcun non sia cotanto ardito

Ch’osi appressarsi, ove tra fiore e fiore
S’asconde un angue ad attoscarvi il core,
E ‘l fiero intento io veggio, e ve l’addito.
Io, ch’ altre volte fui nelle amorose

Insidie colto, or ben lo riconosco,
E le discopro, o giovinetti, a voi;
Quasi pomi di Tantalo, le rose

Fansi all’incontro, e s’allontanan poi;s'asconde un angue
Sol resta Amor che spira fiamma e tosco.






Torquato Tasso

















These lips the roses have coloured,


Thrust out in swollen pout
Artfully polished, I do believe, by Love himself
To make insidious invitation to a kiss.
Lovers who dare approach, don’t be so bold –

There betwixt flower and flower, I see
Conceals itself a serpent, to sting the heart
And its audacious cruel intent points me
Towards another time, now passed when I in love
Encountered that cultured trap, I so well recognise,
And so to you too young folk, I point it out
As being as it were the apples of Tantalus
Fanning the flame at first sight, but further on,
All that remains of love expires in a conflagration.

Translation Dia Tsung.

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Juana Inés de la Cruz (November 12 1651 – April 17 1695)
















Only with acute and ingenious effort could the proposition

be verified  that absence could be a worse ill than jealousy.


Version 1


The absent one provokes her jealous lover
to indulge by turn in sentiment and rage
To here suspect her of unseen offenses
And disregard the evidence of the senses.

Here furious madness finds its moderation
Discoursing even as delirium raves
And when she with ceaseless sighing is afflicted
No earthly force this sorrow can assuage.





Unquiet doubts whereby patience is resisted
Offer weak opposition to these woes
And agonies by which sleep is disrupted.

Disconsolate, then you here repine without her,
And in the final damage her absence on you imposes
Is much finer torment than jealousy could devise.





Juana Inés de la Cruz.

Translation Dia Tsung



Version 2


By her absence is one’s jealousy provoked
There to sentiment, and here to helpless rage
Here it presumes hidden and unseen offenses
And relives the reality of distant senses

Though perhaps one’s furious madness can be tempered
When its delirium is moderated by discourse
And without relief sigh the unrelenting sighs
That puissant sorrow nothing can oppose




Here by doubts is patience oft afflicted
There by certain pain it will arouse
Here to you grief offers its sole resistance.

And without her, inconsolable and bearing
In the end the damage wrought by absence
Will  be eclipsed by  the torment caused by jealousy.





Juana Inés de la Cruz.

Translation Dia Tsung.








El ausente, el celoso, se provoca,
aquél con sentimiento, éste con ira;
presume éste la ofensa que no mira,
y siente aquél la realidad que toca.

Éste templa, tal vez, su furia loca,
cuando el discurso en su favor delira,
y sin intermisión aquél suspira
pues nada a su dolor la fuerza apoca



Éste aflige dudoso su paciencia,
y aquél padece ciertos sus desvelos:
éste al dolor opone resistencia,

aquél, sin ella, sufre desconsuelos;
y si es pena de daño, al fin, la ausencia,
luego es mayor tormento que los celos.





Juana Inés de la Cruz.








Translating the work of a genuine poet such as  Juana Inés Asbaje is always a tremendous challenge, because of the  tightly wrought perfection of her work. Her intense play of words and ideas, and the games of disputation and logic which find their way into her poems  can at times make  the translator’s job very nearly impossible.

I chose this poem because I could not find an English translation of it anywhere, and I loved it so much that I couldn’t resist the fool-hardy temptation to attempt take a stab at it.  Even after working on two different versions I still am not entirely convinced I have done a creditable job.

I took one revisionist liberty here, in the manner of the pronouns, which the original Spanish with its gendered nouns permits me to do. I know that with this poem of  Juana Inés, both Muse and poet are female, so that, to my mind made both the jealous one and the absent one female as well. Therefore I saw no need for engaging in the practice of pronoun dissimulation which many lesbians in the past have been forced to adopt.

Juana Inés  sometimes treats playful subjects seriously, and serious subjects playfully, but one thing is always true of her poems – form and substance are both brilliantly in evidence.

Since the late ’50’s a kind of rot began to find its way into the manner in which poetry was read and written and appreciated. A kind of empty technicality came to be admired and exemplified, and a certain heartlessness as well.

The ego of the poet came to take centre stage but in a way that was indirect and  horrible to contemplate. One of the greatest anti-poets of the last century, Sylvia Plath, was a masterful exponent of this genre.  While there are few personal pronouns in her poems, the Huge ‘I’ hovers over the hopeless grandeur of bleak  and ugly landscapes  of her poems.  I sometimes wonder if her suicidal impulses  were not the result of a lifetime given to offending the Muse.

While I am obviously not an admirer of Plath – I can see the essence of her poetic predicament. Heterosexual women do not have either a natural or a genuine Muse. The male muse is poetic distortion, and very few poets are able benefit from his inspiration. If they do, they are usually homosexual males like  Jacques Prévert and  Constantine Cavafy, or  poor Gerard Manley Hopkins with his clattering rhythms and his crucified saviour – the Muse’s midsummer sacrifice.

Even the male muse of St.John of the Cross has his origins in the old Caananite songs of the sacred marriage, so ancient and well established that the Hebrew compilers of the old testament could not bring themselves to exclude  even such a purely humanistic chapter of their cultural history.

True and genuine poets are exponents of an ancient art. Their work can stand up to the most rigorous scrutiny and withstand the abrasive inquiry of the touchstone, and the corrosive kiss of Acqua regia.  While meaning may be encoded – even hidden – in their poems, diligent effort can extract it whole. The sense in a true poem is unassailable, and  it contains no false logic, no lies, or mistakes of language. The etymology of all words found in true poems is apt and apposite, and  as for its emotional content, the presence of the Muse will always be felt.

Even a poem of the intellect – which has Apollo as its patron finds Juana Inés paying tribute to the Muse by stating clearly one or another of the themes which are part of the poetic cycle. Absence – when the Muse leaves the poet in order to perform her sinister offices, and the jealously which comes in its wake  – is a genuine poetic theme.

Juana Inés is free of all the detriments and defects of false poets. Her poetic technique is impeccable, and her  brilliant intellect is always placed exactly where it belongs, at the feet, and in the service of her Muse. She is a rarity; and someone like her comes along only about once in a thousand years.

When she bends her constellation of poetic talents towards elucidating a philosophical proposition, she does so not in the dry and emotionless way of a logical proof, but with images and words and phrases which show a deep insight into matters of the heart, and of its secret ways.

Her logic here in which she weighs jealousy and absence in the balance and  concludes that absence is worse, is enormously convincing. It is better, she seems to say, to endure the pangs of jealousy – to see it for what it is  – a fabrication of the mind when the heart is troubled, rather than risk a total estrangement, when,  with the beloved’s  absence, the poet’s  heart mind and senses are painfully separated from their chosen object.

Absence then, is  hererin asserted to be the more onerous of the two evils, and the more difficult to endure.




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I think that the wind, sweeping its way amongst the singers, makes for an uncanny presence – infiltrating the performance like a supernatural being who demands to be acknowledged, insistent on being included. It seems to want to touch the singers, and brush itself up boldly against them, to enter the moment and add to the gestalt its own breath and voice.

It seems as if the Mistral wished to re-enact its own drama as it was wont to do when in the past it moved through sacred groves of ancient trees.

It is beautiful to watch Caballé’s expression of serene dignity at the end – as she stands, so still and majestic, choosing to not sever her spiritual link with Norma,  remaining calmly in her priestly persona, retaining her magic for some moments more.

Then her eyes glint gently –  she has been singing against the cold northern wind – and sustained an interminable note which seems to have emerged from deep within her soul – and she seems to be awakening from a trance, having been caught up in another place and another time, until the cheers of the audience compel her unwillingly back into the present.

What a presence – what a voice!  Heavenly – chillingly pure – yet warm and embracing.  Brava – bravissima –  Caballé!





This was a comment left on Youtube by Willym.


“I was there that evening and even 37 years later it stays in my mind as one of the greatest evenings I’ve ever spent at the Opera. The performance was delayed in the hopes that the Mistral would abate – when it was obvious it wouldn’t the orchestra clothes pegged their score to their stands and battling the non-ending wind Caballe, Vickers and Veasey gave what was to be in many ways the performance of a lifetime. I knew it had been filmed that night – thank god!”








Casta Diva.


Casta diva, che inargenti

queste sacre antiche piante

Al noi volgi in bel sembiante

senza nube e senza vel!

Tempra o diva

Tempra tu de’cori argenti

tempra ancora zelo audace,

spargi in terra quella pace

che regnar tu fai in ciel.













O chaste Goddess, who silvers

These sacred ancient trees,

Turn your lovely countenance

Unclouded and unveiled…

Temper O Goddess

The ardent hearts

The audacious zeal

Disperse on the earth the peace

That you make reign in heaven.
















This is the rest of the aria – not sung here.



Fine al rito: e il sacro bosco

Sia disgombor dai profani.

Quando il Nume irato e fosco,

Chiegga il sangue dei Romani

Dal Druidico delubro

La mia voce tuonerà.

Cadrà; punirlo, il cor non sa.

(Ma puirlo, il cor no sa do so

Ah! bello a me ritorna

Del fido amor primiero;

E contro il mondo intiero….

Difesa a te sarò.

Ah! bello a me ritorna

Del raggio tuo sereno;

E vita nel tuo seno,

E patria e cielo avrò.

Ah, riedi ancora qual eri allora,

Ah riedi a me.)







Complete the rite

And in the sacred grove

Remover of obstructions of the profane

When the angry and menacing god

Demands the blood of the Romans

From the Druid temple

My voice will thunder

He will fall, I will punish him, I can do it.

(But punish him my heart can not

Ah return to me beautiful one

In faith of your first love

And against the entire world

I will be your defender.

Ah, beautiful one, return to me

In your serene ray

And with life within your breast

And I will have both homeland and heaven.

Ah return as you were then

When I then gave you my heart

Ah, return to me.)


Translation Dia Tsung.







To a Lady as She Was Singing














The uncanny voice and clearest of accents
from that sweet throat  issuing forth, dispatched
with its lovliest influence on the hearing
what could well suspend whatsoever torment.

Furthermore, again in its accident I feel
another mystery I don’t well understand –
when as the  greatest glory is sensed and felt
a feeling comes which gives a cause for pain.

These contrary effects, by the same song engendered
leaves one in the suspension of that alienation
where madness is sane, and reason is made crazy.

And again by a miracle. O renewed enchantment,
when the voice reaches its very height of sweetness
the soul once more is touched in echoing  grief. 



Juan de Tasis, Conde de  Villamediana.

Translation Dia Tsung.






 A Una Señora que Cantaba.

Mable Batten, ('Ladye') 'Mistress' of Radcliffe Hall, in a Portrait by John Singer Sargent.






















La peregrina voz y el claro acento
por la dulce garganta despedido,
con el suave efecto del oído
bien pueden suspender cualquier tormento.

Mas el nuevo accidente que yo siento
otro misterio tiene no entendido
pues es en la mayor gloria del sentido,
halla causa de pena el sentimiento.

Efectos varios, porque el mismo canto
deja en la suspensión con que enajena
cuerdo el enloquecer, la razón loca.

Y por nuevo milagro o nuevo encanto,
cuando la voz más dulcemente suena,
con ecos de dolor el alma toca.




Juan de Tasis, Conde de  Villamediana

(Winter of 1582 – August 21 1622)

In lieu of a likeness of the Conde de Villamediana, this portrait of a young man.

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In lieu of an image of Propertius – for none appears to exist – this lovely butterfly Erynnis Propertius  stands in.














Propertius Book III. 25: 1-18

Risus eram positis inter convivia mensis,
et de me poterat quilibet esse loquax.
quinque tibi potui servire fideliter annos:
ungue meam morso saepe querere fidem.
nil moveor lacrimis: ista sum captus ab arte;
semper ab insidiis, Cynthia, flere soles.
flebo ego discedens, sed fletum iniuria vincit:
tu bene conveniens non sinis ire iugum.
limina iam nostris valeant lacrimantia verbis,
nec tamen irata ianua fracta manu.
at te celatis aetas gravis urgeat annis,
et veniat formae ruga sinistra tuae!
vellere tum cupias albos a stirpe capillos,
iam speculo rugas increpitante tibi,
exclusa inque vicem fastus patiare superbos,
et quae fecisti facta queraris anus!
has tibi fatalis cecinit mea pagina diras:
eventum formae disce timere tuae!




Sextus Aurelius Propertius, circa 50-45 b.c to circa 15 b.c)






When they deride me among themselves at the banquet table,
Where the vilest of them gossip, bandying my name about.
You’ll recall those five devoted years of my faithful service,
And chewing your nails, often regret my loss.
Your tears won’t move me, for tears it was ensnared me,
Cynthia – you who never weep but to deceive.
I’ll weep as I depart, though injury exceeds mere grieving,
For the yoke you placed upon my back was never easy.
Farewell threshold, still lamenting my resolution,
The door which suffered no battering at my hand in anger – goodbye as well.
May age bear down on you with all the years you’ve been concealing,
And cruel lines overtake your former loveliness.
May you then wrench your grey hairs by their roots,
And the mirror boldly mock your many wrinkles.
May you in your turn suffer rejection from the haughty,
And when you’re turned to an old woman, may you regret your deeds!
With these dark imprecations my poem will mark you,
And teach you to dread the power your beauty had to wield






Version derived by Dia Tsung from various English translations
























Menos veces te baten las cerradas
ventanas ya mancebos porfiados,
ni te rompen el sueño , y desvelados
no traen así alteradas

tus vecinas; y tú, que los umbrales
solícita y los quicios fatigabas,
menos ya, menos oyes las aldabas,

duermes, Liscica, o lloras envidiosa,
la memoria ocupando en las porfías
luengas de los rivales que traías
en guerra peligrosa.

Y vieja, y sola ya, cuando la luna
descrece más o el cefiro más crece,
cuando te enciende Venus y enfurece,
acusas importuna

los mozos, que desprecian con enfado
rosas que desmayó una tarde fría,
y de las que hoy apenas abrió el día
se coronan de grado.




Francesco de Medrano (1570?-1607?) Was a former Jesuit, who died at the age of 37, and whose poems were published posthumously.












Less frequent now the rapping on your shuttered
windows by the insistence of importunate swains:
Neither is your sleep disrupted, nor you made wakeful
by their vexations thus conveyed


to your neighbours and you, by those whom your threshold
tirelessly accosted, wearing out the hinges on your door.
Now wait listening for the knocks that come less and less often
and with nocturnal senses

sleep, Liscisia, or cry with regret
at the memory of nights filled with the insistent
brawls of rivals whom you compelled
to perilous conflict.


And you already a solitary old woman when the moon wanes
more, or the winds of spring grow stronger,
when Venus inflames  and infuriates you,
they will provoke your ire,

when the lads maddeningly disdain
the roses made faint by evening’s chill,
and then proceed to crown themselves to high degree
with those that scarcely opened in the day.






Translation Dia Tsung.





I always  feel a little stab of happiness when my mind rummages into its trunk of forgotten treasures and unexpectedly presents to me the disparate things it has managed to  find and cobble together by its own devices.

Many years ago I had idly scribbled my version of Propertius 3.25, from line 9 onwards, and stuck it in an old folder.  Since then I had given away my copy of Propertius, and I had forgotten about the poem.

Sometime this week I was reading some Spanish poetry when I came across a poem by Francisco Medrano which sounded strangely familiar.

Of course when the connection  came to me, I had to go in search of a lost scrap of paper.  When after much rummaging I was able to track it down,  I discovered that I had made no reference notes to help me find down the original poem! Nor did it help that I had not written the first eight lines.

I found the original poem after many hours spent searching the internet, and I was finally able to put the two poems together, and the two translations together and this is the result.

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Juana Inés de la Cruz












So then, un-maker of all my dear illusions,
now you have arrived here at the very last !
and since you are here in your own person,
I know for certain that the end has come to pass.

... un-maker of all my dear illusions,













You have compelled my loss of my everything,
and that is not all either – I now believe
the price I paid  for receiving this advisement
could even be considered somewhat cheap.

You have compelled my loss of everything...
















No longer now will you go envying love –
those flattering and beguiling joys no longer yours
this being a rigorous lesson in disabusement
and the risk of further self-deceptions being slight.

No longer will you go envying love....















I can now give up all my watching and waiting,
and this serves me as a secure consolation:
I find it to be in addition an alleviation
to the need of having to seek remediation.

This serves me as a secure consolation...
















In this same way, and in this very loss
I have found here something of a palliation.
One finds  that when the treasure has been forfeit,
the fear of forfeiture is likewise lost.

in this very loss I have found here something of a palliation...













Having been left with nothing left to lose
I am now in a calmer situation:
the traveler finding herself already denuded
has no more fear of finding herself accosted.

Having been left with nothing left to lose













But neither does this self-same liberty
serve me as any reliable advantage
and it should soon prove to be a detriment
if I should take it for yet another acquisition.

But neither does this self-same liberty serve me as any reliable advantage...














I no longer need the need for carefulness,
and of assets which tend to be at best uncertain:
and I  am determined that even this soul’s disposition
be considered only as yet another dispossession.

I no longer need the need for carefulness,















Juana Inés de la Cruz (12 November  1648 – 17 April 1695)

Translation Dia Tsung.

Obras Postumas de Juana Inés Asbaje Ramírez Santillana












Consuelos Seguros En El Desengaño











Ya, desengaño mío,
llegasteis al extremo
que pudo en vuestro ser
verificar el serlo.

Todo los habéis perdido;
mas no todo, pues creo
que aun a costa es de todo
barato el escarmiento.

No envidiaréis de amor
los gustos lisonjeros:
que está un escarmentado
muy remoto del riesgo.

El no esperar alguno
me sirve de consuelo;
que también es alivio
el no buscar remedio.

En la pérdida misma
los alivios encuentro:
pues si perdi el tesoro,
también se perdió el miedo.

No tener qué perder
me sirve de sosiego;
que no teme ladrones,
desnudo, el pasajero.















Ni aun la libertad misma
tenerla por bien quiero:
que luego será daño
si por tal la poseo.

No quiero más cuidados
de bienes tan inciertos,
sino tener el alma

como que no la tengo

Juana Inés de la Cruz

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