Rymed Translations: the Restrung Bow

When it reappears, a long disused bow presents a challenge — to see how well one can bend and set string to it — and there is a story about this. These colloquial/metrical translations of European lyric (c. 1100-1900) are rhymed: I hope without sacrifice of naturalness or entertainment. Let me know what you think of them. My email address is leonard@planck.com.

Table of contents

Guilhem de Peitieu (1071-1127), Duke of Aquitaine Farai un vers, pos mi somelh; How the Count of Poitiers pretended to be mute

La Comtessa de Dia (born c. 1140) Estat ai; "Of late I've been in great distress."

Der von Kuerenberg (fl.c.1150) Ich zôch mir einen valken; "I trained myself a falcon."*

Der von Kuerenberg (fl.c.1150): Ich stuont mir nehtint spâte; "Standing on the castle wall last night."

Der von Kuerenberg: Der tunkel sterne; "The morning star slips under cover"

Der von Kuerenberg: Jô stuont ich nehtint spâte vor dînem bette; Raymond Oliver's translation "Although I stood last night at your bedside"

Dietmar von Eist (fl.c. 1160) Slâfest du friedel ziere?; "Did you fall asleep, my sweet?"* —Aubade

Heinrich von Morungen (c 1158-1222) Owê, sol aber mir; "I'd gaze forever if I might" —Aubade

UNRHYMED: Heinrich von Morungen (c.1158-1222) Ich hôrt ûf der heide

Kaiser Heinrich VI (1165-1197) Rîtest du nu hinnen; "Now fare you well and ride"*

Hartmann von Aue (c 1170 - c 1215) Manger grüezet mich alsô; Why the common women are better

Walther von der Vogelweide (c 1170-c 1230) In einem zwivellichen wan; "I thought I'd served her long enough"*

Walther von der Vogelweide: Under der linden, Raymond Oliver's translation, "Under the lime tree"

Guido Guinizelli (c.1240-1276) Volvol te levi; "A twister take you, rancorous old shrew."

Compiuta Donzella (born c. 1240) A la stagion che il mondo foglia e fiora; "In the time when the world leafs and flowers."*

Compiuta Donzella (born c. 1240) donzella2.htm; "I wish to lead a nun's life."*

Guido Cavalcanti (c.1255-1300) Bilta di donna, e di saccente core; "A quick perceptiveness, a woman's charm."*

Guido Cavalcanti (c.1255-1300), from Fresca rosa novella; "Fresh new rose"*

Cecco Angiolieri (c.1260-1312)Tutto quest'anno; "For this whole year I've managed to repress"

Cecco Angiolieri Tre cose solamente mi so' in grado; "Only three things interest me at all"

Cecco Angiolieri (c.1260-1312) Chi dice del suo padre; "Who merely dreams of scoffing at his dad."

Cecco Angiolieri Per sì gran somma; "My laugh's in hock for such a pile of change."

Cecco Angiolieri (c.1260-1312) La stremità mi richer; "Misery declares that I'm her son"

Cecco Angiolieri (c.1260-1312) S’i’ fosse foco, arderei ’l mondo; "If I were fire, I'd burn up the world."*

Cecco Angiolieri Quando Ner Picciolin tornò di Francia; "When Picciolini got back here from France."

Cecco Angiolieri (c.1260-1312) Dante Alighier, s'i' so bon begolardo; "Dante, if I'm head fool it's by a narrow margin"

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) Guido, vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io; "Guido, I wish that Lapo, you, and I"*, sonnet to Guido Cavalcanti

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) Io e' compagni eravam vecchi e tardi; "Though I and comrades now were old and slow"*, from Canto 26 of the Inferno

Petrarch (1304-1374) Erano i capei d'oro a l'aura sparsi; "She let her sunlit tresses fly" *

Villon (1431-c 1463) Je crie a toutes gens mercis; the "Excuse Me" ballade

Michelangelo (1475-1564) Negli anni molti e nelle molte pruove; "After trying many years"* — Madrigal

Michelangelo (1475-1564) Si come per levar; "My lady, only taking off the stone can give release." *— Madrigal

Michelangelo (1475-1564) michelangelo3.htm; "High in the mountains, by a deep ravine." *— Fragment

Michelangelo (1475-1564) michelangelo4.htm; "Every conception that a man can find." *— Sonnet

Michelangelo (1475-1564) michelangelo5.htm; "Great beauty spreads a fire storm." *— Madrigal

St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) Por toda la hermosura; "Not for a world of beauty" — based on a popular song by Pedro de Pedilla

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) Lector Amice Salve, "Greetings friendly reader" from Mysterium Cosmographicum 1621 edition.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Quotidie morior epigram from the Mysterium Cosmographicum, 1621 edition.

Antoine-Girard de Saint-Amant (1594-1661) Le Paresseux, Raymond Oliver's translation; The Sluggard

Mozart (1756-1791) and friends In diesen heil'gen Hallen; Sarastro's second aria in the Magic Flute.

Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827) A Zacinto, sonnet to his birthplace, written in exile

Giuseppe Belli (1791-1863) Cosa fa er Papa?, "What's the pope do? Drinks, and takes a nap"*

Giuseppe Belli (1791-1863) C'era una vorta un Re, "Once upon a time a king saw fit"*

Paul-Jean Toulet (1867-1920) from Coples, Raymond Oliver's translation

Rilke (1875-1926) Mohammeds Berufung; Mohammed's Summoning

Rilke (1875-1926) Buddha; Buddha

Rilke (1875-1926) Morgue; Morgue

Rainer Maria Rilke Die Parke V; The Gardens V. (Marble Gods)

Rilke (1875-1926) Falken-Beize; Falconry*

Rainer Maria Rilke Das jüngste Gericht; The Last Judgment

Rilke (1875-1926) Die Versuchung; The Temptation*

Rilke (1875-1926) Der Stylite; The Stylite*

Anna Akhmatova (1888-1966) from the Requiem; Lyn Coffin's translation, "This happened when only the dead wore smiles."

Anna Akhmatova (1888-1966) July 1921 sonnet A ti doomal, "You thought I was the kind"

*originally published in the Monadnock Review

translations © 1999, 2001 Leonard Cottrell. All rights reserved

Many of these translations were originally published in the Monadnock Review or in the Patchword Anthology. Most have benefited from the expert verse-translator's advice of Raymond Oliver as well as from the editorial acumen of Peter Saint-André of the Review. Gwyneth Box, the editor of Patchword, makes rhymed verse translations as well as publishing them — her interest and support have been an encouragement to me. I am grateful for Anne Barrows' insightful comments on several of these during revision.

There is an interesting recently-published collection of rhymed (and unrhymed) translations of world poetry into German by the Austrian poet Raoul Schrott.

Raoul Schrott
Die Erfindung der Poesie: Gedichte aus den ersten viertausend Jahren
Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. 1999.
[The Invention of Poetry: Poems from the first four thousand years.]

There is a great anthology of poetry on the web called Millennium, a thousand years of Romance poetry. The site is run by Roberto Ferreira of São Paulo, and has some of the finest verse in five languages starting with Guilhem de Peitieu (William IX Duke of Aquitaine.)

What poems about verse translation do you know?

For me the most poignant is by Richard Wilbur—to the Etruscan poets—and it is really about translation's absence: the death of a language and the loss of the poems in it. And then there is Keats' sonnet about Chapman's translation of Homer—Google finds it if you search under "Keats Chapman."

Richard Wilbur's poem © 1975, is from New and Collected Poems (which has some of the best rhymed-metrical translation ever made in English, in my judgment) and is quoted in a review by Eric Eldred of another book at the University of Pennsylvania's digital library. Pace Wilbur, consider this too a review.

"To the Etruscan Poets"

"Dream fluently, still brothers, who when young
Took with your mother's milk the mother tongue,

"In which pure matrix, joining world and mind,
You strove to leave some line of verse behind

"Like a fresh track across a field of snow,
Not reckoning that all could melt and go."