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

Comtessa Beatriz 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 parapet 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"*

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

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

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) Dante Alighier, s'i' so bon begolardo; "Dante, if I'm head fool it's by a narrow margin"

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

Cecco Angiolieri (c.1260-1312) Quando Ner Picciolin tornò di Francia; "When Picciolini got back here from France."

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

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

Cecco Angiolieri Tutto quest'anno; "For this whole year I've managed to repress"

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" *

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 it grace." *— Madrigal

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

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

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"*

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."

*originally published in the Monadnock Review

translations © 1999, 2001 Leonard Cottrell. All rights reserved

Many of these translations are published in the Monadnock Review and 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.

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.

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."


On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
by John Keats

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.