Tuesday, July 19, 2016

José-Maria de Heredia – 9 Antoine et Cléopâtre

The last of the three-sonnet set bears the names of the principal actors in its title, but in the body of the poem they are not named. He is “the Roman”, she is merely “she”.

The setting is Alexandria, although not named, the atmosphere oppressive, ‘black’ now describes the Delta, and the River’s waves are – well, ‘broad’ is the most likely word, but the other two possibilities add to the heaviness of the atmosphere. Indeed, heaviness is a constant. The Roman wears a heavy breastplate; the child-woman seems to find her own body too heavy to hold up. She languishes, fainting -
ployer et défaillir – so that he has to bend over her to respond to the invitation of the mouth she offers.

This scene is set before the Battle of Actium, but how long before? If it is not long after the Parthian campaign, perhaps when Antony is all dressed up for his triumph, then the vision in Cleopatra’s eyes represents another irony because Antony has not comprehended it, as history demonstrates. If it is just before he sets off to do battle with Octavian, then it is equivalent to the enlightenment which comes too late to Macbeth. (Either way, unless ironically given, Imperator is no title for such a fool!)

Also to be noticed are the “invincibles parfums” with which Cleopatra has deprived Antony of his wits (enivraient), and the reduction of so much gold in Le Cydnus to the “points d’or” in her eyes, and of herself from a great bird of prey to a child rocked in Antony’s embrace.

The final line is so impressive that the sonnet’s popularity may be ascribed to it. Yet it is an illusion wrought by
José-Maria de Heredia, as did Shakespeare in his play, the culmination of a three-act drama of seeing without perceiving. With a fine flourish of wand, hat and cloak the poet dazzles his reader as effectively as ever Cleopatra bewitched Antony!

Below are the original sonnet, my prose translation, my verse translation, and one by Edward R. Taylor.

Antoine et Cléopâtre

Tous deux ils regardaient, de la haute terrasse,
L'Égypte s'endormir sous un ciel étouffant
Et le Fleuve, à travers le Delta noir qu'il fend,
Vers Bubaste ou Saïs rouler son onde grasse.

Et le Romain sentait sous la lourde cuirasse,
Soldat captif berçant le sommeil d'un enfant,
Ployer et défaillir sur son coeur triomphant
Le corps voluptueux que son étreinte embrasse.

Tournant sa tête pâle entre ses cheveux bruns
Vers celui qu'enivraient d'invincibles parfums,
Elle tendit sa bouche et ses prunelles claires;

Et sur elle courbé, l'ardent Imperator
Vit dans ses larges yeux étoilés de points d'or
Toute une mer immense où fuyaient des galères.

Prose translation (literal):

Together they looked on, from the high terrace, as Egypt slept under a stifling sky, and the River, traversing the black Delta which it divides, towards Bubastis or Saïs rolled its thick/ oily/ broad waves.
And the Roman felt below his heavy cuirass, captive soldier lulling a child’s sleep, lying and fainting on his triumphant heart the voluptuous body his embrace strained [to him].
Turning her pale head/ face amid her brown, dark hair towards him who was drunk on irresistible perfumes, she offered her lips and her clear eyes.
And over her bent, the ardent Imperator saw in her large eyes starred with points of gold all of an immense sea in which galleys were fleeing.

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (©2016 by Ruth Heredia)

Entwined together they gazed, from a terrace up high,
On Egypt lying torpid beneath a stifling sky;
And River - broad waves rolling to Saïs or Bubaste
On the black Delta divided by them as they passed.

A soldier cradling a child's sleep, captive of her art,
Her voluptuous body strained close in his embrace,
Pliant it was and swooning, on his exultant heart,
Beneath his heavy breastplate the Roman felt it press.

Pale amidst dark tresses, her face to him she raised,
Her mouth to him she offered, as her clear eyes gazed
On him, inebriated by her bewitching scent.

Commander-in-chief, love-maddened, over her he bent,
And saw in those wide eyes, starred with points of light
A vast seascape unfolded, and galleys all in flight.

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (Tr. by Edward R. Taylor, 1906)

On Egypt sleeping under stifling sky
From lofty terrace gazed the wistful twain,
And watched the Flood that cleaves the Delta's plain
Toward Sais or Bubastis onward ply.

'Neath his cuirass the Roman's heart beat high,
A captive soldier soothing infant's pain,
As her voluptuous form was fondly fain
Within his arms in yielding swoon to lie.

Turning her pale face mid its locks of brown
Toward him whose reason perfumes had struck down,
She raised her mouth and luring, lustrous eye;

And o'er her bent, the chieftain did behold
In her great orbs, starry with dots of gold,
Only unbounded seas where galleys fly.

"True poetry," said M. de Heredia in his discourse on entering the Academy, "dwells in nature and in humanity, which are eternal, and not in the heart of the creature of a day, however great." [Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th edition]

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Monday, July 18, 2016

José-Maria de Heredia – 8 Soir de Bataille

In 36 B.C. Mark Antony set off with a grande armée, to overthrow Phraates IV of Parthia. He had some initial success – such as this unidentified encounter, at the end of which the Parthian ruler and his mounted archers left the field, tempting Antony further in. Meanwhile his supply train with a huge battering ram had to move slower, guarded by two legions. They were attacked, the supplies destroyed, and 10,000 men taken captive. The campaign was a very costly disaster, Antony’s first military failure. Back he went to Egypt with the remnant of his army, for reinforcements. He led these against the Armenian ruler, his erstwhile ally, who had melted away from the scene with all his troops as soon as he saw the disaster that lay in wait for Antony. It was no great matter to overcome the deserter, after which Antony awarded himself a (necessarily imitation) triumph in Alexandria, with impious additions including Cleopatra and her three children by Antony. This was a serious insult to sober, righteous Romans.

None of this is mentioned in the sonnet, Soir de Bataille, but it is useful to keep it in mind, for the poet surely knew it, if one is to savour to the full some otherwise unexpected details: an adjective, a statement, and the rather odd emphasis on how Antony appears to his surviving troops. (José-Maria de Heredia was a well-read man, even a learned one, yet he wrote “Phraortes” instead of “Phraates” though the two were quite separate rulers, almost six centuries apart. Either he made a mistake or he preferred to use a name with the two syllables he required – as pronounced in French, and trusted to the ignorance of readers in general.)

Le choc avait été très rude. Les tribuns
Et les centurions, ralliant les cohortes,
Humaient encor dans l'air où vibraient leurs voix fortes
La chaleur du carnage et ses âcres parfums.

A short sharp shock of a statement, not filling the line, and in the Past Pluperfect. The rest of the quatrain is a description of the field in the aftermath of battle, using “
parfums” for the “âcres” (acrid) smells of carnage.

D'un oeil morne, comptant leurs compagnons défunts,
Les soldats regardaient, comme des feuilles mortes,
Au loin, tourbillonner les archers de Phraortes;
Et la sueur coulait de leurs visages bruns.

With “mournful eyes”, the survivors count up the dead. Is this a field of defeat? To whom does the next phrase apply, separated by commas and not by a semicolon: “like dead leaves”? It seems appropriate to the fallen comrades, but no, it applies to the Parthian archers already some distance away yet still ‘turbulent’ - “tourbillonner” (to whirl about), and perhaps that, along with the heat, makes sweat run down the Roman soldiers’ faces.

Now for something interesting which may have been in the poet’s mind. Parthian archers were famous for a deadly tactic. At full gallop, in retreat, they could turn about and shoot accurately. They were accustomed to using this tactic in a pretended retreat to demoralise the enemy. Turbulent archers, truly!

The whole is rather an ominous description, and Antony is not yet apparent.

C'est alors qu'apparut, tout hérissé de flèches,
Rouge du flux vermeil de ses blessures fraîches,
Sous la pourpre flottante et l'airain rutilant,

The first tercet brings on Antony – unnamed. Later he will be referred to as ‘Imperator’. This is a title with an ironic undertone in the sonnet because, blind again (by implication), he does not seem to doubt his actions, while the poet is at pains to undermine the effect of flying purple cloak and gleaming armour by stating that he is spiked all over with arrows, blood from his fresh wounds still flowing.

Au fracas des buccins qui sonnaient leur fanfare,
Superbe, maîtrisant son cheval qui s'effare,
Sur le ciel enflammé, l'Imperator sanglant.

Subtle irony is present again in the final tercet, for trumpets may bray and Antony may master his frightened horse, he may even look about him with the arrogance and pride of a victor (“Superbe” – the French retains some of the full meaning of the Latin “superbus” which in English is largely lost), but the sky behind him is flaming and he himself is covered in his own blood. Hardly a good omen. Under the Republic, a general victorious in the field might be acclaimed “Imperator” by his troops. If it was a significant victory, that acclamation entitled him to apply to the Senate for a triumph. If the Senate agreed, he could retain the title until the end of the triumph, after which he must relinquish it with his command, his “imperium”. Here the troops look on with mournful eyes, especially when they watch those turbulent archers ride away. Only an Antonius Superbus could presume to regard himself an Imperator, yet he did, as we know from his unauthorised triumph. Was the poet being ironic here? Very likely. The use he makes of the title once again, in the final sonnet, in which Antony is not named, is distinctly ambiguous.

In my verse translation I have not used ‘Imperator’, a word not easily retained if I was to achieve any sort of regularity in the rhythm while losing not a single detail in the original. But I had one delicious moment of justified self-indulgence. The noun “rout” is now generally taken to be a disorderly retreat but it first entered English from Old French (itself derived from the Latin) in the early 13th century, and then it meant,
 among other things, “a group, or a company of soldiers”. Traces of that archaic meaning survived in the use of the word for a large and formal evening party (where rout-cakes would be served). My use carries both meanings, the common and the archaic, leaving open the possibility of a far from disorderly, indeed a cunning tactical retreat. And that in no way goes against the meaning of Heredia’s sonnet.

Below are the prose translation, mine in verse, and one by Edward R. Taylor.

Prose translation (literal):

The clash had been very brutal. The tribunes And the centurions, were rallying their cohorts, Breathing still in air which was vibrating to their loud voices The heat of carnage and its acrid scents.
With a mournful eye, counting their dead companions, The soldiers were looking on, as like dead leaves, Far off, whirl the archers of Phraortes; And sweat was running down their brown/ tanned faces.
It was then that appeared, bristling/ stuck all over with arrows, Red with crimson efflux from his fresh wounds, Beneath the flying purple and the glowing brass,
Amid the riot/ uproar of [
military] trumpets sounding their fanfare/ calls, Superb, mastering his frightened horse, Against the sky inflamed, the bloodied Imperator.

(©2016 by Ruth Heredia)

The clash was stark. Centurions, tribunes proud,
Rally their cohorts, those still drawing breath
In air vibrating with their voices loud,
Hot with carnage and acrid scents of death.

With mournful eyes the soldiers look about,
Count dead comrades, see in Phraortes’ rout
Archers, like distant dead leaves, go whirling;
And down their tanned faces sweat is pouring.

Then he appeared, whom many arrows pierce,
Red with the blood from fresh wounds still flowing,
‘Neath the flying purple and brass glowing,

Amid uproar of trumpets braying fierce,
Prideful, superb, on frightened steed mastered,
Backed by flaming sky, the Chief blood-boltered.

(Tr. by Edward R. Taylor, 1906)

Severe the battle's shock: Centurions
And tribunes, rallying their men, once more
Inhale from air that trembles with their roar
The scents and ardors of red slaughter's sons.

With gloomy eyes, computing their lost ones,
The soldiers see Phraortes' archer corps 

Whirl like dead leaves afar, and quickly o'er
Their tawny cheeks the sweat all streaming runs.

And then appeared, with arrows bristling round,
Red from vermilion stream of many a wound,
'Neath floating purple and the brass's glare,

To sound of trumpet's flourish, grand of mien,
Quelling his plunging horse, and bathed in sheen
Of fiery sky, the Imperator there.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

José-Maria de Heredia – 7 Le Cydnus

No matter how technically perfect, how polished they may be, 118 sonnets all by the rule can seem monotonous. It was because of George Steiner in 1968 that I happened on José-Maria de Heredia. In an interview published by Le Figaro in May 2012, Steiner was so dismissive of Heredia that he described him as a Symboliste, although the poet belonged to the movement called Parnassien, out of which grew the Symbolistes: “My father presented me a volume of the Trophées of José-Maria de Heredia, a somewhat pompous Symbolist.” [My translation of his words in French.]

The last two sonnets in this series hardly do justice to the best of the poet. Three of these I have saved for the last. The Encyclopaedia Britannica commends Heredia’s sonnets: “These poems capture in verse a fugitive moment of history (usually classical or Renaissance) ... in one startling image ... [he] caps the beauty of each poem with a final couplet or line of especially haunting effect.” If one has reservations about such a conceit as the snapping shut of a gold-ribbed crimson fan in Soleil Couchant, if one finds some of the imagery there precious, there can be little reservation about the exuberance of Floridum Mare. Even better are the set of three sonnets with which this series winds up.

In the section Rome and the Barbarians is a close-knit set of three sonnets under the title Antony and Cleopatra, which build up to the final line of the third – and that has the same title. The full force of that final couplet can only be felt if all three sonnets are read in sequence, yet it is the third sonnet that is best known, from frequent inclusion in anthologies. The Penguin Book of French Verse Volume 3 includes it on its own.

There were many high-ranked Romans who had some lady of Eastern origin for bed-mate, their association quite public, but the Romans did not marry these companions. This is precisely why the affairs of Julius Caesar and of Mark Antony with Cleopatra were such a cause for scandal. Egypt was a very important protectorate during the Roman Republic, and afterwards a province of the Empire. It was also an old civilisation, older far than Rome. True, it lay near enough, merely to the south of the Middle Sea on whose northern shores were the once mighty Greece and the presently mighty Rome. But Egypt was dark of skin, burned by the sun, with strange gods, strange customs (the ruler marrying his sister), and a habit of ensnaring the northern conqueror. Look at what it did to Alexander. His successor in this part of his very short-lived empire was the Greek general Ptolemy Lagides, and what happened to him? He turned Egyptian. His half-breed descendants were as uncanny as any true-born Egyptian. That is how Romans not ensorcelled by an Egyptian regarded the matter.

Julius Caesar never became supreme ruler in Rome, and was killed before he could make good his promise of crowning Cleopatra his queen and naming their son his heir. Mark Antony had both the desire and the ability to achieve all this – in theory. When his Roman physical strength and military discipline came up against the wiles of Cleopatra, the result was predictable. But how differently it can be presented in verse or drama or a combination of both. With great skill, Heredia presents it, with many dramatic effects, as a conflict of ambitions rather than just a story of l’amour
à la folie.

The first sonnet in the set has Cleopatra at the centre, in the second it is Antony; the third brings them together for the tragic climax. The first is Act One of a drama familiar to Classical Greece and Rome, the combat of Mars and Venus. At the outset, Venus is in the ascendant. In Act Two, it is Mars who is victorious. In Act Three, they play out their mutual destruction, for these are not two Immortals, merely pictured as such. They must pay the price for their choices.

All three sonnets are vividly pictorial. One could name artists to paint the scenes described. They are sensuous in other ways, too, evoking the smell, the sound, the tactile sense and the atmosphere appropriate to each setting. The unity of the set is further strengthened by Heredia’s use of language – he was known for his use of alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia – and by the tension resulting from deliberate ambiguities of syntax that draw attention to the theme of ‘seeing’ and ‘failing to see’.

To appreciate Le Cydnus fully one should be familiar with the passage from Plutarch which supplied Shakespeare with one of his famous speeches. Heredia sharpens the picture with added detail. Plutarch wrote that such reports came to Tarsus of Cleopatra’s progress up the river Cydnus, that the citizenry left Antony seated on the tribunal in the marketplace and rushed to the riverbank to witness the Egyptian queen’s arrival. It should be kept in mind when reading the only mention of Antony – unnamed – in this sonnet. Cleopatra’s vessel had a gilded stern and silver oars. Its sails were purple and the canopy that sheltered her from the sun was cloth of gold. She was robed as Venus, and on either side of her, were boys dressed as Cupid.

Le Cydnus has many words suggesting glory, victory, splendour, and other sets of words that imply trapping, especially by seduction, and the dark consequences.

Sous l'azur triomphal, au soleil qui flamboie,
La trirème d'argent blanchit le fleuve noir
Et son sillage y laisse un parfum d'encensoir
Avec des sons de flûte et des frissons de soie.

The transferred epithet “triomphal” and “flamboie” used with the sun are suggestive of the intention of Cleopatra and of the impression she makes. The silver trireme’s reflection in the river (ominously black) whitens the water – deceptively? Its wake disperses perfumes (a recurring word in all three sonnets) like incense from a censer. This can be taken literally and innocently. Yet the words “encens – encensoir” have another meaning, which is flattery. This whole show put on by the Egyptian queen is to seduce the Roman general. The rustle of silk and the sound of flutes are partly incidental, partly may suggest the hissing of the Serpent of the Nile, as outraged Romans styled her.

À la proue éclatante où l'épervier s'éploie,
Hors de son dais royal se penchant pour mieux voir,
Cléopâtre debout en la splendeur du soir
Semble un grand oiseau d'or qui guette au loin sa proie.

The sparrow-hawk on the prow has two meanings. One implies that an image of Horus, the royal symbol of the Hawk, Cleopatra being Pharaoh, has been set there. It also begins imagery ruling this quatrain, of Cleopatra like a great golden bird leaning eagerly forward to seek her prey. (It is ironical that Rome’s symbol was that king of birds, the eagle – but was that ever in the poet’s mind?)

Voici Tarse, où l'attend le guerrier désarmé;
Et la brune Lagide ouvre dans l'air charmé
Ses bras d'ambre où la pourpre a mis des reflets roses.

The first tercet opens with a brief, abrupt statement like a stage direction. What does the rest of the sentence imply? Has the warrior laid aside his arms, or has he succumbed already to the Lagide’s charms? (Cleopatra’s ancestor, Ptolemy, was a by-blow given the name of his alleged father, as Lagos or Lagides.)

Et ses yeux n'ont pas vu, présage de son sort,
Auprès d'elle, effeuillant sur l'eau sombre des roses,
Les deux enfants divins, le Désir et la Mort.

The final tercet opens with “And ... eyes have not seen, omen of ... destiny.” In English it would be plain, in French the statement is ambiguous because the possessive agrees in gender with the possessed, not with the possessor. Who does not see? Since the children dressed as Cupids are on either side of her and Antony is facing Cleopatra, it makes more sense that he is the one who fails to see. It fits into a pattern running through the set, of what Antony should see and what he finally does see.

In this closing tercet there are more ill-omens. Once more the river is dark – “sombre” is the word. Why are the Cupid-children tearing off petals from the roses to scatter them? “Efeuiller” is not really “to defoliate”; it is to pull the petals off. One would expect baskets of rose petals to be provided. Tearing off petals carries a hint of destruction. (In the next sonnet there will be dead leaves whirling.) It is unsettling enough. And then to conclude with the omens that Antony fails to see in the Cupids: Desire and Death!

Below are a prose translation, my verse translation and one by Edward Taylor. Another, by Eli Siegel, can be found here:

Prose translation (literal):

Under the triumphal* blue, with sun blazing, The silver trireme whitens the black river And its wake leaves a perfume as from a censer With sounds of flute and shivers of silk.
* transferred epithet.
At the prow brilliant* where the sparrow-hawk bends/ stoops, Out of her royal dais leaning to see better, Cleopatra standing in the splendour of evening Seems like a great bird of gold that looks out for its prey.
* could be a transferred epithet, but the prow was gilded, according to Plutarch.
Here is Tarsus, where awaits the disarmed warrior, And the brown/ dusky Lagide opens in the charmed air Her amber arms on which the purple has placed rosy reflections.
And his eyes have not seen, omen of his destiny, Beside her, tearing off their petals
[from roses] and scattering them on the dark water, The two divine children, Desire and Death.

THE CYDNUS (©2016 by Ruth Heredia)

In blue triumphal sky the sun’s ablaze,
Silver trireme’s sheen turns black waves to milk
Its wash disperses scents like incense haze
With soft sound of flute and shiver of silk.

On dazzling prow a sparrow hawk perches;
In eve’s splendour, for better view leaning
From royal dais, Cleopatra searches

A great bird of gold chosen prey seeking.

Waiting in Tarsus, the warrior disarms.
While the dusky Lagide in air she charms,
Through purple stretches her arms of amber,

Children shred roses on waters sombre.
And in this divine pair he fails to see
Desire and Death foretell his destiny.

(Tr. by Edward R. Taylor, 1906)

Beneath triumphal blue, in flaming ray,
The silver trireme tints the dark flood white,
And censers breathe rich perfumes that unite
With rustling silks and flutes' mellifluous play.

Where, at the prow, the spread-hawk holds his way,
Cleopatra forward leans for better sight,
And seems, as stands she in the evening light,
Like some great golden bird in watch for prey.

Now Tarsus sees the warrior captive there:
The dusky Lagian opes, in that charmed air,
Her amber arms with roseate purple dyed;

Nor has she seen anear, as fateful sign,
Shredding the roses on the sombrous tide,
Those twins, Desire and Death, of life divine.

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

José-Maria de Heredia – 6 Au tragédien E. Rossi

Ernesto Rossi was one of the best-known Italian actors of his day. He was admired in particular for his Shakespearean roles as Macbeth, King Lear, Romeo and Hamlet. Romeo and Juliet was his favourite play.

In May 1865, a great three-day festival was held in Florence by the newly united Italy, to honour its national hero, Dante Alighieri, whose six hundredth birth anniversary was being celebrated. The three greatest actors in Italy travelled at their own expense, for no payment, laying aside rivalries, to take part. Several Dantesque tableaux were presented, and Rossi performed one from the Purgatorio, and two from the Inferno.

Dante’s famous terza rima is an interlocking scheme in which the middle line of a tercet rhymes with the first and third lines of the next (aba bcb cdc) and so on, ending the perpetual motion usually with a single, separate, line rhyming with the middle line of the preceding tercet. To get an idea of how it works, here is a colour coded sample of some lines that Rossi recited from the Inferno:
Ed el mi disse: «Volgiti! Che fai?
Vedi là Farinata che s’è dritto:
da la cintola in sù tutto ’l vedrai».

Io avea già il mio viso nel suo fitto;
ed el s’ergea col petto e con la
com’ avesse l’inferno a gran
E l’animose man del duca e pronte
mi pinser tra le sepulture a lui,
dicendo: «Le parole tue sien

With this information, the following sonnet should be easier to comprehend. For no reason I can think of, it was placed in the section of
Les Trophées titled Nature and Dream, under the sub-group The Sea of Brittany. After the original sonnet, comes the literal translation in prose, and then my version, followed by a translation each by Edward R. Taylor and Maurice Egan.

Au Tragédien E. Rossi
ès une récitation de Dante

Ô Rossi, je t'ai vu, traînant le manteau noir,
Briser le faible coeur de la triste Ophélie,
Et, tigre exaspéré d'amour et de folie,
Étrangler tes sanglots dans le fatal mouchoir.

J'ai vu Lear et Macbeth, et pleuré de te voir
Baiser, suprême amant de l'antique Italie,
Au tombeau nuptial Juliette pâlie.
Pourtant tu fus plus grand et plus terrible, un soir.

Car j'ai goûté l'horreur et le plaisir sublimes,
Pour la première fois, d'entendre les trois rimes
Sonner par ta voix d'or leur fanfare de fer;

Et, rouge du reflet de l'infernale flamme,
J'ai vu—j'en ai frémi jusques au fond de l'âme!—
Alighieri vivant dire un chant de l'Enfer.

Prose translation (literal):
O Rossi, I have seen thee, trailing thy black cloak, breaking the feeble/ weak heart of sad Ophelia, and tiger exasperated by love and madness, strangle thy sobs in the fatal handkerchief.
I have seen Lear and Macbeth, and wept to see thee kiss, supreme lover of old / immemorial Italy, in nuptial tomb Juliet pale. But thou wast more grand and more terrible, one evening.
For I have tasted the horror and the pleasure sublime
[plural, hence applies to both emotions], for the first time, to hear the triple rhymes sound in your golden voice their iron fanfare/ trumpet call;
And, red with reflection of the hellish flame, I have seen – (seeing it) I have trembled to the bottom of my soul – Alighieri live recite/ speak a chant/ song of Hell.

[Actually, “trois rimes”, triple rhymes, is not the same thing as Dante’s invention, the terza rima. A triple rhyme is one where the words have at least three syllables, the last two being unstressed as in tearfully, fearfully. Heredia should have used the Italian term to avoid confusion - it has been adopted into English, and French (where it is sometimes hyphenated) - but he wanted a rhyme for sublimes. I have used the word linkèd because it gives some idea of Dante’s rhyme scheme. The Italian plural, terze rime, would look like a rhyme but it would not sound like one!]

To The Tragedian E. Rossi
(©2016 by Ruth Heredia)

I have seen you, Rossi, trailing your black cloak
As the gentle heart of sad Ophelia broke,
And tigerish your misprised love’s mad raging
When fatal kerchief stifled your wild sobbing.

Lear I have seen, Macbeth, and still I grieve
For the famed Italian lover long ago
Kissing Juliet, entombed in nuptials of woe.
But grander you were, more terrible, one eve.

That taste of horror and pleasure, both sublime,
Was the first.  Your golden voice in trumpet calls
Of iron sounded in the linkèd rhyme;

And, redly reflecting a flame most fell,
I saw – to its depths my soul it still appals -
Alighieri live, recite a chant from Hell.

(Tr. by Edward R. Taylor, 1906)

I've seen thee, Rossi, robed in black, give fair
Ophelia's tender heart thy rending blow,
And, tiger mad with love and phrenzied woe,
Read in the handkerchief thy soul's despair.

Macbeth and Lear I've seen, and wept whene'er
I saw thee, who lov'st olden Italy so,
Kiss Juliet in her nuptial tomb laid low;
Yet once beyond all these I found thee dare.

For mine the horror and the joy sublime
Of then first listening to the triple rhyme
Sound in thy golden voice its iron swell;

And, lit by flames of the infernal shore,
I saw and shuddered to my being's core
The living Dante chant his song of Hell.

To the Tragedian Rossi (Tr. by Maurice F. Egan, ca 1902)

Trailing thy mantle black, I’ve seen thee break,
O Rossi, weak Ophelia’s saddened heart,
And, as the love-mad Moorish tiger, start
Strangling the sobs thy victim could not wake;

I Lear, Macbeth have seen, and seen thee take
The last cold kiss in love’s supremest part
Of older Italy;—high flights of art!—
Yet greater triumphs have I seen thee make:

For I did taste of joy and woe sublime
When I did hear thee speak the triple rhyme,—
In voice of gold you rang its iron knell;

And red, in reflex of the infernal fire,
My very soul moved by deep horror dire
Saw Alighieri, living, chant of hell!

The sonnet seems expressly designed to lead up to the I-wants-to-make-your-flesh-creep final line. It probably works when recited in French, but I find it excessively contrived for all that. It has language I found difficult to turn into expressions acceptable to me, forcing me into compromises for lines that would rhyme and scan, and so giving the translation a dated effect. Some of Heredia’s own compromises for the sake of rhyme, and getting his alexandrines, and fitting everything into fourteen lines of a set pattern, are evident in the prose translation above. One of his contortions is complicated, and must be explained in order to shed light on the misunderstanding that both his poet translators fell into. Heredia got out of naming Hamlet and Othello, at the same time earning points for cleverness. That was easy with Hamlet’s black cloak and the mention of Ophelia. Desdemona is not named, but there are the handkerchief and the word ‘strangling’ (although the victim was smothered). Pale Juliet in her ‘nuptial tomb’ ought to suffice for Romeo, but something more was required to fill a line. What clothing, what object, what characteristic comes to mind? None. But Romeo is one half of a famous pair of lovers; they are Italian, and theirs is a once-upon-a-time story. Hence, the “suprême” lover, of “l’antique” Italy. But the phrasing – dictated solely by the requirements of versification – is ambiguous. Taylor has taken it to mean that Rossi is one “who lov'st olden Italy so”. Egan does not fall into that error, but what does “love’s supremest part of older Italy” mean? The play is English, not Italian.

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