Friday, May 13, 2011

Spanish poetry and the translations thereof in The Hudson Review

The warm and engaging hosting service of Wuthering Expectations took an unexpected but well-deserved personal day yesterday.  Some pool time in the afternoon, a mani-pedi, a hot stone massage, and then some solid TV watching, catching up with the first season of Treme.  Now, relaxed, energized, Blogger has returned to work refreshed  and alert.

A few comments from yesterday seem to have been temporarily misplaced.  I will be recreate them from my email soon if they do not turn up on their own.  There were some good ‘uns.  Yesterday’s post about Bolaño, Aira, and Argentine literature was pretty good, too.  Actually, that sounds a mite strong.  Let me look back for a minute – yesterday’s post was on a highly interesting subject, and might be worth reading for that reason.

I had planned to spend a few minutes writing about the poetry in the Spanish Issue of The Hudson Review, a magazine that has become, for better or worse, my primary source of contemporary poetry.  For better, I think; I gave Poetry magazine an honest effort a few years ago, but abandoned them just before being bored almost to death, although I do owe them my introduction to Kay Ryan.  My point, my point – the poetry in The Hudson Review is typically excellent, but not so typically by the all-star cast of the Spanish Issue:  Luis de Góngora, Ruben Darío, Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Silvino Ocampo.

The Neruda poem, “Ode to my Socks,” is a curious one.  Its translator is William Carlos Williams, who is careful to turn Neruda into WCW, mostly with the line breaks:

I stretched out
my feet
and pulled over them
then my shoes.

Once properly shod, Williams proceeds to eat Neruda’s plums because they are so sweet and so cold and chop down his house because the beams are so inviting.

The lead feature is given to fragments of a 16th century masterpiece, Soledades (The Solitudes) of Luis de Góngora, expertly translated by Edith Grossman, more fruit of her turn to the Spanish Golden Age.  I read the poem several years ago in a different, vaguely remembered translation; even vaguer is a memory of reading part of it in Spanish, which must be wrong.  The long poem, an imitatio of Virgil’s Georgics, is enormously complex, not merely in its syntax so much as its extraordinary range of classical allusions and intricate and obscure metaphors.  Here a traveler has stumbled upon the preparations for a rustic wedding:

        You, oh singular bird,
arrogant splendor – for it is not comely –
        of the remote Occident:
hang the wrinkled nacre of your forehead
down over the kinked sapphire of your neck,
for Hymeneus wants you on his tables.

The exotic, ugly bird now on its way to the wedding (“Hymeneus”) feast is the American turkey.  The nacreous forehead foreshadows the piscatorial second book of the poem, which is about fishermen.   Góngora  demands patience and concentration:

A rebellious nymph, now a humble reed,
obscures  the margins of a small lagoon,
        where a kingbird inspects
even the smallest flake of its flying snow.

The snow is the foamy surf; the nymph is Syrinx; etc., etc.  How wonderful that Góngora’s poem will be available again, soon,  from Penguin Classics.  Who on earth is the audience?

But I suppose I could ask that about many of my favorite parts of The Hudson Review – one of my all-time favorites was an essay about the great pleasures of reading Clarissa!  Any reader widely curious about literature will find a lot to enjoy.

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