Poetry Translations

with Susan McLean

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189

My vessel passes through a hostile sea,

amnesia-laden in the midst of night,

with Scylla left, Charybdis to the right,

and at the helm my lord . . . or enemy.

Each oar seems manned by glib, cruel reverie

that scorns the tempest and the end in sight;

with sighing, hope and lustful appetite

gales drench and rip the sail incessantly.

The tears in torrents, the disdainful spray,

they soak and loosen ropes already weak,

which the mistakes and ignorance contort.

My favorite sweet twin stars are tucked away;

dead in the waves are logic and technique,

so I begin despairing of the port.

A.M. Juster is the poetry editor for Plough. His work has appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, and The Hudson Review. His eleventh book, a complete translation of Petrarch's Canzoniere in meter and rhyme that mirrors the original text, is due from W.W. Norton in 2024.

189

Passa la nave mia colma d’oblio

per aspro mare, a mezza notte il verno,

enfra Scilla et Caribdi; et al governo

siede ’l signore, anzi ’l nimico mio.

A ciascun remo un penser pronto et rio

che la tempesta e ’l fin par ch’abbi a scherno;

la vela rompe un vento humido eterno

di sospir’, di speranze, et di desio.

Pioggia di lagrimar, nebbia di sdegni

bagna et rallenta le già stanche sarte,

che son d’error con ignorantia attorto.

Celansi i duo mei dolci usati segni;

morta fra l’onde è la ragion et l’arte,

tal ch’incomincio a desperar del porto.

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), typically called “Petrarch” in English, was a humanist scholar and poet who, along with Dante and Boccaccio, helped to popularize the use of Italian as a literary language. His Canzoniere ("Songbook"), his most famous work, was largely responsible for the sonnet becoming part of the foundation of modern poetry in Europe and the English-speaking world.

The Instability of Earthly Things

I sit upon this stone, observe the ground

that lies before me. Lost in thought, I see

the ruins of Rome, her fallen majesty,

and linger in a stupor most profound.

Weary, but not of thinking, all around

I see the pomp of human vanity,

enraged by the hold such trifles have on me;

still on base things I run the mind aground.

I pray you, soul, before these hairs turn grey,

shun the ways of the man who only aims

at worldly bliss, repenting on death’s day.

Wretched is he who falls for beguiling claims,

and rare it is, when held in death’s fell sway,

to see one’s own mistake, and flee the flames.

Eric T. Racher lives and works in Riga, Latvia. He is the author of a chapbook of poetry, Five Functions Defined on Experience: For Jay Wright (2021).

Dalle ruine di Roma antica si riconosce la poca stabilità delle cose terrene

Qui m’assido pensoso in questo sasso,

e dell’antica Roma a terra miro

la maestà caduta, e ne sospiro,

e preso da stupor, non muovo il passo.

Non sazio di pensar, ancorché lasso,

la vanità dell’uman fasto ammiro,

e del mio vaneggiar meco m’adiro,

e pur la mente a vil’oggetto abbasso.

Alma deh pria che mi s’imbianchi il crine,

schiva il costume di quei che si danno

in preda al senso, per pentirsi al fine.

Misero chi trabocca in tal inganno,

rado è che del morire in sul confine

si ravvegga de’ falli, e fugga il danno.

Maffeo Barberini (1568-1644) was born in Florence and educated by the Jesuits. In 1623 he was elected pope with the name Urban VIII. His book of Italian poetry, Poesie Toscane, was published in 1635.

The Ship of Gold

It was a mighty Vessel that was wrought of solid gold:

Its masts reached to the heavens far above uncharted seas;

The Cyprian love-goddess, tresses blowing in the breeze,

Lay spread out on the vessel’s prow, stark-naked, sun-baked, bold.

 

In treacherous Ocean waters Sirens lured it towards the shore

Until it struck a barrier reef, when it began to heel,

Then sank into the Chasm, where its useless hull and keel

Would be the shipwrecked sailors’ coffin, now and evermore.

 

It was a Ship of gold, though with a thin, pellucid side

Revealing treasure troves for which foul mariners had vied;

For Loathing, Madness, Hatred they would slit each other’s throats.

 

The tempest passed, what now remains of all those golden beams?

What has become of my poor heart — forsaken, cast-off boat?

Alas! The ship has foundered in the dark abyss of Dreams!

Catherine Chandler is the author of The Frangible Hour and recipient of the Richard Wilbur Award. Her sixth poetry collection, Annals of the Dear Unknown, is now available from Kelsey Books and on Amazon. She is online at The Wonderful Boat (cathychandler.blogspot.com).

Le Vaisseau d’or

Ce fut un grand Vaisseau taillé dans l’or massif :

Ses mâts touchaient l’azur, sur des mers inconnues;

La Cyprine d’amour, cheveux épars, chairs nues,

S’étalait à sa proue, au soleil excessif.

 

Mais il vint une nuit frapper le grand écueil

Dans l’Océan trompeur où chantait la Sirène,

Et le naufrage horrible inclina sa carène

Aux profondeurs du Gouffre, immuable cercueil.

 

Ce fut un Vaisseau d’or, dont les flancs diaphanes

Révélaient des trésors que les marins profanes,

Dégoût, Haine et Névrose, entre eux ont disputé.

 

Que reste-t-il de lui dans la tempête brève ?

Qu’est devenu mon cœur, navire déserté ?

Hélas! Il a sombré dans l’abîme du Rêve!

Émile Nelligan (1879-1941) is one of the most celebrated French-Canadian poets. His work, influenced by Verlaine, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Poe, includes 170 poems written between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. He was institutionalized for schizophrenia in 1899.

Coming of Spring

The empire crumbles; mountains, rivers stay.

Spring’s weeds and saplings crack town streets apart.

War-troubled flowers weep tears of drizzled spray.

Stranded, each birdsong warning chills the heart.

 

Three months now, watch-tower beacon fires still burn;

A note from home is worth a vault of gold.

I rub my white hair — less at every turn,

So sparse now that a hairpin couldn’t hold.

Bruce McBirney’s poems have appeared in Rattle, America (Foley Poetry Award), The Raintown Review, Measure, Spillway, LMU Magazine, The Lyric, and other journals and in the anthologies Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets and An Amaranthine Summer.

春望

國破山河在

城春草木深

感時花濺淚

恨別鳥驚心

烽火連三月

家書抵萬金

白頭搔更短

渾欲不勝簪

Du Fu (712-770), often called China’s greatest poet, is widely revered for his clear-eyed and compassionate descriptions of human suffering and impermanence. He wrote “Coming of Spring” in 757, a time of civil war, while detained by enemy combatants.

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