Regular readers (hah!) might know that I discovered the Spanish ‘postist’ poet, Carlos Edmundo de Ory, in my old stamping ground of Cádiz, Spainland, back in 2018. I’ve felt moved to mention him here a few times, starting with Poet, Escaping in September of that year, and have made amateur attempts at rendering his surreal and sonorous works in English (most recently, his Imágenes/Images).
Well, despite the fact that this month, I ‘ave been mostly translating Du Fu, I realised that Monday would have been old Charlie’s 97th birthday. So it seemed only right to dip back into my copy of Melos Melancolía, his final collection (1999), and tbh the only one I own.
I rather liked his Cavatina, and decided to have a go at rendering it in vaguely mellifluous English. I tried not to be too daunted by the fact that it had, unusually for de Ory, a rhyme-scheme, not quite falling into a steady pattern of quatrains. In Spanish, being an inflected language (ie one with set word endings for tense and person), multiple rhymes are easier to find and less trite-sounding. So the occasional sestet of triple rhymes was maybe best avoided in English. I offer slightly staggered quatrains and … well, anything that seemed to work, basically. And de Ory never uses punctuation unless you count upper case letters to begin new ‘sentences’. I couldn’t resist adding it, I’m anal that way. It helps me when reading it out, at least, and my version, like Ory’s work, really has to be read aloud to have its optimum effect (even if that’s just to confuse and annoy the listener).
Apart from a couple of complex patches, I think I’ve got the flavour right and much of the meaning. Checking my poetic licence hasn’t expired, I threw in a few things, (like a beach) and left out others, for the sake of metre and rhyme. Which means my excuse is, I’m not claiming this as a literal translation, but a pome of my own, built on the smouldering ruins of a superior original.
And in case you’re wondering what a cavatina is, I offer the Chambers Dictionary definition: ‘a melody with no second part or da capo; loosely, a short operatic air of a smooth and melodious character, often part of a grand scena‘.
So here goes. Happy birthday, Carlos. And stay healthy, compañeros.
By the torch of silence, with lips to the breeze
that scatters the ashes of futile speech,
I look for a vent where my breath can break free.
His seamless shroud burns nightly on the beach.
If you could leave me, all intact, in calm,
my voice in forgetting the useless word.
Choose to be dumb, and give me the palm
of a mouth sealed from nightly fears, unheard
the strident braying of the soul’s great mare.
The raggéd throat sings songs with a croak,
western or bandaged, in the meagre attire
of a worldy beggar, worn like a cloak.
The empty theatre makes a dent in the night,
where no one applauds the moon or me,
trembling from poetry in my wintery fright
to the monosyllabic branch I’m clinging,
quietly speaking, not knowing what about
like a tree apart breathes pure self-giving.
And the absolute language was straw from the stable,
the place to hug dreams of the Magi’s gifts,
leaving the words in the bed of the devil.
Through the colourless air the angel’s voice drifts,
when the lunar drum of the infinite night
fills my thoughts with archetypal sound.
‘Twas the voice that I knew but had yet to write
before which the pain was embroidered around,
fair, on the black silk of the curséd phrase.
Beauty without homeland, like an anti-soldier
who only his bosom fraternal obeys.
Accuse not the poet of such naked cries —
blood of conscience and silence eternal —
under the proud sun of laughter he dies,
like a fire divine, far beyond the infernal,
while on the world’s altar, in half-light dressed,
the moon waits to say mass after mass,
every night at the hands of her priestess —
and the human dream has a skylight at last
[Carlos Edmundo de Ory (Apr 27, 1923–Nov 11, 2010),
from Melos Melancolía, 1999;
translated Dai Lowe (Nov 21, 2003–Nov 11, 2006),
Edinburgh April 27, 2020]