Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Two Poem Drafts

I've been intending to dig back in my files and post a short story; I'm a rather better story writer than a poet, or, at least, a more consistent one. But that will have to wait for a time when I'm less busy. Here are two recent scribbles. The first doesn't require much explanation, beyond the fact that it alludes to some of the plays on words in Genesis 3; the second is a first rough attempt at translating a Latin poem. I like translating Latin to tighten up my skills, which are somewhat patchy. I haven't had a chance to get the original source for this poem; Rudolf Otto in The Idea of the Holy calls it the "Rhyme of St. Bernard," without giving any citations. I've used the Latin text he provides; and I've tried to avoid as much as possible the 'splay' that creeps into translations by keeping the diction tight, which has served as the primary poetic constraint. I'd be interested in any thoughts on how it might be improved along these lines; the hard part about translating Latin verse is that Latin allows for much denser wording, whereas English tends to diffuse it with extra words. I'd like this one (eventually) to be as concise and poetically 'punchy' as possible (and I'm willing to sacrifice exactness of translation for it).


the subtle serpent
the naked one
came to Eve seducing
upon the bough
in sliding lie
God's promises reducing
to but a shadow
of themselves
made naked of God's mercy

the subtle Eve
the naked one
to Adam came sweet-plying
seduced in words
turned here and there
with sliding twists of lying
she a shadow
of herself
made naked of God's mercy

Adam the subtle
the naked one
to God gave up an answer
he spoke in words
that slid away
from truth like fleeting dancer
he but a shadow
of himself
made naked of God's mercy

Messiah true
the naked one
upon the bough was dying
at his feet
in deepest pain
his mother was there crying
as turned shadow
into bright light
made naked through God's mercy

Rhyme of St. Bernard

Zion, singular city, mystic manse, in heaven hid,
Rejoice I now in you, now I moan, I sorrow, I pant for you;
Through you (for unable am I in flesh) oft I pass in heart,
But earthly flesh and fleshly earth soon fall back again.
By mouth can none repeat nor none reveal
What luster fills your walls and citadels.
I can speak of it only as my finger can touch sky,
Or I run upon sea, or make dart stand in air.
Your grace overwhelms each heart, O Zion, O Peace,
No praise can you belie, O City without time.
O new manse, you the pious gathering, pious folk, build,
Exalt, inspire, increase, assimilate, effect, unify.

The Latin (for those who are interested):

Urbs Sion unica, mansio mystica, condita coelo,
Nunc tibi gaudeo, nunc tibi lugeo, tristor, anhelo,
Te, quia corpore non queo, pectore saepe penetro;
Sed caro terrea, terraque carnea, mox cado retro.
Nemo retexere, nemoque promere sustinet ore,
Quo tua moenia, quo capitolia plena nitore.
Id queo dicere, quo modo tangere pollice coelum,
Ut mare currere, sicut in aere figere telum.
Opprimit omne cor ille tuus decor, O Sion, O Pax.
Urbs sine tempore, nulla potest fore laus tibi mendax.
O nova mansio, te pia concio, gens pia munit,
Provehit, excitat, auget, identitat, efficit, unit.

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