The Influence of Form

I have written about my approach to translation from one language to another here.  Recently, it occurred to me that recasting a poem from one form to another in the same language is also a form of  translation. Let me illustrate.

In April of this year, I posted my translation of the introduction to Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil.  The fourth stanza reads as follows:

The Devil holds our puppet strings,
He leads us through the murk and mire
Nearer to Eternal Fire
And makes us like disgusting things.

This simple verse  is shaped by my stated goal, which was to preserve the sense and the rhyme scheme of the original French.   But suppose we decide to express the same concept in another form , say, a cinquain.  Then we get this:

The Devil’s
Fingers pull our
Strings; he make us like the
Vilest things; he carries us down
To Hell.

By eliminating the requirement to preserve the rhyme scheme and changing the form of the poem, we have lost some detail, but we have gained a more natural progression of ideas.

At some point in the future, I intend to do further experiments with this kind of translation.

The Agnostic’s Prayer – 1965

I am the product of a mixed marriage – my father was a committed Agnostic, and my mother was a Social Christian; that is to say, she believed you should go to church because you were expected to go to church.

My maternal grandmother, a Christian Scientist, gave me my own copy of the King James version of the Christian Bible for my seventh birthday.   It was a small, thick blue book with my name embossed in gold on the cover.   By the age of nine, I had read through the more interesting Old Testament and part of the New Testament, but, despite active encouragement, I never went in for further Bible study.  I also attended Sunday School for a few years, but the only impression left on me from that experience was a dislike for dressing up in my Sunday Best.

At home, I was encouraged by my father to decide for myself about religious matters, but the culture in which I grew up still shaped  my early thinking.   The following verse, from 1965, shows the effects of my upbringing:

The Agnostic’s Prayer

If I die before I sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
And tend it, fend it from the Foe.
Is there a God?  I do not know.

If I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take
And guard it, ward it, save it well.
Is there a God?  I cannot tell.

And if I live another day,
Tomorrow Eve again I’ll pray.
For unto Him i, if things pan out,
Give the benefit of the doubt.

Religious Experience

The following little piece from 1971 has stuck in my mind ever since.  It is a kind of sonnet, as well as a kind of introduction as to how I approached spiritual matters in those days:

Mystery.  And warm desire.
Tending to the sacred fire
Frees a young girl’s sacred urges
Religion. And the sacred stone
Thinking she finds herself alone
Saving, of course, the thaumaturges
Who, like holy men everywhere,
Have no urge to stop and stare.
Shivers, and a melting feeling
Emerging from the cloth concealing,
Her body shines with holy light.
Smiling. And all fear suppressing,
She rises to receive her blessing,
Secure in knowing it is right.