On Odes and Songs

I wanted, but did not have, an English version of Garcilaso’s canción To the Flower of Gnido. I wanted it for people like Stephen Bess, who has a poetic and artistic blog, and likes old texts, but does not read Spanish. I also wanted it out of mere curiosity, to see how such a translation might have been done.

I did not expect to find one but the Sonetero, in Mexico, directed me to a book by one Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen, The Works of Garcilasso de la Vega, Surnamed Prince of Castilian Poets (London, 1823) providing not only translations but a biography and a critical introduction.

This book is physically located in the library of Stanford University, but the wily Sonetero knew that it had been scanned into Google Scholar, where we can all read it. The poem I sought is on pages 305-308. The introduction is interesting, as Wiffen is concerned to bring greater attention to the astonishing, but neglected literature of Spain. His epigraph reminds us that Lord Byron did read people like Garcilaso and Boscán.

Here are the first three stanzas, in Wiffen’s translation. The Spanish original is far more lithe, but I am still impressed with this English version – especially of the amazing first strophe.

Had I the sweet resounding lyre
Whose voice could in a moment chain
The howling wind’s ungoverned ire,
And movement of the raging main,
On savage hills the leopard rein,
The lion’s fiery soul entrance,
And lead along with golden tones
The fascinated trees and stones
In voluntary dance;

Think not, think not, fair Flower of Gnide,
It e’er should glorify the scars,
Dust raised, blood shed, or laurels dyed
Beneath the gonfalon of Mars,
Or, borne sublime on festal cars,
The chiefs who to submission sank
The rebel German’s soul of soul
And forged the chains that now control
The frenzy of the Frank.

No, no! Its harmonies should ring
In vaunt of glories all thine own,
A discord sometimes from the string
Struck forth to make thy harshness known
The fingered chords should speak alone
Of Beauty’s triumph, Love’s alarms,
And one who, made by thy disdain
Pale as a lily clip’t in twain
Bewails thy fatal charms.


6 thoughts on “On Odes and Songs

  1. Zero,
    Re: the last post

    Vanity is no doubt at work, but so is a window on the world. I think of my site as a little store front on a giant main street. In the window I place images I manipulate.

  2. Hi Bob – the last post, or this one? Little store front on a giant main street, with a window, yes. But vanity? What about pure delight?

  3. Rays of sunshine for the shut-ins like me. Chris Matthews seems to think it’s all twenty somethings, but there’s far more ole’ farts than people think.

    Glad you liked the S.S. Bush, if you ever need a propaganda graphic let me know, I work for free.

  4. Thank you so much for this translation! It is truly beautiful and very lyrical. I wish that I could read Spanish because I know that some of it is lost in translation. Thanks again!

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