Category Archives: Monday Verses

Monday Verses: Michelangelo Buonarotti – Sulla morte di Cecchino Bracci (1545)

David Hockney, In Memoriam Cecchino Bracci

In 1544, a handsome 15-year-old boy named Cecchino (Francesco) Bracci died, leaving his uncle Luigi del Riccio shattered. At the time Luigi was a close friend and counsellor to Michelangelo Buonarotti, whom he kindly asked to execute a tomb for Cecchino and compose an epitaph.

I was reading a book by Sigmund Freud recently, and the Austrian narrated a story of how a young scientist asked him to review his work. Freud agreed; however, he couldn’t force himself to do it; eventually, he accepted that he didn’t actually want to do the review, and excused himself from the task.

Believe it or not, in 1540s in Italy Michelangelo was in the exact Freud’s position. He barely knew the boy, and it turned out that, in spite of his famous beauty, Cecchino never sat for a portrait. The only source of knowledge and inspiration was supposed to be Cecchino’s uncle, Luigi.

Michelangelo’s autograph of the epitaphs

A kind soul as it seems, Michelangelo took to the job. Luigi sent generous hampers to feed a rather indifferent Muse, which gifts the artist sometimes acknowledged in the draft epitaphs and sketches he’d sent back to del Riccio. Indeed, the texts we have demonstrate the hard times Michelangelo could have when the subject failed to ignite his poetic flame. Even the words stumble, and the lack of acquaintance with the boy fully manifests itself. Several months and almost fifty epitaphs later, Michelangelo pulled out from the job. And yet, in 1545 he’d sent Luigi a beautiful sonnet. It is a short study of the poet labour’s lost, with a beautiful ending that actually re-interprets one of the draft epitaphs, pointing out to the fact that it is a lover who preserves the image of the beloved. In spite of what we know of the Renaissance homoerotism, and Michelangelo’s in particular, I insist that Love here needs to be understood as a pure affection, not a hint at any sexual interest.

The tomb (image: Wikipedia)

The tomb was eventually made by another artist and can be seen at the church dell’Aracoeli in Rome. In 1962, David Hockney painted In Memoriam Cecchino Bracchi. This post also includes the sketches by Michelangelo that were eventually used as the basis for the tomb. The final epitaph was composed in Latin.

Drafts (image: Michelangelo.ru)
Drafts (image: Michelangelo.ru)

The Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky also translated two of the epitaphs on the death of Cecchino. I guess the interest in this series of epitaphs lies in several facts. The genre of an epitaph is unique in itself, and when a famous artist-cum-poet composes the whopping 42 quatrains, it does attract attention. Cecchino’s death devastated “the whole of Rome”, according to his uncle, although the age at which the boy died was likely the main reason. And even though Michelangelo’s pen and Muse refused to work together, he nonetheless appears to have been excited at the opportunity to explore one of the favourite themes of the early Baroque poetry, namely vanitas and preference given to the other life.

I didn’t try to translate the epitaphs. Yet back in 2008, when I discovered the 1545 sonnet, it captivated me so that I had to translate it. I must admit, I fully experienced Michelangelo’s own hardships, it was the first time I was translating from Italian, and as always before my task was to try and preserve the original rhythm and melody in the Russian translation. I was, however, satisfied with the result. It is included below, together with the English translation by John Addington Symonds.

In 2013 my Russian translation was awarded the First Diploma in the “Poetry” nomination in Music in Translation competition.

Michelangelo Buonarotti – Sulla morte di Cecchino Bracci

A pena prima aperti gli vidd’io
i suo begli occhi in questa fragil vita,
che, chiusi el dì dell’ultima partita,
gli aperse in cielo a contemplare Dio.
Conosco e piango, e non fu l’error mio,
col cor sì tardi a lor beltà gradita,
ma di morte anzi tempo, ond’è sparita
a voi non già, m’al mie ’rdente desio.
Dunche, Luigi, a far l’unica forma
di Cecchin, di ch’i’ parlo, in pietra viva etterna,
or ch’è già terra qui tra noi,
se l’un nell’altro amante si trasforma,
po’ che sanz’essa l’arte non v’arriva,
convien che per far lui ritragga voi.

John Addington Symonds – English Translation

Scarce had I seen for the first time his eyes,
Which to your living eyes were life and light,
When, closed at last in death’s injurious night,
He opened them on God in Paradise.
I know it, and I weep — too late made wise:
Yet was the fault not mine; for death’s fell spite
Robbed my desire of that supreme delight
Which in your better memory never dies.
Therefore, Luigi, if the task be mine
To make unique Cecchino smile in stone
For ever, now that earth hath made him dim,
If the beloved within the lover shine,
Since art without him cannot work alone,
You must I carve to tell the world of him.

Julia Shuvalova – Russian Translation

Я только раз взглянул в глаза того,
В чьем взоре ты черпал и жизнь, и свет,
Как в вечном сне он их сомкнул, чтоб впредь
Смотреть в раю на Бога самого.

Как глуп я был! И плачу оттого!
Но, право же, моей вины в том нет.
А ты хранишь вовеки счастья след,
Хотя бы Смерть и унесла его.

Луиджи, просишь ты: пусть сохранит
От тлена несравненную улыбку
Чеккино мой прославленный резец.

Но любящий любимого творит,
И, раз уж Муз дела идут не шибко,
Тебя мне должно взять за образец.

October 2008

На русском 

В июне 1544 г. в Риме умер юный Франческо (Чеккино) Браччи, племянник поэта Луиджи дель Риччо. Луиджи, хорошо знакомый с Микеланджело, обратился к поэту-художнику с просьбой создать надгробие для мраморного памятника Чеккино, а также написать текст эпитафии. Микеланджело согласился. До нас, действительно, дошли четыре эпитафии. Однако ни одна из них не украсила надгробие Чеккино, да и сам памятник, в конце концов, был успешно создан другим мастером.

Причина, по которой Микеланджело уклонился от исполнения договора, вероятнее всего изложена им самим в приведенном сонете. Вопреки тому, что можно прочесть в популярных статьях о глубине отношений Микеланджело и Чеккино, степень близости была невелика, что и подчеркивает первая строка сонета. Несмотря на то что Чеккино славился своей красотой, ни один художник, похоже, не соизволил запечатлеть его при жизни. Переводы нескольких набросков эпитафий, сделанные А. М. Эфросом, демонстрируют бесплодные усилия пера Микеланджело, которое дель Риччо изо всех сил старался подпитать – в прямом смысле этого слова:

Здесь рок послал безвременный мне сон,
Но я не мертв, хоть и опущен в землю:
Я жив в тебе, чьим сетованьям внемлю,
За то, что в друге друг отображен.

– Не хотел посылать вам это, потому что скверно вышло,
но форели и трюфели одолели бы и само небо. Вверяю себя вам.

К благой судьбе я смертью приведен:
Бог не желал меня увидеть старым,
И так как рок не властен большим даром,
Все, кроме смерти, было б мне в урон.

– Теперь, когда обещание пятнадцати надписей выполнено,
я больше уже не повинен вам ими, разве что придут
они из рая, где он пребывает.

Рисовать эскиз надгробия оказалось еще тяжелее: “Посылаю вам с запиской дыни, рисунка же пока нет, но я изготовлю его непременно со всем искусством, на какое способен”. И однако же искусства было мало:

Чеккино – в жизни, ныне – я у Бога,
Мирской на миг, небесный навсегда;
Счастливая вела меня звезда:
Где стольким в смерть, мне в жизнь была дорога.

– Так как поэзия этой ночью молчала, посылаю вам
четыре надписи, за три пряника скряги и вверяю себя
вам.

Андрей Вознесенский также перевел две из этих эпитафий:

Я счастлив, что я умер молодым.
Земные муки – хуже, чем могила.
Навеки смерть меня освободила
и сделалась бессмертием моим.

Я умер, подчинившись естеству.
Но тыщи дум в моей душе вмещались.
Одна на них погасла – что за малость?!
Я в тысячах оставшихся живу.
 

Проведя не один месяц в творческих муках, Микеланджело отклонил заказ дель Риччо. Но в 1545 г. написал для него вышеприведенный сонет. При отсутствии каких-либо изображений юноши, Луиджи, как любящий дядя и воспитатель, для которого смерть Чеккино явилась тяжелым ударом, мог бы единственным “источником” вдохновения для художника. На это и намекает Микеланджело, с присущими его веку изяществом и легким юмором предлагая изваять самого дель Риччо, дабы сохранить в веках память о Чеккино. Одновременно в этом сонете сходятся многие темы, поднятые Микеланджело в черновых вариантах эпитафий, в частности, в этих строках: “Я жив в тебе, чьим сетованьям внемлю, за то, что в друге друг отображен”.

История жизни и смерти Чеккино Браччи, о которой известно ровно столько, сколько можно извлечь из этих коротких посланий Микеланджело, послужила источником вдохновения для английского художника Дэвида Хокни (In Memoriam Cecchino Bracci, 1962).

В 2013 г. за перевод этого сонета я получила диплом I степени в номинации “Поэзия” на международном конкурсе перевода “Музыка перевода”.

Monday Verses: Boris Pasternak – It Is Not Seemly to Be Famous

5157
An autograph of Boris Pasternak’s poem

These were the thoughts running through Pasternak’s mind in 1958 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature that he had to decline for the political outrage it caused in the Soviet Union. It quite runs against the grain of “personal branding” concept and “overnight fame” culture of the recent years, widely propagated thanks to the Internet.


Boris Pasternak – It is not seemly to be famous… (1956)

It is not seemly to be famous:
Celebrity does not exalt;
There is no need to hoard your writings
And to preserve them in a vault.

To give your all-this is creation,
And not-to deafen and eclipse.
How shameful, when you have no meaning,
To be on everybody’s lips!

Try not to live as a pretender,
But so to manage your affairs
That you are loved by wide expanses,
And hear the call of future years.

Leave blanks in life, not in your papers,
And do not ever hesitate
To pencil out whole chunks, whole chapters
Of your existence, of your fate.

Into obscurity retiring
Try your development to hide,
As autumn mist on early mornings
Conceals the dreaming countryside.

Another, step by step, will follow
The living imprint of your feet;
But you yourself must not distinguish
Your victory from your defeat.

And never for a single moment
Betray your credo or pretend,
But be alive-this only matters-
Alive and burning to the end.

Translated by Lydia Pasternak Slater

Monday Verses: William Blake – The Little Black Boy

Jack, the first Black Boy in Wales

The poem below is part of Blake’s cycle of poems, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, shewing the two contrary states of the human soul. To judge by an article by Lisa Kozlowski, The Little Black Boy is one of the most commented and yet least easy-to-understand works by William Blake. I recommend you read the article. Unfortunately, I have little idea of how the criticism progressed after 1995.

“Little Black Boys” were no strange thing in Britain in Blake’s time. In fact, a lovely pub in Caernarfon is called “The Black Boy” and is said to commemorate the first Negro on the Welsh shore. His name was Jack, he was brought from Africa to Wales in 18th c., eventually married a Welsh girl and fathered 7 children. A plaque on the wall narrates the story, and the guest house and pub are just a short walk away from the entrance to Caernarfon Castle.

P. P. Rubens, Four studies for a head of a Negro

The first stanza of Blake’s poem, perhaps unintentionally, harks back to the 16-17th cc. discourse about whether or not native Americans or Negroes had had a soul. By Blake’s time, of course, the existence of soul was proved, and hence the poet indicates that, whatever the colour of skin, the soul is always white. And yet it is the white English child who certainly appears to possess a soul, whereas a black boy seems “bereaved of light”.

The idea is further explored in mother’s lines, where the colour of skin is called “a cloud”. Technically, whereas for a black boy and his black mother “a cloud” serves as “a shady grove”, it has a deeper meaning, too: it is a cloak that conceals the true, “white” substance of a person, his or her soul.

Albrecht Durer, Head of a Negro (1508)

Still, the little English boy is not so well prepared “to bear the beams of love“, and our black boy plans to shield him until he learns “to lean in joy upon our Father’s knee“. The last two lines, however, unambiguously suggest that presently the little black boy is disliked by the English boy. His wish, therefore, is to get to that moment in Paradise when the two meet, and the English boy can see that both of them are “white”, and will then love the black boy.

I guess my question regarding the discussion of the poem would concern the “colour” of scholarship. If we propose that a grown-up “English boy” knows his cultural context and can place the poem in it, how about a grown-up “little Black boy”? What would be his agenda for analysing this poem of William Blake?

William Blake – The Little Black Boy (from Songs of Innocence)

 

A Negro Minstrel (1720s), Erddig Hall, Wrexham

 

 

 

 

 

 

My mother bore me in the southern wild,

And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
Whilst as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereav’d of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree,
And, sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And, pointing to the east, began to say:

‘Look on the rising sun, – there God does live,
And gives His light, and gives his Heat away;
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.

‘And we are put on earth a little space,

Francis Williams, A Negro Scholar of Jamaica (1754)

That we may learn to bear the beams of love;
And these black bodies and the sunburnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

‘For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear,
The cloud will vanish; we shall hear His voice,
Saying: “Come out from the grove, My love and care,
And round My golden tent like lambs rejoice”.’

Thus did my mother say, and kissed me;
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white could free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,

I’ll shade him from the heat, till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our Father’s knee;
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me.

Monday Verses: Translator’s Notes on Robert Burns’s Sonnet Upon Sonnets

R. Burns, A Sonnet upon Sonnets (courtesy of NBC).

Today is a wonderful day in my life, all about translations. I have received a permission to publish my translation of a 20th c. poet’s work from their descendant. On the way back home I did a strange thing of translating a Russian version of Omar Khayyam’s short poem into English. I’d need to check the translations of The Rubaiyat, to see if the poem is actually there.

And I have just finished working on translation of Robert Burns’s Sonnet upon Sonnets. Apparently, it was Burns’s first try at composing sonnets, so what seems to have happened – to judge by the last two lines – he burnt the midnight oil (“lucubrations“) to list the times the magic number “fourteen” lurks in our lives. And being Burns, he didn’t differentiate between the profane and high matters, starting with eggs and chickens, through “bright bumpers” (i.e. brimming glasses of drink), to the theme of Life and Death. Just as he ran out of his “lucubrations”, a sonnet was about to end.

It must be said that for the first attempt the sonnet came out very “good measured“, a Shakespearean sonnet (abab, cdcd, efef, gg). As the editors at the National Burns Collection note, “the meaning of this sonnet is focused on the form of sonnets, namely fourteen lines written in iambic pentameter coupled with a strong rhyme-scheme“. However, there is a subtler meaning here: a sonnet’s fourteen is such a powerful and omnipresent number, which means that Poetry is everywhere: you only have to look at “your hen” with “fourteen eggs beneath her wings“, and you can wrap it into a poetic form. A Sonnet upon Sonnets is a sublime manifestation of Burns’s genius.

I cannot say translating the poem was difficult, although certain lines did require a bit of thinking. It seems that the only reason Burns alludes to a jockey in the fifth line is because he’d made a connection between a jockey’s age and that of the horse in line 6, and he needed to introduce the jockey to the reader. So he found no better way of doing so than by using a jockey’s weight, in which 1 stone indeed contains 14 pounds. Without understanding this, one starts guessing all sorts of meanings behind “a jockey’s stone“.

National Burns Collection draws our attention to the fact that each line has a separate association. Thanks to the “jockey’s stone”, I’d suggest to think of the pairs of lines. 3rd and 4th lines are associated with hen, eggs, and chickens (= the origin of life); 5th and 6th – with the jockey, his horse, and their ages (= youth and senility); 7th and 8th – with the Poet’s impoverished life (= a nod to Burns himself); 9th and 10th – with the numbers 12, 13, and 14, the conflict between them and superiority of number 14 (= the theme of Power and power struggles); 11th and 12th – with Life received through a woman and Death that comes from men (= Life and Death).

Четырнадцать! Поэтом восхвалён,
Как много чудных тайн в тебе – не счесть!
Четырнадцать яиц у квочки под крылом, –
Четырнадцать цыплят взлетают на нашест.

Четырнадцать в жокейском стоуне мер;
Четырнадцать годин – уж старость для коняг;
Четырнадцать часов нередко Бард говел,
Не знает он восторг четырнадцати фляг!

Перед четырнадцатью дюжина не в счет;
Четырнадцати тринадцать не сильней;
В четырнадцать лет мать нас в мир ведет;
Уводят из него четырнадцать мужей.

Какой пример в ночи я б вспомнить мог?
Четырнадцать – в сонете стройных строк.

Translation © Julia Shuvalova, January 2012

Robert Burns – A Sonnet upon Sonnets (1788) 

Fourteen, a sonneteer thy praises sings;
What magic myst’ries in that number lie!
Your hen hath fourteen eggs beneath her wings
That fourteen chickens to the roost may fly.
Fourteen full pounds the jockey’s stone must be;
His age fourteen – a horse’s prime is past.
Fourteen long hours too oft the Bard must fast;
Fourteen bright bumpers – bliss he ne’er must see!
Before fourteen, a dozen yields the strife;
Before fourteen – e’en thirteen’s strength is vain.
Fourteen good years – a woman gives us life;
Fourteen good men – we lose that life again.
What lucubrations can be more upon it?
Fourteen good measur’d verses make a sonnet.

Пояснение на русском. 

Написанный в 1788 году, “Сонет о сонетах” считается первой попыткой Роберта Бёрнса использовать эту форму. Судя по употребленному в предпоследней строке слову “lucubrations” (“усердное размышление, протекающее ночью”), Бёрнс при свете ночной лампы перечислял все случаи, когда в нашей жизни встречается магическое число 14. В своих “штудиях” Бёрнс остается собой: он не делает разницы между “высокими” и “низкими” материями, идя от курицы с яйцами и цыплятами через “яркие фляги” до темы Жизни и Смерти. И ровно к моменту, как все “lucubrations” были исчерпаны, оказался закончен и сонет.

Надо сказать, что для первой попытки у Бёрнса получился очень “стройный” шекспировский сонет (abab, cdcd, efef, gg). Однако при кажущемся “маньеризме” в сонете заложена очень глубокая идея: как “сонетное” число 14 можно найти в самых разных жизненных сюжетах, так и Поэзия присутствует повсюду. Достаточно увидеть квочку, у которой под крылом четырнадцать яиц, – и вот готовый поэтический образ. В “Сонете о сонетах” тончайшим образом проявляется гений Бёрнса.

На перевод у меня ушел целиком весь вечер, хотя над парой строчек пришлось поработать. Особенно это касается “jockey’s stone”. Осмелюсь предположить, что Бёрнс вначале написал строчку про коня, после чего, естественно, потребовалось представить публике и жокея. И он не нашел ничего лучше, чем провести аналогию с весом жокея: действительно, по британской системе мер и весов в 1 стоуне – 14 фунтов. Не поняв это, конечно, начинаешь искать “скрытые смыслы” выражения “a jockey’s stone”.

Ну, и продолжая и улучшая мысль редакторов Национальной Коллекции Роберта Бёрнса, я думаю, что Бёрнс не просто выделял одну строчку для одной ассоциации. Речь скорее нужно вести о парах строк. Таким образом, не считая двух первых и двух последних строк, получаем следующее: 3 и 4 строки – курица, яйца и цыплята (= зарождение жизни); 5 и 6 – жокей, его лошадь и их возраст (= тема молодости и старости); 7 и 8 – бедное существование поэта (= сам Бёрнс); 9 и 10 – конфликт чисел 12, 13 и 14 и превосходство 14-ти (=  власть и борьба за нее); 11 и 12 – Жизнь, получаемая от женщины, и Смерть, приходящая от мужей (= тема Жизни и Смерти).