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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”.

Robert Louis Stevenson – She Rested By the Broken Brook

She rested by the Broken Brook,
She drank of Weary Well,
She moved beyond my lingering look,
Ah, whither none can tell!

She came, she went. In other lands,
Perchance in fairer skies,
Her hands shall cling with other hands,
Her eyes to other eyes.

«She vanished. In the sounding town,
Will she remember too?
Will she recall the eyes of brown
As I recall the blue?

One of My Favourite Poems (‘IF’ by R. Kipling)

Original post from 26/01/2007

The first time I read this poem, I was at school, and I remember well we were preparing to either a quiz or a matinee, so we had to learn an English poem by heart. I believe this was about 13-14 years ago. I also remember that at first I took it simply as a poem by Rudyard Kipling, and only much later – when I was already a student at the University – did I begin to realise that this poem means much more to me. Effectively, with another couple of poems and a few quotations, these lines summarise my approach to things in life.

I shall also give a link to the Russian translation of this poem, by Mikhail Lozinsky. As far as I am concerned, Lozinsky was one of the best ever Russian translators. At the turn of 1930-40s, battling a deadly illness, he had been working on the Russian translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Among his other translations, one of my favourite is definitely Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And, of course, Kipling’s If.

So, enjoy the poem, and if you have got any thoughts or memories about it, do post a comment about these. 🙂

(For Russian translation (“Заповедь”), please follow the link. The text comes after a poem by Coleridge).

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Quotes On the Front Page: Alvarez Bravo On Inventions, Miller On Wholeness

As we have more and more inventions, the individuals becomes more and more separated from the society. – Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Мир стремится к тому, чтобы стать единым целым, сколь бы ни сопротивлялись части, его составляющие. – Генри Миллер.

London 2013 – A Bookstore Shelf


London 2013, originally uploaded by loscuadernosdejulia.

This is a real bookshelf in a real bookstore in Holborn district of London. I was impressed by the range of titles: James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Stief Larsson, John Fowles, Oscar Wilde, John Keats, William Blake, William Wordsworth and Geoffrey Chaucer (the latter five – on the bottom shelf), etc, etc. But little could be as grotesque as placing Fifty Shades Freed next to Joyce’s Ulysses, the former being criticised for the quality of prose, and the latter being praised for the exact same thing.

One may say that it is a strange sign of our times when novels, so different, can not only stand on the same shelf, but practically rub shoulders with one another.

Les Notes Parisiennes

Et bon, mes chers lecteurs, enfin j’ai visite Paris. Pardonnez-moi l’absence des articles, mais il n’y a pas de langue francaise a mon telephone.

Those of you who have been reading the blog for a while will know that this was a very long-lasting dream that has finally come true. According to the French themselves, I speak their language very well, although this was the first time I really had to converse with native speakers. I managed to keep my writing skills up, while living in the UK, but I was quite fearful for the spoken language. Thankfully, there is nothing to fear about any longer.

I’ve only had two days, so I somehow chose to visit the Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, the Pere Lachese cemetery, and the Louvre. Maybe I should have made a different choice, but the positive impressions abound anyway. In addition to visiting these great sites, I ate at various lovely places where there was always good food and good service, both at good value. The majority thought I was English, if I had to “switch” the language to better express myself. I took buses and metro, I climbed 300 stairs up the Sacre Coeur to see the unforgettable Parisian panorama in broad daylight. Naturally, I chose to use the ascenseur (elevator) to visit la Tour Eiffel, for otherwise I’d overdo climbing for the day. I was still rewarded with spectacular views of Paris by night and a short illumination.

The French were generally very helpful – perhaps because they sensed the chance to practise their English. As soon as I arrived and was trying to figure out where to go, a map in my hand, a lovely French lady came up and offered me help. I always do this kind of thing in Moscow, so it looks like this was the instance of “the good you do comes back to you“.

And then there were two funny situations, both at the Eiffel Tower. First, I saw two security guards studying a small bottle of champagne they confiscated from someone. The conversation went thus:

I: “Are you going to give it back, if they ask?”
Guard: “Me? This is going to cost!” – and he made a gesture with his fingers, hinting at the money they’d have to pay to get the bottle back.

Obviously, this was a joke.

A better one followed during my own security check before going for the elevator. Our conversation:

Guard: Knives? Pistols?
I: Of course, not!
Guard: A bomb?
I: Well, I haven’t thought about it.

At one of the bistros where I stopped we had a pleasant conversation with a gentleman from Biarritz. Eventually, we arrived to a conclusion that Biarritz was even more expensive than Nice because of its exclusivity. In return, I explained the meaning of the word “issue”, and how it can be used in English language.

Prior to going to Paris I read Villa “Amalia” by Pascal Quignard. It was a Russian translation, a moving story of a woman-artist. I remember trying to read Dance, Dance, Dance by Mourakami in English years ago, and I couldn’t even wade through it because it felt like I was “reading” a film by some Asian director, Wong Kar-wai or something. As much as I love Kar-wai’s films, “reading” it in another author’s novel was too much. I didn’t get past a few opening chapters.

With Villa “Amalia” there was also a feeling that it was a very cinematographic novel, I could easily see it being adapted to the screen, and the little parts, into which the bigger chapters are broken, may in fact be separate scenes in a feature. Thanks to this, the novel is every bit a French film at its best: rich yet succinct, and always with a good “afterthought”, as in “aftertaste”. Isabelle Huppert could certainly play Anna Hidden. I guess this plainly shows me as a huge French cinema fan.

In the story, as well, “Hidden” is a pseudonym. The protagonist is half-Jewish, she took the pseudo after a suggestion from her lover, but her father has spent a lifetime escaping various things, family included. Anna herself “hides” from relationships and, at some point, from people, while retaining her privacy. And as she is not widely known by face, she remains “hidden”. Apart from everything else in the novel, this is a beautiful play on words from another language, to portray a character.

And on the way back from Paris I was again reading Les Champs Magnetiques by A. Breton and Ph. Soupault.

Donc, a bientot!

The Case For Aliens (Exercises in Loneliness-XI)

If we take George Mikes’s title literally and add to it the fact that each of us is a rather solitary figure in this world, then each of us is an alien. Either an Englishman in New York, or a Russian in Manchester, we depend on ourselves and always get back to ourselves as a point of reference.

Then another George comes to mind – that’s Orwell with his “some animals more equal than other animals”. By extension, some aliens are more equal than other aliens, provided they constitute the majority – of population, religion, sexual orientation etc.

At this carrefour originates a seeming necessity to be less alien than other aliens, and this necessity sometimes can yield unexpected results.

It was probably in 2010 that I went into a Tesco Express, one of many in Manchester city centre. The girl who was working at the till belonged to the Afro-Caribbean community and was absolutely lovely – except a typically Caribbean accent. She was trying to give me change and asked for a two pence coin. I was distracted so I didn’t hear her at first. She repeated, and I genuinely couldn’t understand. Again she said it, this time I made it out and gave the coin. She laughed:

– You’re foreign, that’s why you don’t understand my accent.

– No, – I replied, – I’m British.

I didn’t mean to be nasty, and I wasn’t really offended. After all, I was foreign in Manchester once. I suppose the whole conversation was a matter of fact, at least as far as I was concerned. It was strange and funny yet that we – both actually foreign in one way or another – engaged in guessing the “degree” of alienness, one of us ultimately losing.

Now, on my recent visit to Edinburgh I went into one of many souvenir shops . An owner with a recognisable European accent was selling ladies’ kilts to a group of Italian donne interpreted by an 11-year-old girl. “I can tell you, ladies”, he was confidently telling them in a high voice, “almost all souvenir shops here are taken by the Indians, there are only 5 or 6 authentic shops”. His was evidently one of the authentic shops.

I was attended to next. I think for the best of his business I shall omit the reference to the exact country of his origin. The point, however, is that he was as much alien to Scotland as the Indians (or Pakistani). And yet – be it due to skin colour or merely parroting what he might hear in pubs and from other vendors – he considers himself superior to people who at any rate have been associated with the UK for longer than his country of origin.

The stories are quite similar, as you can see. People assume superiority over their neighbour by assuming that the neighbour is alien. Greeks did the same when they called the rest of the world barbarians. They couldn’t understand that rather imperfect language, but it was the barbarians’ fault anyway. And as if the realisation of one’s solitary existence and loneliness in this world was not enough, there comes, sooner or later, the understanding that there are aliens who are more equal.

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