NB: VGM = Vasco Graça Moura; "Os Sonetos de Shakespeare" = The Shakespeare Sonnets.
I’ve always wanted to read VGM’s take, not only because of the sonnets, but also because of VGM’s “translation”. What VGM did was not really a translation. Why? Read on.
Before I proceed with the review, it’s necessary to clarify that the system versification of English is different from the method used in Portuguese. In English, the prosodic unit is the foot, which contains a number of syllables; in the typical foot, there is only one stressed syllable. The most used by Shakespeare verse, the iambic pentameter, consists of five feet, each foot being one iamb - an unstressed syllable followed by a marked one. In the poetry of the Portuguese language, the verses are divided into syllables, some sharper, and other unstressed. Because in the iambic pentameter we have five feet of two syllables each, there is a rooted belief among translators and scholars of the English-speaking poems in pentameter verse should be translated into decasyllables, thus allowing a formal equivalence between the two systems. However, many translators have chosen the Alexandrine, on the grounds that the English is much more concise than the Portuguese and therefore to express all ideas contained in the original - that is, so there is semantic equivalence – we would need to use longer lines. From that point of view, the most important being: “In a poetic translation is formal correspondence or semantics? Must we choose one of the two or can both be achieved?
Vasco Graça Moura’s translation has several glaring omissions, the most important of them occurring in verse eight from Sonnet 1, "Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel" translated as "cru inimigo de ti, teu ser desamas". There is nothing in the sonnet that can justify the inclusion of "Cru" (raw) in addition to "teu ser desamas". Another big glaring misinterpretation happens in the last verse: "To eat the world's due" becomes "Comas tu o devido"; I don’t understand to what/whom “devido” refers.
VGM made lots of lexical changes, and one of them seems to have been caused by another interpretation error: "buriest thy content", i.e., “bury your content” has been translated as "te enterras a contento". Strange choosing…
Every time I write about Shakespeare, I try putting into words why I love Shakespeare so differently than other writers. I’ve read many of the plays year after year. But I never tire of them, they never become familiar...they are always a visit to a mysterious world. That world teaches me a great deal about people, all different kinds of people. But it also teaches me all kinds of things about myself, all layers of myself as if I enter a Dream World, i.e, Shakespeare's Dreams. But I also encounter spirits beyond this world. Because of Shakespeare, I love fairies. Sadly, our culture always reduces that word to homosexuality. Shakespeare of course may have meant that interpretation on one level, he may also have been referring to alchemists or Rosicrucians. But I also think that he, like Yeats, believed in a supernatural world, and knew people who saw "real" fairies and or practiced magic as in Prospero's Book. So when I "enter" a Shakespearean play, it is like reading the Bible or the scriptures of other religions. I know that I will have to stretch myself to deal with all the forces of the universe from the most ethereal and beautiful to the crass and stupid and crude. Shakespeare asks us to explore the whole realms of all the universe, not just the ones where we feel comfortable. And we are always exploring, in awe, discovering what is ultimately mysterious which neither we nor he can fully understand. But he takes us by the hand and leads us into these amazing mysteries that show us what it means to be human...and divine...and evil...and in love, and in grief.
During the last years, I finally realized that Shakespeare was writing most of his plays to an audience who had lived through the plague. 20,000 people died in London in just one year of plague. I knew that fact, I guess, with my mind; but I finally allowed that grief into my heart. Shakespeare was writing Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night's Dream perhaps after his own 11 year old son had died, Judith's twin, Hamnet. So he writes these plays to try to resurrect his own son, to give life to his only son. Shakespeare gives these plays to an audience filled with grieving mothers and husbands and brothers and friends who have lost people on the level of English people in a war like WWII. These people are learning how to live in the midst of grief which shakes the foundations of their lives. Maybe that is why I always feel I am in a mystery, confused, needing jokes, and yet horrified by cruelty and transported as if by magic. I am never clear about what Shakespeare thinks. But I know that I am at the foundation of all life when with Lear I hold Cordelia in my arms. And no one, not even death or a stupid government or religious wars can ever take her from me...never, never, never, never, never. The pentameter rocks us like a lullaby in our inconsolable grief until we find rest.
Reading the 154 sonnets in a row, I've been thinking over the last week about the very transparent link between the second balcony scene in R & J and two sonnets -- 50 -- 51 ("How heavy do I journey on my way..." and "Thus can my love excuse the slow offence..."). It is almost as though Romeo could have written both sonnets as he was fleeing to Mantua -- both knowing that he has to be hasty, and hating the speed, and imagining the speed and joy with which he would be returning one day... They are also connected by the idea of "relativity of time" (Juliet says in the second balcony scene: I must hear from thee every day in the hour, For in a minute there are many days -- and that variable perception of time depending on the state of mind is also the theme of the sonnets).
I thought I'd just type in one of my favourite Shakespeare sonnet. I'll type it from memory in hopes that any mistakes I make might be helpful in pointing out where I might be misreading the lines (perhaps stressing the wrong syllables, or getting the rhymes wrong:
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye
Kissing with the golden face the meadows green
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face
And from the forlorn world his visage hide
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace.
Even so, my sun one early morn did rise
With all triumphant splendor on my brow,
But out alack! he was but one hour mine:
The region cloud has masked him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth,
Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth.
As I said, I've often wondered whether this particular sonnet is about Shakespeare's son, Hamnet. I have no “evidence” to support this idea, but the possible pun in line 9, as the sonnet makes a shift, the pun on sun/son, is one of the most common puns throughout Shakespeare's plays (the man never thought of a pun he could resist writing down). If the sonnets were written in the early 1590s, as is usually thought, the timing would be right. Hamnet died in 1596, at the age of 11. One of the most beautiful passages in all of Shakespeare, from the play King John, is sometimes thought to be the father's tribute to that son:
Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Prologue to Act II, begins:
"Now old desire doth in his death bed lie,
And young affection gapes to be his heir;
That fair, for which love groan'd for, and would die,
With tender Juliet matched, is now not fair."
Etc. (read it, read it read it!)
Being a lover of Shakespeare's sonnets, I was mesmerised by the very beautiful ("unpublished") sonnet that is the Prologue to Act II. Reading VGM’s decisions, I also decided to take this sonnet and appraise it.
This sonnet is expressive, powerful and magnificent. It describes succinctly how Romeo and Juliet have progressed from previous loves and family feuds (as "foe") to where they are now.
It also explains their dilemma (as foe) and why neither wants to give a firm commitment of love (at the start) - "Being held as foe, he may not have access". Juliet with "means much less" needs another ploy to meet with Romeo to discuss their plans. We find she uses the nurse as her agent.
This prolonged agony and exchange is the making of the romantic drama that follows.
How much simpler (but a much poorer story) it would have been had Romeo just jumped up on the balcony, embraced her and they had eloped (galloped off into the sunset!).
And my attempt at sonnetering using the iambic pentameter:
Poor Manuel is disappointed,
A car break-down on the way
His introduction to Shakespeare goes un-anointed,
But Stratford-upon-Avon is there to stay.
Man you need to persevere,
Life's too short for frustration.
So get your act into gear,
Following Shakespeare is your station.
Shakespeare is performed everywhere
There is no need to pine and stare.
Jump on the internet, go to a movie
These formats can be quite groovy.
There's no need to let disappointment survive
Get out and let your enthusiasm thrive.
(A sonnet by any other name would smell as sweet!)
Reading the sonnets the question I always pose to myself is not why did Shakespeare use the iambic pentameter, but rather why he did in some verses break the pattern. Does this matter? Who cares if one syllable or another is stressed? What difference does it make if one line rhymes and another doesn't? Reading the 154 sonnets in a row can reveal particular meanings and emphases, particularly when there is a variation. If one looks at the line opening of sonnet 66: "Those lips that Love's own hand did make", I noticed that the first word begins with a stressed syllable, breaking the usual pattern. What did he want to say by drawing our attention to the pattern here? Perhaps we are supposed to feel how truly in love the speaker of this line is. Who knows?
5 stars for the sonnets. 3 stars for the translation. 4 stars overall.
And the question remains:
To sonnetate or not to sonnetate, that is the question.
Vasco Graça Moura's Day.
Vasco Graça Moura's Day.