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All decked with glittering diamonds bright,
And every shining stone,
That like the stars make glad the night;
For stars no brighter shine I ween,
And thought to make his crown my own.
I mad became; but madder stil
Would have been had I repented."
Considered in itself this seems to have little beauty. From our point of view the simple prose translation is better; it sounds more serious to the ear; it is stripped of the apparent bombast or air of flippancy that is suggested by the form of expression. On our own comic opera stage, "A hero quite perfect in splendor" would be admirably suited to a coxcomb smothered ridiculously in silks or satins and gay ribbons. In the Spanish it is different. Where we cannot eliminate the associations that make the verse a travesty, they have associations that fill it out to a full picture. The Spaniard's life is full of the color that he loves: his nature is warmer and more impulsive. He goes into raptures where the unmoved AngloSaxon only smiles. The spangles and marked colors of the actor's costume appear in good taste in the strong glare of the footlights; on the street they would be ludicrous. So do the translations MacCarthy has made of Calderon's plays, appear in the true light to those that understand and consider the time, the country and the people for whose tastes he wrote.
It might be contended that MacCarthy was wrong to put the plays into a metre unfit for them. Of this he says the following: "It is by no means my intention to enter into the oft-debated question as the principle which should guide or coerce the translator in his task. As far as the translator is concerned, it is a much easier thing to produce a popular and flowing version of any foreign poem or play than a faithful and exact one; and the effect to be produced will so depend upon the capacity and culture of the reader,—whether, in a
word, he will have his German or Spanish so thoroughly 'done into English' as to have every particle of its original nature eliminated out of it, or will have it faithfully presented to him with all its native peculiarities preserved, -is so much a matter of taste, that no definite rule can be arrived at in the matter." This is a subject for a discussion of translations only.
Shelley, who had a great admiration for Calderon, said in one of his letters that he was "tempted to throw over their perfect and glowing forms the grey veil" of his own words. Whether or not he meant that in putting them into English he must make them less fantastic or more suited to the sober, calm Anglo-Saxon temperament, he has done it in part. It is to be regretted that he did not go further into the work than to translate only some scenes of "El Magico Prodigioso." He has made it great in our own language, a thing of beauty; but it would be unwise for us to accept it as Calderon's own. Shelley has breathed into it his own art, and has used with much advantage the subtleties of expression that Calderon was not able to use. The warmth and color of Calderon roused Shelley's own thoughts, and his own self took flame from the fire of the one he was to transcribe.
"Since thou desirest, I will then unveil
A world of happiness and misery;
In lineage so supreme, and with a genius
Here, Shelley does not tamper with the main thought and insert conceits of his own; but he takes the main thought into his own hands and touches it here with a master touch; it is the old drapery hung over again in a different room with newer folds and better light to bring its various colors into harmony; it is the old picture newly framed and retouched with a skillful brush with dark lines to bring out the detail more clearly.
It is the English Calderon which English readers may enjoy through the medium of their own dramatic verse, through their own gray veil. Yet when the reader has finished, does he know of the color, the so-called "rodomontade" of the Spanish poet? The form being so near to the spirit and clinging so closely to it, it is quite impossible to take one from the other without injury. And if we read Calderon in blank verse, we fail to catch much of the Spanish temperament because we do not see the short, periodic verses so expressive of it.
Edward Fitzgerald, who has translated six of the "lesser" dramas, does not show the quality of faithfulness to the original that characterizes MacCarthy's work, nor has he given to his work the power and fineness that Shelley gave to his. He despairs, as he says in the preface of the book, of making a successful translation of the poet. "I do not believe an exact translation of this poet can be very successful; retaining so much that, whether real or dramatic, Spanish passion is still bombast to English ears."
He offers the following reasons for the variations in his own translation :--"Choosing, therefore, such less famous plays as still seemed to me suited to English taste, and to that form of verse in which our dramatic passion prefers to run, I have, while faithfully trying to retain what was fine and efficient, sunk, reduced, altered and replaced much that seemed not, simplified some perplexities, and curtailed or omitted scenes that seemed to mar the breadth of general effect." If Fitzgerald wrote with the object of pleasing the public fancy, he could not have done better. Yet if I founded my appreciation of Calderon upon his translations, what would be the value of my opinions? Must I judge a man only by those characteristics that seem valuable from my point of view? Must I condemn the actors of the play because they do not wear the
kind of clothes I wear or that seem proper to me? The figure
Even one who dance best, and all the time
To love's sweet influence, misjudges him
Who moves according to love's melody;
Are necessary changes of the measure,
The lover crazy; which he would not do
If he within his own heart heard the tune
Played by the great musician of the world."
Evidently Fitzgerald believed that his readers did not hear the music that guided the motion of the dancer; they did not or could not understand the influences of time, people, climate and surroundings that the Spanish dramatist was susceptible to. If he believed aright-which is a question to be answered elsewhere-the unfortunate readers can do no better than to catch a glimpse of Calderon through Fitzgerald's blank verse; and they must be satisfied with a very limited knowledge of his plays. Not judging by severe laws, however, the work is valuable for its own beauties, the reflection of the beauties of the original, which we must put up with as almost as much as any translator can do.
In "The Life and Genius of Calderon" Dean Trench has made some translations which are of little value. As to the form,-in so far as the Spanish form can be imitated in English, --they are good; but the color is lost and Calderon appears in rather prosaic, lifeless tetrameters. Trench did not understand the spirit of Calderon; he looked upon him as a religious fanatic; he saw only the face without being able to understand the soul. Moreover, Trench was not poet enough to deal familiarly with the muse of Calderon, whose music, accordingly, he could not transfer to his own verse.
In consideration of all these attempts to reproduce the works of the great dramatist in the English language, the
question arises as to the possibilities of prose translations. The Spanish dramatic form is so alien to our own that, in trying to gain a good understanding of the comedias and autos, we cannot prescind from it. Yet to know the form we must go to the original; all copies of it are inadequate; the periodic seven-syllable or eight-syllable lines, the assonances,--of which I found as many as one hundred and seventy-three in one series-the multitudinous rhymes, are not known to the English ear. In forcing the idea to fit the tetrameters and the attempted assonance, much is shaven off that may be valuable to its comprehension. This does not necessarily happen in the broad prose version, where no compression of thought is needed to fit the metre.
If we take it that the reader is wholly unable to study the poetic form in Calderon's own work, that translation which attempts to give both form and spirit is the best. If we accept the reader as one that knows enough of Spanish verse forms, and Spanish temperament and surroundings, to understand the dramatic verse, the prose version is the most valuable. As it stands, Calderon has had so little interest for the English-speaking people that this question must remain of secondary importance until he comes to be better known. ELMER MURPHY.