I can’t believe I haven’t written anything about John Donne since I started to blog from this location. A friend of mine has recently discovered him and that's an excuse as good as any other to post this translation.
Like some Spanish writers of Post-Renaissance literature, Donne wrote both love poetry and religious poetry. I prefer his love poetry, although there is a sonnet (ah, the religious sonnet, what a wonderful oxymoron) that compares his heart to a walled city and God to the army that has a siege on it, and faith with the ram that breaks the city walls. Have you seen The Return of the King, the third movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Can you see the leap of imagination needed to imagine that the love of God is like the Orcs and their catapults trying to conquer the city… for the city’s own good? His love poetry can share that same intensity.
John Donne is not well known in Spain; it’s unavoidable, perhaps. His violent metaphors are hard to understand in English, so translation is nightmarish at times. I cannot do John Donne justice, mostly because I have no ability to rhyme, so I’ve made an adaptation into free verse. No rhyme at all is better than bad rhyme. I have picked this poem because it is sentimental, and the same time restrained, so it appeals to me a lot (surprise, surprise). You can read it in English here.
Vienes a amortajarme. No rompas,
la pulsera de pelo que corona mi mano.
No toques el misterio,
no lo toques.
Es mi alma, un alma externa,
para sustituir la que se ha ido.
Ahora controla mi cuerpo.
Ahora ya tiene un imperio.
Ahora me salvará.
Mi mente ya no existe,
los músculos no han muerto.
Los pelos será nervios
pues no en vano crecían en mejor cabeza.
Y me recompondrán.
Eso, si ella no buscaba
dejarme aún más claro su no,
mi dolor encadenado,
los grilletes de pelo de mi amor prisionero.
Qué importa su intención.
Qué más da ella. Enterradlo.
Si me hizo mártir de amor,
cualquiera que lo vea se hará hereje,
idólatra de estas reliquias.
Y si me dio la humildad
para darle el mérito de todo lo que hice,
tendré el coraje.
Nunca la poseí. Algo suyo poseerá mi tumba.