Today’s prompt from Sunday Scribblings is (word for word): "I don't like myself. I'm CRAZY ABOUT MYSELF!" -- Mae West. This week: bragging. What's awesome about you? You can pick one awesome thing, or list as many as you can. Don't be shy!
Well, I peeked at some of the posts already linked to the SS site, and I suspect, from my small sampling, that most people are going to make jokes about either their humility or false humility. How PC can you get? Yes, I know we’re taught that bragging isn’t “nice”.
But I have one thing at which I am so first-rate at that I intend to blow my own horn about it!
I am second-rate at any number of things. I am a second-rate poet, novelist, essayist, and artist, although I like to think that I’m fairly good at all of them. I feel successful as a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother; but surely I share these types of success with millions of other women, even as I take great satisfaction from them.
So what is this one talent that I am willing to brag about unabashedly? It is the translation of poetry from a foreign language into English.
Jorge de Sena was a Portuguese poet and patriot exiled from his own country because of his opposition to the dictatorial Salazar regime. He fled first to Brazil, then, when the political climate there became unfavorable, to the United States, where at the time of his death he was head of the Department of Portuguese Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. As Evidencias, his book that I translated, was described by Sena as “a poem in twenty-one sonnets.” He wrote it while still in Portugal, where it was censored pre-publication as “obscene”. It is true that his angry descriptions of the ruling junta can be interpreted as obscene.
...What things are you?-Less than human, coarseBut other of these sonnets are tender and full of love as the poet contemplates the dangers facing his beloved humanity and its world. I am proud of my work of translation.
vile, slimy and crustaceous, mongrels born...
This, my only published book of translations, was bilingual - Portuguese to the left, English to the right. Here is the final pair of sonnets made doubly poignant by Sena’s own life. Finally Salazar was gone from Portugal and the way seemed clear for Sena to return to his beloved country. He was still packing to go there when he was diagnosed with rapidly advancing lung cancer and died shortly after.
Yes, I’m only a second-rate poet, but I’m still rather proud of the sonnet below which was included in my preface to the book. Isabel de Sena is the poet’s daughter and my friend and collaborator. She had planned a reception during spring break for some of us Berkeleyites to meet her father and mother, but the event had to be abruptly canceled after her father’s diagnosis.
To Jorge de SenaI almost shook your hand one Eastertide.
1 thought to meet you, father of my friend,
- a hope to which your illness put an end-
nor had I read your poems before you died.
For fifteen years and more since then I’ve tried
to feel with your emotions and to lend
to you my eyes, my ears, my skin - to bend
my tongue to Portuguese, to live inside
your mind, your nerves, your passions, and to seek
freedom from tyrants with your indignation,
the sad deep vein of rage with which you wrought
tenderness and a voice for who can’t speak.
Through dark mirrors of inexact translation
I strive to resurrect your living thought.Phyllis Sterling Smith