Friday, October 24, 2008

My Brag








Be sure to click on this if you want to read it.

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, coarse
vile, slimy and crustaceous, mongrels born...
But 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.

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.

Be sure to click on this if you want to read it.

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 Sena
I 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

26 comments:

Rinkly Rimes said...

And so you should be proud of it! What an achievement. It must be so much harder to translate poetry than prose, since so much lies between the lines.

On a lighthearted note, I found the language very nostalgic. I had a brief affair with a Portuguese man in Africa about fifty years ago and I received a poem from him when I returned to Zimbabwe. I couldn't translate it, but I went to the library and picked out a few words. Then I felt so embarrassed that I hid it!!! I still have it somewhere.

I'm sorry to lower the tone of your interesting blog!

Liza's Eyeview said...

You are right to be proud of this - what a unique precious talent.

anthonynorth said...

Definitely an achievement to be proud of - as well as the others you highlight at the beginning of your post.

Rob Kistner said...

Phyllis - Bravo for you!!

I've never been worth a damn at grasping foreign languages -- too much Latin through my Catholic up bringing. It's not the dead language, it's the useless language.

It gives you just enough insight into today's romantic languages as to know nothing of substance.

That you can grasp and use a foreign is worthy of praise... again -- BRAVO! ;)

murat11 said...

Two lovely sonnets, Phyllis: yours and Jorge's.

Maggie May said...

Well yes..... you are allowed to brag about that! It is an excellent achievement and one that I personally didn't know about! Brilliant!

rp605 said...

I love your posts, definitely something to be proud about. I suppose that everyone has that one thing that they are good at over all the other things that we are proud of. Now I have to try and figure out mine!
~mspennylane

Autrice DelDrago said...

You never cease to amaze me with your colorful personal history and talent!

Crafty Green Poet said...

that is very impressive, i wish I could translate poetry....

B. Roan said...

I'm impressed. You can brag about this all you want. You deserve accolades. BJ

Linda Jacobs said...

What a full life you have led! Every time I visit your blog, I am so impressed with all you have done!

Your poem for him is just beautiful! You have every right to gush about this!

keith hillman said...

You never cease to amaze me. Every week we learn a little more about your full and varied life. You have so much to brag about, and 'second rate' are not words I'd associate with your writings

anno said...

What gorgeous sonnets you've shown us here! If this is what comes of bragging, then brag away, as much as you wish. I'll gladly read it all.

Stan Ski said...

Hard enough to understand foreign tongues, but to understand sentiments expressed in other languages is a real gift.

Tanya Gwen Minnick said...

you have every right to brag, I've experienced you as being so attentive and kind to us all..and that is a wonderful quality!
and your writing is beautiful!!
be well

sarala said...

This is just fantastic. If I had published that translation, I'd brag too. Great work. I think your sonnet is quite fine as well. So there was a little false modesty!

Tammy said...

WOW Granny that is something to brag about and not an easy task. You are one of my shero's that I'm inspired by. Bravo!

Bethany Bassett said...

What a lovely and worthwhile accomplishment! You never cease to amaze. :)

Patois said...

No, you could never go the path of false humility. Brilliant!

Beth said...

How you inspire! Thank you for sharing this accomplishment, among many. I would never call you a second-rate poet. Your poetry and translations sing!

jadey said...

You definetly deserve a pat on the back. I love your sonnet. I love this post and I think you rock granny.

Kristin said...

Wahhh!! Again you make me cry. Or Sena does through you. It's so powerful.

Shyam said...

That is so worth bragging about. That is so AWESOME!

Giggles said...

That is quite the accomplishment you've been hiding from us!! Darn time you exposed yourself!!! Well worthy of a few accolades!

Hugs Giggles

Gamol Gabere said...

First of all let me apologize for my absence. It's been an eventful summer, one of which my computer crashed and burned. I'm back with a new blog. Formerly the Alchemist.
Now bragging rights. You have a bag full. It's hard enough learning to speak another language never mind translating a piece of literature. Finding the right word to keep the integrity of the story. But poetry...sonnets no less my mind reels at the degree of difficulty. Stand up and take a bow, I applaud you!

Tootie said...

I think you have under estimated your talents. I loved reading your blog.