Hopkins Lectures 2000

Hopkins, His Translators and Temporary Truths

Giuseppe Serpillo Sassari University, Italy

The linguistic code used by each of us is a personal creation only to a very small degree: it is rather the result of a process of data storing and processing which is rooted in the history of a whole community, so that the individual user of a particular language is bound to be affected by his language as much as he acts upon it.

In an article published a few years ago, Garrett and Fodor, discussing a number of psychoacoustic experiments, concluded that "the perception of sentences is an active process in which the listener provides a structural analysis rather than responding passively to some acoustic cues which 'programme' his responses" (Dixon 201). "Receiving" a poem is not just something which proceeds from the way a text has been organized by the poet himself: it is largely connected with the reader's or the listener's capability of "receiving" that text. As J. Culler puts it, "the meaning of the work [lies in the] experience it provokes in the reader" (ix).

Sound perception and organization are not just something depending on the ear, they are not a mere acoustic phenomenon: they are above all connected with the listener's own culture, whether we consider it a matter of individual understanding and appreciation or a state of anthropological development. As Sapir, Whorf, Carroll, and Ong have largely demonstrated, in fact, thought itself is shaped by language; the two are so closely connected, that they couldn't exist without each other. On the other hand, the linguistic code used by each of us is a personal creation only to a very small degree: it is rather the result of a process of data storing and processing which is rooted in the history of a whole community, so that the individual user of a particular language is bound to be affected by his language as much as he acts upon it.

There seems to be general agreement nowadays on the fact that a reader's frame of mind is dramatically conditioned by the world view his or her culture has mostly ordained for him/her; this world view is not just a set of principles which are communicated through a code; it is rather a pattern which is inscribed in the code in its principles of self-regulation and development, in its highly symbolic quality.

Reading a text in a language which is different from our own, especially if it is a poetic text, will result in a very different reception of the text itself by the native speaker and/or any other reader for whom that language is a more recent acquisition: from the point of view of lexicon, for example, words that sound familiar to native speakers of English, being connected with their everyday experience, might acquire greater semantic force for someone, like the author of the present article, who is not a native speaker; on the other hand, words which are charged with strong emotional connotations for the native speaker might sound artificial, graceless, trite or unimaginative to an Italian reader (take, for instance, all those words of Latin origin which have been assimilated in quite different ways by our respective cultures through a different use of the code).

Hopkins's preference for Germanic Works is largely lost in an Italian Translation

Hopkins's special inclination for Germanic words and constructions, for instance, will be mostly lost in an Italian translation (and most of the original flavour will be gone forever); or, if read in the original language, each phrase, each word, each sound will have quite a different impact on the Italian or English reader's sensibilities, will provoke quite different types of intellectual and aesthetic experience.

Meaning of cerain words in Italian highly coloured by Catholic Liturgy

The meaning of certain words in a Catholic country like Italy (1), which has been so for centuries, is charged with such strong connotations deriving from the Catholic liturgy in Latin and from morning and evening prayers as to make it almost impossible for an average speaker of Italian to give those words a different shade, to forget the religious contexts in which they were most probably heard for the first time; words like spirit, glory, glorify, adore, adored still ring with the mysterious fascination of formerly half-understood formulas: cum sancto spiritu, in gloria Dei Patris -- laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te. Until a few years ago, these words, these formulas, became part of a child's heritage almost unawares; they passed into everybody's unconscious mind through the ear and stuck in one's memory for their rhythmic intensity and for the quality of their sounds -- their pitch, rhythm, duration, recurrence -- would bring about feelings of peace or terror which often had nothing to do with the meaning of the words -- Suscipiat Dominus sacrificium de manibus tuis/ ad laudern et gloriam nominis sui, / ad utilitatem quoque nostram /totiusque Ecclesiae suae sanctae -- would leave single, often unrelated words or phrases in one's memory like relics which every now and then came, still come, to the surface -- an essential part of our human condition at that particular time, in that particular place: Ingemisco tanquam reus, / culpa rubet vultus menu:/ supplicanti parce, Deus.

The genius of a Language

To all this must be added what Nida and Taber in The Theory and Practice of Translation have defined as "the genius" of a language:

"each language possesses certain distinctive characteristics which give it a special character, e.g. word-building capacities, unique patterns of phrase order, techniques for linking clauses into sentences, markers of discourse, etc." (3-4).

To the already complicated problems posed by individual words, the common reader, and that special type of reader, the translator, will have to add th se depending on syntax. The extreme conciseness of the English language is made even more so by Hopkins's frequent recurrence to so-called "compounding," which is an aspect of syntax and style which would be considered very difficult, if not impossible, to adopt in the Italian language. This, of course, not only has a great effect on the quality of any translation of Hopkins's poems into Italian, but, what is more, the unconscious mental adaptation of a pattern to another pattern drastically affects both the reception and the memorization o the same poems, by a native speaker and/or any other reader approaching the text from a different linguistic and cultural network.

Finally; also that special aspect of language which is the language of literature, with all that complex play of interrelationships tying any one text to all other texts produced within the same literary tradition, inevitably affects the quality of reading which depends largely on a series of preexisting expectations arising from the reader's roots in a particular literary tradition with which he/she is especially familiar.

Let's consider two different translations of two different Hopkins poems: the first dates back to the nineteen-fifties (Ferrara, 1960), the second is quite recent (Pezzini,1990). There is a gap of more than thirty years between the two translations, a very different linguistic and critical approach to the author by the two translators; however, both succeed in arousing an aesthetic response in the Italian reader which, in this specific case, is not to be regarded as second-rate when compared to that produced by the original text. Yet, could we say that the type of emotion aroused is identical? Of course not, and not just because the two languages are so different from each other, but also because the two translators were so clever as to combine effects based on properties of sound which seem to have universal symbolic value with other qualities of specific sounds which a centuries old experimentation in metrical patterns has made particularly appropriate and pleasant to the Italian ear and to the Italians' subconscious selves. I am aware that the "vexata quaestio" of whether one can even refer to universal sound symbolism is far from being solved; but "the existence of universal sound symbolism," as Dell Hymes wrote a few years ago, "cannot be dogmatically denied." His interesting essay on some English sonnets bears witness to it. As Hymes correctly puts it,

insistence on the arbitrary nature of the connection between sound and meaning cuts off inquiry into a very real aspect of speech and language . . . any and all the various types of sound?meaning association may be utilized by a particular poet in a particular language and may be responded to by his audience. (113)

An interesting exploitation of this universal sound symbolism appears in both translations:

Example 1

The Wreck of the Deutschland
IV I kiss my hand
To the stars, lovely-asunder
Starlight . . .(transl. Ferrara)

Example 2

Felix Randal (53)
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it. . Penare, penare, fino a the la ragione vi si perse . . .
translator,Italian,Pezzini,(transl. Pezzini)

In the first example the translator has placed special emphasis on the alliteration of 1. This liquid sound, a continuous sound, has always been associated with "drooping languor," "softness," "sensuality" (Inglis, Leech, Hymes), This sound is much more frequent in Ferrara's translation than in Hopkins's original version, which abounds in s sounds instead. An alliteration of s is also present in Ferrara, but it is much less emphasized. As a result, the final feeling, for the readers of the two versions is basically different even though both rely on the repetition of the same sounds. Ferrara's version is more sensual than Hopkins's, and its effect is rather like that arising from a Keats poem -- and Keats, as everybody knows, is one of Hopkins's earliest sources.

In the second example, the sibilant, continuous sound s at the end of the line reinforces --through sheer sound symbolism the impression of the gradual, inexorable disappearing of reason into the meanders of suffering, also suggested by the meaning of the verb "si perse" (past tense of "perdersi" = getting lost, being lost). Yet the sound symbolism we have discovered in both translations reaches the Italian ear through patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables, which, even though they also exist in the English literary tradition, will be received differently by the two groups of readers. In the first example, Ferrara makes use of decasyllables; in the second, Pezzini goes back to the endecasyllable after creating a tension through a less frequent sequence of six stressed syllables. Now, decasyllabic lines were used, for instance, by Petrarch, Manzoni, G. Pasacoli, G. Carducci; the endecasyllable-- which represents a steady unit of rhythm and meaning in the Italian metrical tradition comparable to that of the iambic pentameter in the English tradition -- rings in the ear, just to give one clear example, of anyone who has read Dante in the original language. Thus, in all likelihood, the Italian reader (Dante, Petrarch, Manzoni, are still compulsory subjects in Italian schools) will mentally reshape Hopkins's world through the cage of his/her own literary tradition.

In brief, reading Hopkins in English may cause in the Italian reader a response which is emotional and rational at the same time, but this response will be only partly due to his/her own sensitivity, to his/her knowledge of the code in which the poem was produced and of the rhetorical and stylistic devices which direct any literary language, the language of poetry in particular. When we read Hopkins, we read it within the conceptual boundaries which are inscribed in the code we know best, that is Italian, and, as far as the author of this article is personally concerned, within the cultural conditioning due to the influence of the Sardinian language upon the Italian language, an influence absorbed from a very early age and which is and will always be there, even if one were no longer able to speak and understand it. (3)

At the very moment that an Italian reader starts reading a text written in English, whether he/she is going to provide a translation of it or not, he/she will cast upon that text a whole grid of lexical, syntactic, and semantic rules pertaining to his/her own mother tongue. A translation -- that special mental and psychological effort to render the complexities of a particular piece o creative writing in another language -- will just cause this complex network of interrelationships to come to the surface, will make the whole process of reading evident to the eye and to the rational mind, but that process will be there in any case, even if no translation at all is provided.

The first problem with Hopkins's poems will be how to cope with what Leavis defined as his "hypertrophy of technique" (Pursuit 52), that extraordinary ability of his to concentrate "complexities of feeling, the movement of consciousness, difficult and urgent states of mind" (Bearings 129) in a few lines, even in one line, through alliteration, assonance, rhythm, and the skillful exploitation of that peculiarity of English syntax by which complex noun modifiers can be obtained from relative clauses through the so-called "deletion transformation." This "hypertrophy of technique" is made up of phonetic, rhythmic, and syntactic features which are not easily separable from one another and which, in any case, are received as one complex whole. It is very difficult, most probably even impossible, for a translator to reproduce such complicated mechanisms in the target language by concentrating just on each line or small group of lines; a wiser and more successful way of proceeding seems to be that of concentrating on the interrelationships and balances which can and must be discovered as existing between clusters of lines within the poem or between stanzas of longer poems, and trying to convey this internal coherence in the translation. This does not imply that exactly the same phonic, rhythmic, syntactic, and rhetorical devices should be reproduced in the translation, much less in the order of occurrence; that would be a desperate enterprise indeed! What is important for the translator is to try and produce in the target language approximately the same number of devices, even though not of the same quality or in the same order. If, for instance, as in the first stanza of "The Wreck of the Deutschland," the poem overflows with alliterations, the translator will be bound to re-create as many as possible in the target language; however, the alliterated sounds need not be the same. In any case, no effort to reproduce the alliterated sounds of the original poem should be allowed to interfere with the clearness and precision of any image nor with the purity and naturalness of the language.

I will try to show what I mean exactly by discussing the translation of two short passages from a couple of difficult poems. The attempted translations are mine:

Example 3

The Wreck of the Deutschland
Thou mastering me
God! giver of breath and bread;
World's strand, sway of the sea;
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing. and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

Tu the mi domini
Dio! the pane a respiro mi doni,
Tu sponda del mondo, dominio del mare,
Signore dei vivi a dei morti,
Hai avvinto in me ossa in me vene, fissato la carne
E poi quasi disfatto, con quale terrore,
Il gia fatto, a ancora mi tocchi?
Io sento di nuovo il tuo tocco, ti trovo.

Example 4

The Leaden Echo (59)

How to kéep - is there àny any, is there none such, nowhere
known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, lace,
latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, . . . from
vanishing away?

C'è qualche qualche, non ce n'è di . . . , chè in qualche dòve
si sappia, o fiocco o spilla, o trèccia o tràccia, laccio o
chiavàccio, ciave o serràme, the possa sàppia fare restàre
Qui la bellèzza, a trattenèrla bellezza la bèlla bellèzza . . dallo svanìre?

I hope the effort to reproduce as many alliterations as possible in the first translation, though through a different choice of sounds, will be clear enough to everybody I'd rather concentrate, then, on the second example, on that bit of the "echo" poems. What first shocks the reader of "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo" -- especially, I think, the non-native speaker -- is the hypnotic violence of its rhythm, which seems to be bouncing along on clusters of alliterated consonant sounds, tapping lightly on very short syllables and then resting for awhile on longer vowel pauses. My first approach to this poem was just of this kind: an initial effort to grasp each shade of meaning in the first few lines, the psychological anticipation of a verb, that verb - to keep - the presence of which, somewhere -but where - was clearly announced by the word order in the very first line, and which, on the other hand, seemed always to be postponed, delayed, thwarted by more words, more clauses, and which, once found, was made to dash, flash, flit, and fly like a flat stone on a stream; then the long sequence of images, sounds, images mixed with sounds, until the exact meaning of each word seemed to have faded away. One only felt this push forward through a tortuous path of sounds which claimed to be read aloud, whispered, shouted . . . uttered, until the final dimming of "Yonder, yes yonder, yonder."

What was, then, most important here? What was essential for the reader of an Italian translation of these lines to know, to perceive? "The Leaden Echo" is first of all a musical exercise; all that the two echoes try to tell us is less important for us to grasp than the way they tell us. The mystery of the messages any natural echo seems to be conveying lies in its very reproduction of sound sequences which, by their being reproduced several times at regular intervals and different intensity, finally acquired a meaning which may differ dramatically from that of the original sequence of sounds. It ensues from this that what is especially important for a translator is to try and reproduce the echoic aspects of a range of emotions first and foremost based on the mysterious evocative power of a choice of sounds rather than on the meaning of individual words or phrases. This is certainly a very difficult task, so difficult that I believe that a complete translation of the two poems into Italian is doomed to failure, to be but a collection of beautiful fragments kept together by much second?rate cement. In any case, and this is my most important point, any subsequent reading of the poems by an Italian reader -- in the original language, not just in translation -- will be strongly oriented and influenced by this sort of mental accompaniment, burden, or drone which is rooted in the interpretative effort of the poems effected through the linguistic and conceptual grids of the Italian language.

As F.R. Leavis remarked in one of his essays on Hopkins, "

it is impossible to discuss for long the distinc. tive qualities of Hopkins's poetry without coming to his religion" (Pursuit 47).

Yet I think it is necessary to make a distinction here between the religious feeling as it was experienced by Hopkins the man and the priest, and that which characterizes Hopkins the poet: the former is notably laid bare in his letters and diaries which reveal a spiritual condition in which the apprehension of God as gratitude and joy alternates with another as awe and threat; more often, his response to the various manifesta. tions of God in nature contains both attitudes. So, for example, we read in his journal for 17 August 1874 that before the sight of a starry sky, he "praised our Lord to and in whom all that beauty comes home" (J 254). But on the 13th of July of that same year he says he had felt "a certain awe and instress, a feeling of strangeness., , and of threatening" before the sight of a comet "at bedtime in the west" (J 249). Four years earlier (24 Sept, 1870), the Northern Lights -- which seemed to him to take place "independent of the earth . . . in a strain of time not reckoned by our reckoning of days and years" -- had caused in young Hopkins a "delightful fear" for something he had interpreted as "a new witness of God" (J 200), The oxymoron -- which is the figure of speech which best expresses man's bewilderment and dismay before the awareness of the coexistence of double truth --was certainly the most appropriate, maybe the most natural linguistic device, to express hisstate of mind before the abyss of eternity, and the Unknown. His attitude before the Godhead is thus twofold: before the complexity of creation he feels gratitude; but this created universe also enclose whatever is strange, unusual, unexpected, and consequently, disquieting and even terrifying. If we consider Hopkins the poet, however, his religious feelings follow quite a different course: what happens to him is an extraordinary illustration of William Stafford's statement that "Art has its sacramental aspect" and that "the source of art's power is one with religion's" (268), which is as much as saying, again with Leavis, that "the technical triumph is a triumph of the spirit" (Bearings 135)

What I mean can be clearly seen both in "The Wreck of the Deutschland" and in "The Loss of the Eurydice" (41). In both poems, the strain of the fight against the sea becomes a linguistic strain. Now the pain of the struggle against the sea is of course a metaphor of the intolerable strain caused by man's tragic struggle against the terrifying powers - both internal and external - still threatening to destroy him, blot him out of existence; it is a replica of the Promethean fight against God himself, his God, a God at the same time impassive and full of mercy, paradoxically close and remote, violent and tender, like his own messenger, the Angle who fought with Jacob. But both in "The Wreck of the Deutschland" an in "The Eurydice," all the agony and distress of the long and difficult fight comes home, not so much through a description, a story, or even imagery, powerful as it may be, as through the complexity of the language itself, the compressing and unfolding of syntax, the close chasing of alliterations, the ebullience of rhythmical patterns. As "The Deutschland" fights against the sea and the wind, and the distressed human beings on the shattered vessel struggle against "God's cold" and the chaotic mingling of disorderly and violent elements, in the same way the poet fights against the brute linguistic matter, this "restraining matter" (F 306) -- as Hopkins himself defined it in a letter to Patmore -- this a distinguished chaos of undeveloped existence: sounds, words, phrases, sentences, idioms, some never expressed before, some -- worn out by too much slovenly usage -- having lost all shape and former strength. Applying a "moulding force" upon this brute matter is like re-creating the world: wasn't the world an emanation of the Word in the beginning, and wasn't "the Word with God, and the Word itself -- God"? But the complexity of the living world is too complex, especially if one tries to reproduce it in linguistic form; the effort of trying to create the created world once again may be unbearable, and -- and act of blasphemy. Approaching God's work for the purpose of manipulating it can be felt -- if one thinks of it -- as an act of impious irreverence against God himself, an act of pride like that of Lucifer. Yet, doing this is unavoidable; it is the main requirement of poetry and art in general. So aware was Hopkins of it that the very moment of writing as "not belonging to my profession." When going back on that decision after many years, he was faced with the alternative of creating - and committing an act of pride - or not creating at all. As the latter was felt as being the "holiest," the most appropriate behaviour, the former became a necessity which had to be forcefully pursued.

God, whom it is a blasphemy to challenge, especially if the offender is one of his servants, becomes an antagonist, a rival; the linguistic matter, which is God's gift, when manipulated for the purpose of poetic creation hardens and fights back. The struggle to mould and master it becomes by analogy a struggle against the First Creator of the same matter. There ensues from this often quick shifting from a tone of elation and ecstasy one of anxiety and distress, from a feeling of triumph a accomplishment to one of dejection and misery , and, a consequence, the remarkable dramatic quality of poetry; for, as Hopkins himself wrote in "The Principle Foundation" (S 240), "If you are in sin you are God's enemy, you cannot love or praise him. You may say you are far from hating God, but if you live in sin you are among God's enemies" What a god-fearing, righteous man should be doing to praise his god is quite anot her matter: "smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, white was whiterwashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring" (still "The Principle or Foundation"). And these are just the actions Hopkins is not performing, and these are just the actions common people like Felix Randal and Harry Ploughman can and do perform. Domenico Pezzini has suggested that there may be a component of "envy," such as is sometimes experienced by intellectuals and priests, at the "good life" of these humble people. I certainly agree with his suggestion: Hopkins the priest cannot but be aware that it is these humble people who are closer to God's decrees in the Gospel, who are singing God's praise through these same obscure and honest deeds. Yet this is a notion which is not just to be found in the Gospel; this is a very important Romantic view as well:

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor
translation.translator,Italian, (Gray, "Elegy Written in a Countrv Churchyard")

Both Romanticism and Catholicism, however, often exhibit points of view and evaluations of aspects of life and the world which are apparently contradictory and paradoxical; the great praise of the humble people who can abase themselves before Christ, for example, or of those who refuse to force their presence on the world, even if they greatly contribute to its very existence and "preservation," is counterpointed by the admiration, approval, and exaltation of the eminent man, the outstanding individual, the hero, who -- like the saint for a Catholic -- acts as a mediator between the Creator and his creatures or who -- like certain Romantic characters bears witness to his own personality and uniqueness to a degree which brings him dangerously close to comparing himself with God, to making a God of himself, or even to posing as an anti-God.

Hopkins well illustrates this double quality of both the Catholic and the Romantic mind As a Catholic, he is aware of the dangers of too much human greatness. "Individual fame," he wrote in a letter to Dixon(1 Dec. 1881), "St. Ignatius looked on as the most dangerous and dazzling of all attractions" (D 93?94 ). Yet, as a Romantic poet he was attracted by the exhilaration of the solitary flight, felt the pride of the eminent personality who cannot but be offended by the pettiness of the public. As he wrote in another letter to Dixon (13 June 1878),

"fame whether won or lost is a thing which lies in the award of a random, reckless, incompetent, and unjust judge, the public, the multitude" (D 8).

The solitary flight of the windhover is not only a symbol of Christ; it is also a symbol of the solitary soul of the poet: 'the achieve of, the mastery of the thing! (36)

It is true that in other poems, such as "Hurrahing in Harvest" (38) and "God's Grandeur," (31) his relationship with his Maker is more serene, and the poet seems to be manipulating his matter with the joyous enthusiasm of one kneading up the dough. in "Morning, Midday, and Evening Sacrifice" (49), a number of organicist images like `Beauty blooming . . . freshness fuming" seem to suggest unceasing growth, metamorphosis and renewal, in other words, creation. What is outlined is n object or a series of objects, but a process: a vital fluid, the sap, rises through the pores of all living beings bringing about their endless transformation. In poems like these, the complexity of syntax and the frequent use of alliteration are themselves a form of concentrated energy. Writing them, but also reading them or, finally, translating them, can itself be a spiritual exercise, a religious journey from darkness into light: the camel through the eye of the needle;the narrow gate and the broad road; and not on bread alone, . . . but on every word that issues from the mouth of God. And the Word was made flesh; the Word out of which every thing proceeds. Through the word, creation is revisited as through the liturgy of the Mass the death and resurrection of God are performed over and over again.

When I started writing this paper, I thought I could quite easily make a distinction between figures of speech having mainly argumentative force and figures mainly pertaining to style, according to Perelman's definition in Traité de l'argumentation (179). I thought this distinction would turn out to be the right key to open the doors towards a satisfactory translation of most of his poems, but also, maybe first of all, provide a good explanation of the different intensity of the readers' response before the bulk of Hopkins' poetic production. I had acknowledged that such a distinction is almost impossible to make as regards most poems of Hopkins, and that this is mainly due to his peculiar attitude toward the God-head, creation, and the mystery of it all. On a closer look, argumentation was style, style argumentation. I'll try to be more specific: a poem I would consider mainly argumentative is "The May Magnificat" (42). with a those efforts to find as many good reasons as possible to justify why May should be Mary's month; another such poem could be "The Habit of Perfection" (22); and if we compare "The Wreck of the Deutschland" with "The Loss of the Eurydice," I would say the latter at times risks being mainly argumentative (I would define a poem imbued with religious preoccupations being all or mainly argumentative as "devotional").

What is there one could define as "devotional" in these lines? Yet they enunciate an article of faith which has centuries of argumentative thought behind it. On the other hand, could one really say that their impact on the reader depends only on style? The delight or distress with which the task of manipulating the linguistic matter is carried out recalls two different states of the soul, well described by San Juan de la Cruz and by Ignatius himself the elation of communicating with God and the silence of God, which goes together with the noche obscura de l'alma ("the dark night of the soul"), which is a state of complete deprivation, deprivation of vision, of hope, of speech, a painful spiritual condition against which the Christian soul must yet fight in order not to end up in ore leonis (in the lion's mouth), be devoured, drowned in the sea of the Undistinguished. His perception of this puzzling discrepancy in the behaviour of a god who -- after encouraging and comforting man -- seems to disappear, to become deaf and dumb, indifferent, and even an enemy to man, might be responsible for the different ways God and Christ (or Jesus) are represented in Hopkins's poetry. God appears to be rather like the god of the Old Testament, the stern "god of the philosophers,"(4) even though at times softened by his having allowed his son to be conceived in a woman's womb: "Through her we may see him / Made sweeter, not made dim" ("The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe" [60]). Dealing with Him is still some perilous enterprise. God is a "giver" but also a "master" ("mighty a master"), someone you must often fight with ("They fought with God's cold"). Christ is closer to man, even though at times you can see in him "Christ the Tiger":

But to Christ lord of thunder
Crouch; lay knee by earth low under:
Holiest, loveliest, bravest, Save my hero, O hero savest.
translating Hopkins,Italian translations,("The Loss of the Eurydice')

Jesus, "heart's light . . . maid's son" ("The Wreck of the Deutschland") seems to be the manifestation of God which could be closer to man; yet he is very seldom mentioned in his poems. Thus the poet's relationship with God and his manifestations seems to be mainly based on conflict, confrontation, rather than contemplation or simply friendship. On the other hand, his relationship with art seems to be of just the same kind, and that is, I think, mainly responsible for the coherent strain which is to be felt in all of his poetry. Whether your approach is that of someone motivated by religious and moral urges or that of one whose main preoccupation is style and the beauty of a formal achievement, you are bound to be shocked by Hopkins.

A translator must be aware of all this, must keep these two main categories of readers before him all the time, or "all his stitching and unstitching will be naught." Whenever I analyse a poet's work, try to anatomize it, to discover its internal relationships, the built-in forces which make it dynamic, still preserving its cohesion, a certain poem of Yeats's comes to my mind:

Bald heads forgetful of their sins,
Old, learned, respectable bald heads
Edit and annotate the lines
That young men, tossing on their beds,
Rhymed out in love's despair

To flatter beauty's ignorant ear.
All shuffle there; all cough in ink;
All wear the carpet with their shoes;
All think what other peope think;
All know the man their neighbour knows.
Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?

translating,Hopkins poetry,(`The Scholars" 139)

Then I am overwhelmed by a feeling of aridity, uneasiness, something like futility, uselessness. Yes, what would I say if Catullus, or Yeats, or Hopkins walked this way? But then I realize that it is only the boldness of those who believe they have grasped all, fathomed all, brought all complexity down to a few "basic" formulas that can lead to a debased and debasing condition like that of the "scholars," and that an approach trying humbly to grasp the ways of operation of a perfect living organism is not of necessity an exercise in reduction as a journey of exploration and discovery, like a descent into the entrails of the earth, where each new crevice, each nook lighted by a lamp does not only uncover unimagined shades of complexity, but also brings about that sort of emotional thrill which is the emotion of perfect contemplation.

Between the safest conventions and bare nihilism there is room for still another prospect, that of temporary truth, which may be given the status of truth until a new and more cogent truth becomes prominent. Against scepticism and violence we can still erect the bulwark of tolerance (Bobbio xix); this applies also to literary criticism and translation.

After all, before any form of creation, God's or man's, before poetry as much as before a natural sight, we can still cry with Hopkins:

These things, these things were here and but the beholder Wanting.

Queste cose, erano qui tutte queste cose: solo chi contemplasse Assente (My translation)


(1) This paper was first published in a slightly different version in Metope, Chieti Solfanelli,Vol I, no. 3 (November 1990), pp. 59 - 76.

(2) The experience of Catholicism and Catholic education in Ireland and in Italy have been very different; the interference or influence of other creeds was practically non-existent in Italy; in Ireland Catholicism was strongly influenced by the Reformed Churches and by Puritanism. The Anglican Church and the Catholic Church had to work side by side for centuries in even smaller villages than today's Monasterevin, and the Catholic Church has -- so-to-say --been under siege in Ireland even though the majority of the population were Catholic. On the contrary, Catholicism in Italy has really never been threatened.

(3) Sardinian isa minority language which was persecuted by the Italian government for centuries as much as Irish was by the English government.

(4) 1 am indebted to Domenico Pezzini for this definition of God.


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