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Barletta, Vincent; Bajus, Mark; and Malik, Cici, eds. and trans., Dreams of Waking. An Anthology of Iberian Lyric Poetry (Marino)

  • 27 Mar 2014 8:48 AM
    Message # 1526150
    Simon Doubleday (Administrator)

    Vincent Barletta, Mark L. Bajus, and Cici Malik, eds. and trans. Dreams of Waking. An Anthology of Iberian Lyric Poetry, 1400-1700. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013


    Reviewed by Nancy F. Marino, Michigan State University


    It has been twenty years since the publication of Harold Bloom’s controversial The Western Canon, a work which sparked considerable debate about the general issue of canonicity and the value of literary canons in the late twentieth century. The resulting discussion, now referred to as the “canon wars”, was essentially a battle concerning which authors and works should be taught to students in order to provide them with a well-rounded, humanistic education. While a dispute of this sort can never be settled, the controversy nevertheless resulted in the addition of works representing a wider worldview into the curricula of many university courses. The debate about whether or not literary canons should exist at all has fortunately not stopped scholars from continuing to publish anthologies of texts of all kinds, from broad “surveys” of literature for classes, to selections of works by certain authors, eras, genres, demographics, and so forth.

    In the present volume Vincent Barletta, Mark L. Bajus, and Cici Malik propose an updated and expanded collection of lyric poetry composed on the Iberian peninsula from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. In addition to already canonical works by canonical poets (the Marqués de Santillana’s “Vaquera de la Finojosa, Garcilaso de la Vega Sonnet “En tanto que de rosa y azucena”, and Francisco de Quevedo’s “Miré los muros de la patria mía”, to name but a few), the editors have chosen to extend the usual collection to embrace lyric poetry in the other main languages of Iberia, Portuguese and Catalan, and to include works by little known authors who are probably being anthologized and translated into English for the first time. The list of poets is largely male, which corresponds to the ratio of male/female poets known or published in these centuries, but the choice of women’s voices here is both surprising and appropriate: in the sixteenth century, alongside the lyrics of Santa Teresa de Ávila, there are poems by Luisa Sigea de Velasco, a renowned humanist and polyglot best known for her works in Latin; in the seventeenth century, in addition to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, there are compositions by Sóror Violante do Céu, the Portuguese Dominican known in her lifetime as the Tenth Muse.


    There are enough new or unexpected entries in this anthology to hold the interest of scholars who study the lyric of this period, yet the intended audience of the volume is apparently students or non-experts approaching early Spanish lyric for the first time. In their introduction Barletta, Bajus, and Malik explain to the readers exactly how to approach a lyric poem, including such suggestions as looking up unfamiliar vocabulary and determining its poetic form. They offer a primer on the counting of syllables in Spanish, Catalan, and Portuguese as the basis of composition’s meter and include a table of common verse forms; there is a section on rhyme as well and a list of common stanzaic and verse forms in early modern Iberian lyric. The last section of the introduction concerns the translation of poetic texts, in which the editors evoke the ideas of Walter Benjamin concerning the relationship between the original text and a translation of it. Benjamin saw as the translator’s task the rendering of the value of a literary work, the transformation and adaptation of a text, not simply a verbatim transmission of its words. The editors of this volume define their approach to translating the poems by stating that their translations of the poems “are in the most conventional sense not translations at all; that it, they are not meant to substitute or “stand in” for the original texts as most translations are expected to do” (16). Nevertheless this theory is very difficult to bring to practice. The English versions that are presented alongside the works in the three languages are essentially prosaic renderings of them that generally adhere line by line to originals. This works best to resolve compositions that are narrative as well as lyric, such as Garcilaso’s “Cuando me paro a contemplar mi estado”:


                                        When I stop to contemplate my situation,

                                        and to see where my steps have brought me,

                                        I find, judging by where I walked along lost,

                                        that I might have reached a far worse place.


    It works less well in other texts, such as Santillana’s famous serranilla:


                                                    A girl as beautiful

                                                    I’ve never seen in the border zone

                                                    as a certain cowherd

                                                    from Hinojosa.


    All translators of poetry face the difficulty of communicating word play, double meanings, alliterations, and other such uses of language. In this volume they are dealt with a bit unevenly. At times there is a felicitous English equivalent, such as the translation of “Doña Blanca de Castilla” as “Lady Penny of Castile” in Quevedo’s “Poderoso caballero es don Dinero”. In most other cases the editors explain multiple meanings in the annotations that accompany the edition, but they do not address them all. It would be, in any case, a daunting task.


    These annotations (“Notes”) follow the texts and their translations and are a useful companion to the reading, as they identify places and people, mythological and Biblical references, the meanings of traditional symbols, as well as puns and word play. There is a general bibliography that includes entries for general works and anthologies of early modern Iberian lyric as well as for the individual poets who works are represented in this volume. The index of first lines is bilingual and includes the surname of the poet.

    Dreams of Waking expands the canon of early modern Iberian lyric in a useful way. While scholars working in this field will not need the translations to appreciate the texts, students and non-experts will have the tools they need to approach them and perhaps compare them to texts written in other languages during the same period. 


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