viernes, 4 de noviembre de 2016


Translated by Sandra Dermark
freely from Ovid's Metamorphoses
4th of November, MMXVI

You, sweet prince, would the Sun-God have enshrin'd
in the skies, if they'd given you 'nough time;
yet still, you last forever, and as long
as Springtime comes on warm Aries's fleece,
your first green shoots pierce the last winter snow.
In my own country, in the harshest North,
through dark and dire, dreary winter nights,
your potted flower graces every hall,
blooming while windows frost, 'tis cold outside,
as part of Sweden's Yuletide scent and grace.
He loved you more than any other lad
or maid, and left his oracle and choir
of nine, just to frequent that winding stream
where you refreshed yourself; arrows and bows,
lyre and violin, all lay pell-mell,
as he followed you through the craggy peaks
of your realm, and sang in your campfire's light.
You were allowed to ride his pegasi,
white stallions, and play his string instruments,
as he taught you so both could play duets,
staying entranced, so closely, chest to chest,
until the storm of music sank to sleep,
and sing with him of Zeus and Ganymede,
for history repeats itself indeed.
E'en the sun-car, the day's light, he left 
entrusted to the boldest, strongest Muse,
and it was mid-way in the cloudless sky
on that May day when tragedy would strike
amidst the pleasures of southron late spring,
even though both of you were unaware.
Two snow-white shirts the lovers cast aside,
for exercise and mid-day heat would sure
flush them up, and make cloth stick to their skin:
the raven-haired lad, aged sixteen, looked fair
as a maiden; no dark hair on his chest,
or limbs, or upper lip, a stripling lithe,
in conversation well-spoken and true,
so full of liveliness and loveliness,
his frame like a white lily, slender, fair,
flexible, and resistant, all at once;
a rarity of a young royal child
whose violet eyes and honest smile like stars
were always shining with the same true light,
and whose lily visage was slightly flushed
with young hot blood by his fair lover's sight;
while his golden young adult paramour,
-as dashing as the stripling prince was lithe-
with locks of sunlight and skin dark as bronze,
gray-eyed and crisp-haired, beautiful of limb,
fire in his eyes, and every muscle strong
just as if chiselled: taller, dashing, bold,
infatigable, svelte, flexible, bright,
and, in that noble chest, stalwart and fine,
now throbbed for the young prince a heart of gold...
Their eyes sparkled with confidence and joy,
as the lithe stripling leapt over the net
and seized his racket: often had he led
to his crowned parents' famous tennis court
the Sun-God, whom he loved with all his heart
(for their favourite pastime was that game),
as the blond Phoebus, right across the net,
got his racket and ball, each in one hand,
trading the warm-up for an earnest match.
He throws, he hits... the ball is in the air,
a speck of light in the cloudless May sky!
The boy prince saunters forth... he hits the ball...
and, like a shooting star careening forth,
it flies across the court, right back, once more!
Both deftly wield their rackets, quick and strong,
running now to the left, now to the right,
a backhand, forehand, a hop, skip, or jump,
developing new skills and strategies,
successful, deftly, unexpectedly;
both of them caring for nought but to win,
deftly commanding rackets, eyes, and feet,
sending the ball careening back and forth,
always a shooting star in daylight's blue:
they're equals, one another's Waterloo,
and tension rises as the scales of score
tilt, ever slightly, to balance once more.
'Tis like a fencing match without cold steel,
confrontation of equal skill and zeal,
war without tears; no better can they feel.
As it often occurs when things are thus,
hours turn to instants on the wings of joy,
and now's the match point that will break the tie!
The Leader of the Muses, you shall know,
is ambidextrous: as skilled with the left
as with the right hand. Hitherto, he'd played
right-handed, yet, at this decisive point,
to win by catching his partner off-guard,
he now changes his racket to the left:
how will the lad face a sinistral serve?
In the excitement of this match, one's eyes
follow the ball, and one's dominant arm
commands the racket: he's forgotten sure,
and thus, he'll be put to a harder test!
The golden blond's serve thrids the sky once more;
right then, the stripling, eyes fixed on the ball,
flushed rose-red, yet hell-bent to win the match,
leaps up, racket in hand, with eager haste...
too early! Ere the lad can strike the ball,
it strikes him in the left side of the head,
right where the life-blood throbs into the brain,
above the ear; he reels just as if drunk,
yet pale and ice-cold, shutting weary eyes,
as the Sun-God, equally cold and pale,
dropping the fatal racket at his feet,
leaps o'er the net and takes you in his arms,
as a bridegroom would carry his bride home,
yet this resembles more a Pietà:
as blood springs from your left ear on his hands,
no longer warm, yet branding liquid guilt
(once, this young hot blood throbbed, and boiled, and raised
youthful intense passions... instants ago...),
the Leader of the Muses tries to kiss
warm air into your lungs and you to life,
pouring a soothing cool drink down your throat,
yet, after feeling neither breath nor pulse
(the heart, the lungs, the arteries all still,
not throbbing e'en the faintest in response),
he realizes that his serve and ball
have breached your head as cannon-shot a wall:
he cannot save your life: your dainty hands'
ten lily-fingers suddenly relax,
the right one leaves, at last, the racket's grip;
all strength's receded from your sinking limbs;
the final kiss dies on those ice-cold lips
of wax or driven snow, so quietly;
as that breached keep of your young intellect,
your head, droops tilting softly to the right,
like wilted lily's calyx on its stem.
Extreme exhaustion plunges reason's light
into most painful weakness, darkest depths;
our spirits are bound to the throbbing blood,
whereof a lot, gushed out in a sore wound,
tears out, in surging stream, not only strength
and sense, but even reason, wit, and life.
It's still and cold within your noble chest,
that once had throbbed with heartbeats, breaths, and love
for the one who's just quenched spring-youth's hot blood
and made those fiery passions fade away.
Where's every youthful impulse, rêverie?
It faded as your spirit was set free.
Whither departed is the spark of life?
To fields of light, bereft of earthly strife.
"Farewell, sweet prince, fair bloom cut short in spring!
I see the wound I've wrought myself, my crime!
I kissed you, then I killed you, though by chance,
yet my sinister hand will always stain
that blood that clotted in your clever brain;
what my left-handed racket's wrought for pain!
But what's my guilt? 'Twas just a tennis match,
a pastime... neither is my guilt of love,
since there's no limit to its worldwide reach:
two of the same gender may become one.
Though it happened by chance, against my will,
'tis pitiful that I thus you should kill,
such dreadful consequence of my own skill!
Thus, more shameful today's affair appears,
turning my light to eternal dusk and tears.
And may I not have had eternity
to give my life, to die upon a kiss!
Yet 'tis th'unwritten law of destiny:
you will be in my heart and in my songs,
to whose lyrics this left hand'll strum the lyre,
accompanied by maiden Muses' choir,
and, as spring flower with the sweetest scent,
you will remind others of my lament."
As golden Phoebus sings this threnody,
the blood gushed from the ear of his sweetheart
has reached the ground, and purple lilies grow
in a cluster just like an ear of corn,
like that sceptre of lilies in the tale
by Oscar Wilde, though not whiter than pearls;
rather, the wistful violet of your eyes.
'Tis not enough: the Sun-God mournfully
graces each petal with your monogram,
that of you two: a painful signature.
Rack'd with a suffering he's never felt
before --ne'er such a deadly, searing pain
from which there's no escape, had struck his heart--,
more struck by this than any other love,
thus broken-hearted, shedding tears of light,
kindling the air with heat like ne'er before,
to leave the stage of such a tragic scene,
he summons back his sun-car, and picks up
the frozen reins, sits on the frosted seat,
and steers the pale, ice-laced wheels of the sun
westward again, into ominous clouds
that thus unleash springtime downpours and storms.
For seven years he'd neither smile nor sing;
ask the Muses themselves, they know, of course.
The tennis court a garden has become;
the net is gone, and wildflowers of spring
dot, jewel-like, the multicoloured lawn,
where, over your eternal resting place
--next to a marble sun-god, tall and fair,
with a racket in his sinister hand,
on whose pedestal they chiselled your name--
your clusters of lilac flowers still grow,
their sweet, entrancing scent still laced with woe.

1. This poem is a completely Dermarkian web of intertextualities; one clearly sees beyond Ovid and early modern Italian translators to rococo art (the painting by Tiepolo, meant for a gay tennis-playing German count; in which the homoerotic Pietà is overlooked by a hefty marble satyr with an ironic grin, reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat and Jabba the Hutt), but also, first and foremost, by the untimely death of Pushkin's alter ego Vladimir Lensky (which somehow foretold the author's own demise in a duel to the death as a gunfight), also to a certain degree by the death of the pearl fisher in Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates (when it comes to the ear bleeding and the cluster of lilies), as well as to the fate of Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell in a certain sense... and of course to Shakespeare, and not only in the pentameter form in which I have deftly retold this tale and plan to retell more Metamorphoses (one may spot references to Othello's regret and despair after killing Desdemona, to Hamlet's death in a tricked fencing match, and, more obliquely, to Henry V [breached fortifications, tennis balls turned to cannonballs]). But it all began with the Gustav Schwab retelling of this tragic tale when I was 7, 8, or 9.
2. Before Marino and dell'Anguillara, it was through Tiepolo I discovered the update of giving our violet-eyed pretty boy and his sun-god paramour rackets instead of discuses or shot put, turning Hyacinth into a jeu-de-paume-playing early modern royal child. The idea of a violinist Apollo popped up in the same historical time frame of the early modern belle infidèle translations of the classics. When I first saw the Tiepolo picture, something that moved me to the core, in Art class at 16 (I was the same age as the young deceased in the poem!), we also played tennis at Phys Ed classes.
3. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, Apollo is ambidextrous (like, for instance, Gunnar in Njál's Saga or Hector in the Trojan cycle), as seen in the tale of the donkey ears of Midas. This ambidexterity seems to correlate to the sexual orientation of all three characters ("ambidextrous" is also used across languages as a euphemism for "bisexual"). While Giambattista Marino (Adonis, Canto XIX) has him bring on the manslaughter of Hyacinth right-handed, I have opted for a sinistral serve as the killing blow, which would have been completely unexpected and meant to throw Hyacinth off guard. If the teenage prince had sauntered in a certain direction, the ball would have struck him on the left, on the heart side, as Marino and dell'Anguillara precise. The latter translator/reteller, furthermore, stresses the young man's too impulsive action of leaping ahead of the ball to strike it in time as a reason for his untimely death as well.
4. While Marino's Hyacinth is blond, I made him dark-haired, inspired by other retellings and illustrations, and to contrast with his tan-skinned golden blond lover. The image he conjures in the reader's mind's eye is reminiscent of CLAMP anime Byronic hero Lelouch Lamperouge.
5. The finale with the tragic tennis court turned flower garden is taken from Giambattista Marino, but it also has its parallels in the retelling by Francesc "Neilabbott" Gómez Guillamón, in which the stadium where the discus/shot put contest was held is turned by the sun-god into a sacred grove/shrine.
6. Potted hyacinths on the table and/or inside the windowsill are a staple of the Swedish Christmas. In fact, the whole poem has the air of it being told to young Swedes on a winter evening before cups of a hot drink, while the flowering hyacinths fill the air in the room with their scent and the snow swirls outside, beyond the frosted windowpanes.

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