11 February 2013

Poem of the Week 2013/7

Lament 10

Ursula, my sweet girl, where did you go?
Is it a place or country that we know?
Or were you borne above the highest sphere
To dwell and sing among the cherub choir?
Have you flown into Paradise? Or soared
To the Islands of the Blest? Are you aboard
With Charon, scooping water while he steers,
And does that drink inure you to my tears?
Clad in gray feathers of a nightingale,
No longer human, do you fill some vale
With plaintive song? Or must you still remain
In Purgatory, as if the slightest stain
Of sin could have defiled your soul? Did it return
To where you were (my woe) before being born?
Wherever you may be - if you exist -
Take pity on my grief. O presence missed,
Comfort me, haunt me; you whom I have lost,
Come back again, be shadow, dream, or ghost.

Jan Kochanowski, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Seamus Heaney

Jan Kochanowski (1530 - 1584) was the major pre-Romantic Polish poet, one of those whose adopted forms and use of the vernacular (as opposed to the humanists' universal language, Latin) paved the way for those who followed him. His beloved youngest daughter Ursula died before she was three years old; he responded with a series of nineteen elegies. Here is number ten, in which the poet emphasizes our uncertainty about what happens after death by rapidly shifting among the many post-life possible alternatives: is she in Heaven? Limbo? the classical realm of the Underworld? reincarnated? in Catholic Purgatory? Just . . . gone? His ache for his lost darling is so strong that he doesn't really care what the truth is, as long as she abides with him in some form.

This is from the 1995 translation of Laments by Baranczak and Heaney.


Unknown said...

Just three days ago it would have been my Aunt and Uncle's 60th wedding anniversary. As you know, my aunt died in July. They were so close and inseparable, that it still is hard for me to believe that one is gone. When I read this poem, that was all that I could think of, so much so that it jarred me to read that it was written for anyone else.

Civic Center said...

What's with all the Kindertoden lately?

Patrick J. Vaz said...

V: thanks for the touching comment.

Mike: Kind of a coincidence, I guess? Though I probably tend to prefer the gloomier poems. If I'd remembered Valentine's Day was this week I'd have posted something saucier.