San Miniato

San Miniato
Photo: © Rüdiger Grycan, Brake/Varel, 2018

Dear readers of my blog,

work at school has resumed this week with many new students to meet as well as to learn their names and find out how they have developed their language skills when stuck in front of their screens at home. You may not believe it, but it is true, the return to school with the promise not to resort to another national or regional lock-down of the school system is certainly a reason for students of all ages to be motivated in class.

The yard is black with students waiting to enter the building in long lines following the teaching staff, and there are certain points in the building itself which many such lines need to pass and where everyone’s patience is taxed several times each school day. If all want to stay in class, each and every student needs to be disciplined: in toeing the line, speaking literally, as well as in wearing a face mask wherever no distance to other groups can be upheld and, of course, in class.

Thus it is not just a reader of Oscar Wilde who sees masks, masques, masquerades everywhere, though, naturally, “The Truth of Masks” differs if you look at literature or if you perceive real life at the moment, with some elderly travellers on the train only putting on the mask as long as the conductor is close – who, of course, had admonished them to cover both nose and mouth. Unfortunately, this writer's wish to translate Wilde’s essay into German is greater than are either the free time he disposes of to do so or his forces. So, at the moment, I can only give you more information on the two editions of Wilde’s essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism that appeared in the spring.

In German, this is the most recent new translation on the market (ISBN 394278842X), with an E-Book now also available. And both prices are moderate given that another edition was first issued in 2017 for double the price. Only a seasoned bibliographer of Wilde’s writings in German would recognize the translators’ names immediately. They also translated The Picture of Dorian Gray in its Lippincott’s version in 1970. Interestingly, their works as represented in the catalogue of the German National Library in Frankfurt only list the essay apart from their editorial work on Ingeborg Bachmann and translations of works by George Bernard Shaw and Djuna Barnes.

The English edition (IBSN 939483-59-5) is also available as a paperback and as an E-Book, and both editions have been kept up to date with current political developments.

There is, however, another piece of news, for in the spring during the lock-down I contacted a translator to ask whether I might re-publish his translation of John Keats’ poem “Ode to a Nightingale” as part of an anthology accompanying the memoir Capinero. A Bird by Tanya Josefowitz. Within a day, I had his answer – an affirmative one, that is – and ever since then we have been corresponding both on paper and by the exchange of books and e-mails including our works. His name is Günter Plessow, and he was so intrigued by our meeting that he dug up and revised his early translations of poems by Wilde and other poems of the 1890s. Part of this work is going to be published in the form of the calendar for 2022/2023, which is being designed by Frederik Köster at the moment.

Another tiny bit, a tidbit, indeed, if you like, is part of this blog post. It is the poem “San Miniato” that Wilde wrote in 1875 and which I now publish with both my own and Günter Plessow’s translation accompanied by photographs of the site in Florence by Rüdiger Gryczan who was kind enough to walk there in 2018, as the photograph shown above confirms.

San Miniato

See, I have climbed the mountain side
Up to this holy house of God,
Where once that Angel-Painter trod
Who saw the heavens opened wide,

And throned upon the crescent moon
The Virginal white Queen of Grace, –
Mary ! could I but see thy face
Death could not come at all too soon.

O crowned by God with thorns and pain !
Mother of Christ ! O mystic wife !
My heart is weary of this life
And over-sad to sing again.

O crowned by God with love and flame !
O crowned by Christ the Holy One !
O listen ere the searching sun
Show to the world my sin and shame !

(1875)

San Miniato

Seht, ich erklomm des Berges Seit
Zu diesem heiligen Gotteshaus
Wo einst Fra Angelico ging ein und aus
Der sah die Himmel sich öffnen weit.

Und auf des Halbmondes Thron
Sitzt jungfräulich weiß der Gnaden Königin, ‒
Maria ! könnt ich bloß dein Antlitz sehn
Könnt der Tod bald kommen schon.

Oh gekrönt von Gott mit Dorn und Pein !
Christi Mutter ! Oh mystisches Weib !
Mein Herz ist müde dieses Lebens Leib
Und viel zu traurig für Gesang obendrein.

Oh gekrönt von Gott mit Lieb und Flamm !
Oh gekrönt von Christus dem heiligen Mann
Oh hört zu ehe die suchende Sonn
Zeigt aller Welt meine Sünd und Scham.

(1875)
JWR, 2014/2021

SAN MINIATO

See, I have climbed the mountain side
Up to this holy house of God,
Where once that Angel-Painter trod
Who saw the heavens opened wide,

And throned upon the crescent moon
The Virginal white Queen of Grace, –
Mary ! could I but see thy face
Death could not come at all too soon.

O crowned by God with thorns and pain !
Mother of Christ ! O mystic wife !
My heart is weary of this life
And over-sad to sing again.

O crowned by God with love and flame !
O crowned by Christ the Holy One !
O listen ere the searching sun
Show to the world my sin and shame !

(1875)

SAN MINIATO [AL MONTE]

Schau, diesen Berg stieg ich hinan
hinauf zum heiligen Gotteshaus :
Angelico malte es aus,
er sah die Himmel aufgetan

und überm Halbmond auf dem Thron
Jungfrau Maria ! Königin—
Säh ich dein Antlitz, käm darin
kein Tod mehr vor—Dank deinem Sohn !

Dornengekrönt von Gott—O Schmerz !
O Christi Mutter !—dich besingen,
so tief verzagt ? s’müßt mir mißlingen ;
dies Leben leid ist dieses Herz !

Gekrönt von Gott : Liebe und Schwert !
Gekrönt von Christus, dem All-Einen !
Erhör mich, eh die Welt von meinen
Sünden so sonnenklar erfährt !

Günter Plessow,
Berlin 2021

Having typed and revised my own translation in verse, which was, of course, after I had enjoyed Günter Plessow’s version some time ago, I still think that as a record of what can be seen over in Florence when you look both at the church and the city this can still stand on its own feet. However, if you look at the poem through Plessow’s eyes, you suddenly see realised levels of meaning that only a classical scholar and architect, 28 years my senior, might grasp.

So with an administrator now looking at the comments section, it is open for comment. Do not hesitate to make suggestions and voice criticism.

All best wishes,
keep hale and healthy,

Jörg W. Rademacher, 9 September 2021

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