And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

lørdag 8. mars 2014

The strange labyrinth - a sonnet by Lady Mary Wroth translated

Lady Mary Wroth (1587?–1651/1653) is one of my favourite poets and sonneteers, and today I present to you the opening sonnet of her sequence "A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated to love" with a Norwegian translation of my own doing. The translation is followed by a literal rendition of it back into English, to better highlight how the compromise of translation has been carried out. The English text here given is taken from A crown, or a corona, is a sonnet sequence in which the last line of one sonnet becomes the first line of the next until they are all tied together.

Mary Wroth is an interesting figure of Elizabethan and Jacobean England, and her significant literary production was probably influenced by a number of her relations and friends. Her father was the poet Robert Sidney, brother of the more famous Sir Philip Sidney, and later in life she befriended Ben Jonson, who expressed great fondness for her. This is not to say that Mary Wroth's poetry was only influenced by those around her, she also influened others in turn. Ben Jonson claimed in one of his sonnets, that Mary Wroth's verse had made him "A better lover, and a much better Poët", and he dedicated his play "The Alchemist" to her.

Lady Mary Wroth
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sonnet 1

In this strange Labyrinth how shall I turne,
Wayes are on all sids while the way I misse:
If to the right hand, there, in love I burne,
Let mee goe forward, therein danger is.
If to the left, suspition hinders blisse;
Let mee turne back, shame cryes I ought returne:
Nor faint, though crosses my fortunes kiss,
Stand still is harder, allthough sure to mourne.
Thus let mee take the right, or left hand way,
Goe forward, or stand still, or back retire:
I must these doubts indure without allay
Or helpe, but trauell finde for my best hire.
Yet that which most my troubled sense doth move,
Is to leave all, and take the threed of Love.

My translation:

I slik ein labyrint, kor skal eg gå?
Eg finn ein stig og så er stigen vekk.
Går eg til høgre, kjærleik tek meg då;
Går eg rett fram, då fyllest eg med skrekk.
Til venstre? Nei, til mistru då eg gjekk,
Og snur eg meg skrik skamma "gå no på!"
Svim ikkje av, om lukka får ein knekk,
Men verst er det å vente, berre stå.
So lat meg då til kvar ei side ta,
Attende, kanskje, fram, ell' stå i ro?
All tvil lyt eg best takle slik eg pla'
Og utan hjelp finn eg den beste sko;
Men det som mest av alt vil røyve meg
Er å forlate alt for kjærleiks veg.

Mary Wroth's coat of arms, from Henry Peacham's The Compleat Gentleman (1622)
Courtesy of this website

A literal rendition into English of my translation

In such a labyrinth, where do I go?
I find a path and then the path is gone.
If I go to the right, love takesme then;
If I go straight ahead I'm filled with fear.
To the left? No, to suspicion then I went
And if I turn my shame cries "onwards, go!"
Do not faint if fortune breaks
But worst of all is waiting, just to stand.
So let me then to each of all sides go,
Back, perhaps, forward, or to stand?
All doubt I must best handle like I use to
And without help I find the best of shoes.
But that which most of all will make me move
Is to abandon all for the path of love.


Alexander, Gavin, Writing After Sidney: The Literary Response to Sir Philip Sidney 1586-1640
Lamb, Mary Ellen, ‘Wroth , Lady Mary (1587?–1651/1653)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 8 March 2014]

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