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Lope De Vega - Poem by Sidi J. Mahtrow

Lope Felix De Vega Carpio

Lope Felix De Vega Carpio (November 25,1562 -August 27,1635) was called by Cervantes, 'the Monster of Nature.' And surely he was as he produced more than any author before or since. His work dominated the theatrical world of Spain with both his prose and poetry. Cervantes like other writers of the day felt the pressure wrought by De Vega and was unable to compete and lived in poverty. If this is not enough, it is thought by some that the spurious Part Two of Don Quixote was the product of De Vega's mind and certainly his knowledge of the Church would have permitted him to write under the pen name of Alonso Fernandez de Avellanda in a detail that would have been difficult for Cervantes. Avellanda, the author, remains unknown.

But there is more to Lope De Vega; his plays intertwined morality, humor, the risque, criticism and great entertainment value. They did and do. The following excerpts from a translation of his play, A Certainty for a Doubt are just a sampling of what the casual reader, or other, has in store. And translations of his poem To the Night as well as the Sonnet on Sonnets wraps up this brief introduction to Lope De Vega Carpio (as he signed his name) and his poetry.

On Silence

...The use of speech is taught
To men and birds alike; but silence yet
It never has been taught. And what a pity!
It is a great mistake to open schools
To teach us how to talk, and not have one
That can teach us to be still! If I were King
I would set up forthwith and patronize
Whole chairs of Silence!
(From the dialogue of Ramiro to Dona Juana in A Certainty for Doubt, Act 1)

On Woman

There never yet was prudent woman found
Who would refuse to set upon her brow
The crown that once was proffered on the ground.

(From the dialogue of the Master to Dona Juana in A Certainty of Doubt, Act 1)

On Clocks (and Time)

I curse the inventor,
Curse the pivots and wheels;
Cursed face may it blast him,
Cursed chain clamp his heals.
Its hands may they crush him,
Its springs spring him off;
Untimely in striking,
A harsh, strident cough,
May its bells ring his passing
When least he shall brook
Because he constructed
By hook and by crook
A portable trap
To play havoc with time,
Point the hour of decease,
Cut life to its chime,
A spy on pleasure,
Counting every mouthful out
Taken to his measure.
(From the dialogue of Don Enrique to Dona Juana in A Certainty of Doubt, Act 1)

Sonnet on a Sonnet

Violante sends to me to make a sonnet.
I never suffered such distress or pain;
A sonnet numbers fourteen lines, that's plain,
And three are gone while I begin upon it,
To shape a rhyme one needs to ponder on it,
Yet here I'm midway in the last quatrain,
And if the foremost tercet I attain
The quatrain's done ere I myself can con it.
In the first tercet I arrive at last
And travel through it with such grace and ease
That with this line it is already past.
I'm in the second now and if you please
The thirteenth verse comes full-grown, tripping fast.
Count if there be fourteen and end with these.
(From The Silver Girl)

Lope De Vega Carpio seems to have passed notice by most who enjoy poetry. Yet here in a sampling his ease at humor, rhyme, rhythm and morality is easily seen why translations of his works offer much. As with all translations, the efforts of the translator are as much on display as the poet himself. As example, the following from a much translated piece, on Night is shown. What was the Lope's intent; the reader must be the judge and perhaps offer a translation of his own.

To the Night

Night, fabricator of dreams
Crazy, imaginative nightmares
In those whom sleep subdues,
You flatten mountains and dry up seas,
Inhabiting the empty brain
Of laborer, scientist and philosophers
Concealing all. Even the lynx cannot see her.
Sounds in the night echo and are terrifyin.

Darkness and fear of death are to you attributed
Prostituting sick and callous poet's way
With the bold hands and feet of a thief.
Half my life is by you played.
If awake at night, I pay the next day,
If asleep, I sense not that I am alive.

Lope de Vega Carpio
translated by Mahtrow2

As de Vega wrote the sonnet:

A la noche

Noche, fabricadora de embelecos,
loca, imaginativa, quimerista,
que muestras al que en ti su bien conquista
los montes llanos y los mares secos;
habitadora de cerebros huecos,
mecanica, filosofa, alquimista,
encubridora vil, lince sin vista,
espantadiza de tus mismos ecos:
la sombra, el miedo, el mal se te atribuya,
solicita, poeta, enferma, fria,
manos del bravo y pies del fugitivo.
Que vele o duerma, media vida es tuya:
si velo, te lo pago con el dia,
y si duermo, no siento lo que vivo.

Lope de Vega

From a translator at Sweet Briar College:

To the Night

Night, you fabricator of deceptions,
insane, fantastic, and chimerical,
who show those who derive delight from you
the mountains flattened and the seas gone dry;
inhabitor of hollow, empty brains,
mechanic, alchemist, philosopher,
a vile concealer, lynx that cannot see,
you are of your own echoes terrified;
darkness, fear, and evil are your works,
cautious, poetess, infirm and cold,
with ruffian's hands and feet of fugitive
. Whether I sleep or wake, half my life's yours:
if I'm awake, I pay you the next day,
and if I sleep, I sense not what I live.
Alex Inber (Sweet Briar College)

From a computer translation:

To the night

Night, fabricadora of embelecos,
crazy person, imagination, quimerista,
that samples to which in you its good conquers
level mounts and the dry seas;
habitadora of hollow brains,
mecanica, filosofa, alchemist,
vile concealing, lynx without Vista,
espantadiza of your same echoes:
the shade, the fear, badly is attributed to you,
solicitd, poet, ill, fria,
hands of Bravo and feet of the fugitive one.
That it guards or it sleeps, average life is yours:
if veil, you the payment with the day,
and if I sleep, I do not feel what alive.

Alternative translation by S. J. Mahtrow

To the Night

Night fabricator of deception
Insane, Imaginative and Chimeric
in those who sleep has conquered.
The mountains are flattened
And the seas gone dry without exception.
Empty inhabitant of the brain of worker, chemist, philosopher
Night is an evil covering
Even the lynx is not seeing
Sounds in the night echo and terrify her.

Night; darkness, fear and evil are yours
Awake; my work is cautious bland,
Cold and weak, written with brave hand,
On shifting, futative feet your terror endures.

Whether asleep, or awake, I only survive.
Half my life is yours to play
If awake at night, I pay the next day
If asleep, I sense not that I am alive.

S. J. Mahtrow

And the reader can make a translation as he wishes.


Four Plays by Lope De Vega, (An English version by John Garrett Underhill) , Charles Scribner's Sons, New York,1936.

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