Sunday, February 5, 2017

Ekphrasis & Prose: Sonnet Translations of Poe & Hawthorne

I sometimes wonder whether a prose piece should have been verse from the outset.  Could the deep meaning have been more effectively captured and conveyed by poetic form than by prose?  I've wondered that, for example, in the case of Poe's "The Mask of the Red Death."  With no illusions that Poe's sonnet wouldn't have been much better, here's a concrete example of what I mean: 

Shadow After Poe 

We noticed there was pestilence about.
We played instead of passive victim an
Aggressive agent capable of plan
And execution.  In, we locked it out,

A simple action, really, which we sealed
With weighty velvet curtains drawn across
An iron door bolted tight.  “Our gain, Hell’s loss!”
We toasted with good bourbon and were steeled.

“God helps who helps himself,” we boasted till
We saw a shadow by a comrade still
And cold throughout the reverie.  It hid

As quick within the heavy draperies.  Did
Drink fool?  No.  Oh, no fancy has composed
Such vast lost voices in a single ghost.

I've also wondered the same about individual passages in longer works.  Here, for example, is a bit of Hawthorne's The House of The Seven Gables set to sonnet form:

Hawthorne’s Window 

An urchin’s barrel-organ down below
Encases some still human figurines.
He turns the crank, spills out twelve strings of notes
To animate the figures.  To one tune,
The maiden milks enthusiastically,
The scholar reads, the miser boxes gold,
The lady fans, the lover woos, the smith
Strikes anvils while the soldier swings a blade.
Moved, too, we marvel at the progress till
The boy’s arm tires abandoning the crank.
The figures stop themselves where they began
As though they never hoped or labored.  We
Include ourselves.  Retreating from the pane,
We shall not be so gullible again.

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