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NaPoTraMo 4: Stabat Mater

April 4, 2010

In honour of Easter Sunday, today’s NaPo is is a piece of Christian poetry, describing Mary’s lamentation at the Cross – Stabat Mater.

The form is intricately rhymed, internally and between lines, a feature almost unknown in classical Latin poetry but much beloved of the medieval Church. (I do wonder why it never caught on earlier: Latin is considerably easier to rhyme than English given its plethora of regular endings.) The chiming multisyllabic rhymes give Stabat Mater a rather wonderful music, and I decided to try and preserve its strictures in the translation.

The comparative difficulty of rhyme in English was the biggest problem when rendering this, and I had to resort to a couple of repeats and one very dodgy rhyme to make everything fit. The other problem was making up the syllable count: for example Latin maerebat translated as English mourned, leaving me with two extra syllables to fill in. For these reasons, and general fluency of the English, the translation gets rather free in places.

I give you Stabat Mater.

Stood the grieving mother weeping,
company the high cross keeping,
while her son hung crucified;
for his spirit hurt and grieving,
darkening the world in leaving,
that a sword let from his side.

O what sadness and affliction
was that final benediction,
mother of the only Son!
How she mourned and grieving tore her,
how she trembled as she saw the
pains of the illustrious one.

Who would not give way to weeping,
if he saw Christ’s mother keeping
such a suffering vigil there?
Who could not be saddened with her,
noticing that pious mother
mourning for her child there?

For his people’s sins lamented,
saw him wounded and tormented,
and subdued by whip and chain;
saw her child sweet and only
dying, desolate and lonely,
when his spirit passed away.

Mother ours, affection’s wellspring,
now I know the strength of grieving,
let me weep as you did then;
let my heart burn bright inside me,
in the love of Christ to guide me,
please him as I may. Amen.

Translates the Stabat Mater of Jacopone de Todi. The Latin text can be found here.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Seamus permalink
    April 4, 2010 8:20 pm

    Beautiful. The whole of that last stanza is chillingly good; in particular the line “Now I know the strength of grieving” seems to gesture away to something important going on elsewhere. And all the rhyme works perfectly.

    Christian poetry in honour of Easter? I’m game. I’ve got 2h45m to do one of Racine’s Cantiques spirituels; I’ll get started.

  2. Seamus permalink
    April 4, 2010 10:17 pm

    Two Men in Me

    My God, what a cruel war!
    I think there are two men in me:
    The one would, full of love for thee,
    Make my heart forever faithful.
    The other one is ever hostile
    And hardens me against thy law.

    The one divine, all full of faith,
    Would raise me always up on high,
    And when he lifts me to the sky
    I count for nothing all the world.
    But then the other’s mortal load
    Oppresses me upon the earth.

    Alas! at war within my heart,
    How can I ever come to peace?
    I would leave sin, but cannot cease.
    I would do good, but cannot move.
    I fail to do the good I love,
    And do the evil that I hate.

    O grace, O ray of God, come save
    The man who in these lines implores—
    Drive out my sin with gentle force
    And make accord between us both
    Converting thus this slave of death
    Into thy voluntary slave.

    Translated from Racine, “Plaintes d’un Chrétien sur les contrariétés qu’il éprouve au dedans de lui-même”.

  3. Seamus permalink
    April 5, 2010 12:04 am

    Line 10 should read “I count as nothing all the world.”

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