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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2012
Open, commended

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Peter Whale

A Woman's Love

Love has made me so I burn in fire
Like some salamander, or the crane
Of ancient legend, born from ash again
To thrive in heat where others would expire,
And this is my delight and my desire:
To burn and not to care about the pain,
And if the one who lights me feels disdain
For me or love, I simply don't enquire.
  The ardour of my love was almost spent,
When Love with true inflammatory art
Ignited greater flames, and yet more yearning.
In love, I am ablaze, and don't repent,
Provided that the one who has my heart
Uncomplainingly endures my burning.

Translated from the Italian by Peter Whale

Rime 208

Amor m'ha fatto tal ch'io vivo in foco,
 qual nova salamandra al mondo, e quale
 l'altro di lei non men strano animale,
 che vive e spira nel medesimo loco.
Le mie delizie son tutte e il mio gioco
 vivere ardendo e non sentire il male,
 e non curar ch'ei che m'induce a tale
 abbia di me pietà molto né poco.
A pena era anche estinto il primo ardore,
 che accese l'altro Amore, a quel ch'io sento
 fin qui per prova, più vivo e maggiore.
Ed io d'arder amando non mi pento,
 purché chi m'ha di nuovo tolto il core
 resti de l'arder mio pago e contento.

Gáspara Stampa

Translation commentary

I wanted to translate this poem because the strong and unexpected emotion, presented from a woman's point of view, appealed to me. I know it has been translated often enough before, but (if I dare be critical) none that I knew did it justice, and I thought it could be a very powerful poem in English.

There are several problems translating between Italian and English, of which perhaps the worst is the ready availability, and natural occurrence, of rhymes in Italian. Rhymes in English can seem forced. So it is more difficult in English to make the rhymes sound natural and relaxed, but still use them to create a framework for the overall thought. An unrhymed poem might be more natural in English, but it would be unsuitable here, because the poem is a wonderful example of outrageous emotion contained within a tight linguistic structure. So the sonnet form had to be reproduced (as an Italian sonnet, not an English one) to get a similar effect of emotion trying to burst of out of all constraints. I also wanted to give the poem a sense of urgency and drive, so I began the first two lines without the usual up-beat.

The major difficulty in translating this particular poem has been keeping close to the original, re-presenting in English Gáspara Stampa's thoughts and feelings, rather than turning it into my poem, or worse, adjusting it too far just to make it fit into a sonnet form in English. I did choose to explain the rather obscure allusion in the second and third lines, but I think that helps the English reader.

Peter Whale