The Solitudes

excerpt

 

Hamish Ballantyne

Hamish Ballantyne (b. 1994) is a poet and translator from Vancouver Island. His first chapbook, Imitation Crab, is forthcoming from KFB in 2020. Hamish works on the Downtown Eastside for half the year and as a mushroom picker for the rest.

"The Solitudes is the last work that Luis de Góngora published in his lifetime. Originally envisioning it as an epic comprising four parts, or "solitudes," Góngora had completed less than two at the time of his death. At the heart of the text is an act of time-travel. What begins on the terms of a colonial narrative — spurned in love, the protagonist (known only as the wanderer / stranger / pilgrim) leaves the court to try his luck in the New World —  pivots impossibly out of historical time after the protagonist's boat is shipwrecked. The only survivor, the wanderer is washed ashore on a mythical island, a castaway in the generic conventions of the pastoral. My translations perform a similar act of time travel, refracting the text through the poetics and registers of several of its Spanish-language descendants: the works of Borges, Lezama Lima's Paradiso, Bioy Casares's The Invention of Morel. In the poem's dedication, Góngora offers his concept of the poem: 'Steps of a pilgrim these / wandering verses.' Language is the space the poem traverses. The wanderings of the stranger — the narrative substance of the text — feel secondary. So little is revealed about the protagonist, some readers have commented, that language is the real hero of the tale. If this is the case, then the antihero of this translation (devilish reflection) is misinterpretation. I seek to estrange my own use of English, taking direction from Spanish constructions and sonic patterns, and to reproduce elements of Góngora's poetic forms (rhyme, metre) in fragmentary, stilted glimpses. I make interpretive leaps in bad faith. I treat Góngora (this is maybe justifiable) as a loose cannon whose work constantly escaped his designs for it, and I seek to follow him in this."

                    he slept

     and remembered

     when the birds clinked

     the bell of morning—

     the sun—stumbles
     off his foamy porch

               to the car
     Like an obelisk light

     crashes into the shack

     the grateful pilgrim departs
     led by a goatherd who shows him

               a ridge
     once a theatre for fauns
     who lived in these mountains

     arrives there and the sight so

     much—standing     green and green

          on a leaf

     still as lentil

     as a map unfolds
     them—mist
     sorting itself

     out—sun still puzzling     the sense

          of zero distance
     as a brother dim-eyed

     shy barely listening but

          rapt     awe scans
     the river’s      garbled disquisition

     delivered wearing an apple

                         tree

     Silver castle

               keyring

          smothering

     jailbird

 

     From spring to jasper

          sea—forgets pride

     where memory hides

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