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CHAT: translation of self-referential sonnet

From:John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Date:Tuesday, June 19, 2001, 13:33
(toot, toot)

I have written a translation of a Lope de Vega sonnet on
sonnets; this has nothing to do with conlangs, but may be
of interest to some here.

The original:

Un soneto me manda hacer Violante,
   que en mi vida me he visto en tal aprieto;
   catorce versos dicen, que es soneto,
burla burlando van los tres delante.

Yo pensé que no hallara consonante
   y estoy a la mitad de otro cuarteto,
   mas si me veo en el primer terceto,
no hay cosa en los cuartetos que me espante.

Por el primer terceto voy entrando,
  y parece que entré con pie derecho
   pues fin con este verso le voy dando.

Ya estoy en el segundo y aun sospecho,
  que voy los trece versos acabando;
   contad si son catorce y está hecho.

After wrestling several times with the Italianate form, with its four
distinct rhymes, and failing, I finally decided last night to use my
native sonnet form, the Shakespearean, and the imperfect rhymes, lumpy
meter, and facility for misquotation characteristic of the English

Here's my version:

My friend asked me to make for him a sonnet;
   I've never found myself in such a fix.
Fourteen lines, they say, make up a sonnet;
   I'll write the next three parts with clever tricks.

I was not born beneath a rhyming planet,
   Yet halfway through this poem I'm still here.
And if I catch myself a final couplet,
   There's nothing in the quatrains I need fear.

The third verse, as it seems, I'm now beginning;
   It's likely that I'll make it to the end
Of this game that I am so slowly winning,
   This poem that I'm making for my friend.

My thirteenth line, I see, I'm almost ending;
Do you count fourteen?  -- if not, well, 'tis past mending.

Other translations at

There is / one art             || John Cowan <jcowan@...>
no more / no less              ||
to do / all things             ||
with art- / lessness           \\ -- Piet Hein