By the rushing waters

I discovered in Babylon,

there I sat down weeping,

there I watered the earth.

    Remembering you,

oh, Zion, whom I loved;

sweet was your memory,

in memory, I cried all the more.

    I abandoned the garments of feasting,

and put on the garments of work,

and in the green willows I placed

the lyre that I carried, 

     saving it there in awaiting

what I hoped for in you.                                

There love wounded me,

and took away my heart.

    I told love that you killed me,                               

how happy I was to be wounded.

I stepped into love’s fire,

knowing it would enfold me,

    forgiving the little bird

that came to its end beside me;

I was dying inside me,

for only in you did I breathe.

    Within me, for you, I died,

and for you I revived,

that the memory of you

took away my life and returned it.

    The strangers took delight

in me as their captive.

They asked me for the songs

that I used to sing in Zion.

    “Sing a hymn of Zion,

let’s see how it sounded.”

I replied: “In a foreign land,

where I weep for Zion,

     how I can sing of the joy

that remains for me in Zion?

If what is foreign delights me,

I will cast it into forgetting,

     Let the tongue with which I speak

cleave to the roof of my mouth,

if I should ever forget you

in the land where I abide.

    Zion, by the green boughs

that Babylon gave me,

let my right hand be forgotten,

which you most loved in me.

    If I didn’t remember you,

in whom I most delighted,

and if I had a feast,

and without you I enjoyed it.  

    Oh, daughter of Babylon,

miserable and wretched!

Blessed was the one

in whom I trusted.

    He who gave you the whip

by means of your own hand;

he who will gather me up

with his little ones, because for you he wept

at the rock that was Christ,

for whom I abandoned you.

–Translated by Paul Hoover and María Baranda 

from The Complete Poems of San Juan de la Cruz (Milkweed Editions, 2021))

Maria Baranda Paul Hoover

This bilingual edition of the Complete Poems—including “Dark Night” and both the Sanlúcar and Jaén manuscripts of “Spiritual Canticle”—presents an intimate and exceptionally collaborative new translation from María Baranda and Paul Hoover. Baranda, one of the most distinguished Mexican poets of her generation, lends her deft hand with expansive, meditative poetry. Hoover—the accomplished American poet, editor, and translator—offers his dexterity with form and the possibilities of language. The product is uniquely faithful to image and idea, and loyal to the ecstatic lyricism of this canonical text. >>

Paul Hoover writes:

villancicos.  Doing so would twist the meaning unmercifully.  Juan’s poetry was mystical, therefore complex and paradoxical. This is especially true in the Romances, which are concerned with the Trinity.  We produced the first draft at Maria’s house in Mexico City.  I then worked to shape the English version at my home in Mill Valley, California.  I also prepared three introductions, “The Life,” “The Poetry,” and “The Translation.”  I am grateful to Aurelia Cortes Peyron, for her reading of my Spanish translations.  That includes my contributions to Maria’s recently published book, The New World Written:  New and Selected Poems (Yale University Press, 2021), which I also edited.  >>

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