Thursday, April 14, 2011

Robert Southey's translation, abridged by half

Southey's translation is still popular, but it's "improved."

Sunrise looking up the Huécar River valley from the walls of the medieval city of Cuenca in La Mancha, Spain. Photo by Sue Burke.


The story "Goldilocks" is based on Robert Southey's "The Story of the Three Bears," first published in 1834, and it's only one of his many important works. One of the Lake Poets of the Romantic school, Southey (1774-1843) was also a Portuguese and Spanish scholar. His 1803 translation of Amadis of Gaul is still in print in many editions today and is widely available on the internet in various formats.

While the translation benefits from his skill as a poet and writer, it has its faults. These are his remarks in the preface to Volume I:

"...To have translated a closely printed folio would have been absurd. I have reduced it to about half its length, by abridging the words, not the story; by curtailing the dialogue, avoiding all recapitulations of the past action, consolidating many of those single blows which have no reference to armorial anatomy, and passing over the occasional moralizings of the Author. There is no vanity in saying that this has improved the book, for what long work may not be improved by compression? Meager wine may be distilled into Alcohol. The minutest traits of manners have been preserved, and not an incident of the narrative omitted. I have merely reduced the picture, every part preserved, and in the same proportions. Amadis of Gaul is valuable not only for its intrinsic merit as a fiction, but as a faithful representation of manners and morality; and as such, these volumes may be referred to as confidently as the original...."

Well, he did leave things out. Here is his version of the end of Chapter 35, followed by my translation, which is unabridged. You can also refer to the original Spanish text of that section, which I posted last fall here.


...Amadis then placed Oriana upon the Damsel's palfrey, while Gandalin caught one of the loose horses for the Damsel, and taking her bridle they left the place of battle. But Amadis, as they went along, reminded Oriana how she had promised to be his.

"Hitherto," said he, "I have known that it was not in your power to show me more favour than you did; but now that you are at full liberty, how should I support disappointments without the worst despair that ever destroyed a man!"

"Dear friend," quoth she, "never for my sake shall you suffer, for I am at your will: though it be an error and a sin now, let it not be so before God."

When they had proceeded about three leagues, they entered a thick wood, and about a league farther there was a town. Oriana, who had not slept a wink since she left her father's house, complained of fatigue.

"Let us rest in the valley," said Amadis.

There was a brook there and soft herbage; there Amadis took her from her palfrey.

"The noon," said he, "is coming on very hot, let us sleep here until it be cooler, and meantime Gandalin shall go bring us food from the town."

"He may go," replied Oriana, "but who will give him food?"

"They will give it him for his horse, which he may leave in pledge, and return on foot."

"No," said Oriana, "let him take my ring, which was never before so useful."

And she gave it to Gandalin, who, as he went by Amadis, said to him, "He who loses a good opportunity, Sir, must wait long before he find another."

Oriana laid herself down upon the Damsel's cloak, while Amadis disarmed, of which he had great need, and the Damsel retired farther among the trees to sleep. Then was the lady in his power, nothing loth; and the fairest Damsel in the world became a Woman. Yet was their love increased thereby, as pure and true love always is.

When Gandalin returned, the Damsel prepared the food; and, though they had neither many serving-men, nor vessels of gold and silver, yet was that a sweet meal upon the green grass in the forest.


...Then Amadis ordered him to put the Damsel of Denmark on one of the horses that was loose, and he put Oriana on the Damsel's palfrey, and they could not have been more happy as they left. Amadis led his lady's horse by the reins, and she told him how she was so frightened by the dead knights that she could not turn around, but he said:

"Much more frightening and cruel is the death that I would suffer for you. And my lady, feel sorrow for me and remember what ye have promised me. If that has sustained me to this point, it is only because I believed it was not in your hands or your power to give me more than ye had given me. But here and now, my lady, finding yourself in such freedom, if ye do not help me, now nothing would be enough to keep me alive, and I would be brought down by the most hungry hope that ever killed anyone."

Oriana said:

"In good faith, my beloved, never because of me, if I can help it, would you be put in this danger. I shall do what ye wish. Do it, and although it may seem here like an error and sin, it shall not be thus before God."

So they rode three leagues until they entered a thick forest of trees that was a league away from a village. Oriana felt very tired, as someone who had not slept at all the night before, and she said:

"My dear, I am so sleepy that I cannot go on."

"My lady," he said, "let us go to that valley, and ye shall sleep."

And they left the road and went to a valley, where they found a small stream and very fresh green grass. There Amadis helped his lady from her horse and said:

"My lady, the afternoon is becoming very warm. Sleep here until it becomes cooler. Meanwhile, I shall send Gandalin to the village to bring us something to refresh us."

"If he goes," Oriana said, "who will give him anything?"

Amadis said:

"They will give him something in exchange for the horse, and he shall return on foot."

"Not like that," she said. "Instead, take this ring, for it will never be worth as much to us as it is now." She took it from her finger and gave it to Gandalin.

As he was leaving, he said quietly to Amadis, "My lord, he who has a chance and loses it, shall regret it later." And having said this, he left, and Amadis understood well why he had said it.

Oriana lay on the cloak of the Damsel, while Amadis removed his armor and the Damsel helped him, which he needed. After he was disarmed, she went to sleep in some thick brush.

Amadis turned to his lady, and when he saw her so beautiful and in his possession, having given herself to his will, he was so struck by joy and shyness that he did not dare even to gaze at her. So it could well be said that in that green grass, on that cloak, more by the quiet grace of Oriana rather than the bold courage of Amadis, did the most beautiful maiden in the world become a woman.

And though they thought that with it, the flames of their passion would be cooled, instead they grew even bigger, brighter, and stronger, as will happen with healthy and true love. Thus they were together in loving acts, which he and she whose hearts have been wounded by similar arrows of love can understand and share, until Gandalin's return made Amadis arise.

He called to the Damsel and asked them to prepare something to eat, which they all needed. There, though they had no staff of servants nor grand gold and silver dinnerware, nothing could diminish the sweet delight that that meal gave them on the green grass. And so, as ye hear, the two lovers enjoyed such pleasure than neither the one nor the other would have left that forest for the rest of their lives if need and shame would have permitted.

We shall leave them there to rest and be happy, while we tell what happened to Sir Galaor as he sought the King.

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