Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.


Introductory Note

IN accordance with the plan determined upon for this edition, the Translations are collected from the separate volumes put forth by Mr. Longfellow and re-arranged here. As shown in the Biographical Sketch, translating played an important part in the development of Mr. Longfellow’s powers. Before he had begun to write those poems which at once attested his poetic calling, and while he was busying himself with study and prose expression, he was finding an outlet for his metrical thought and emotion in the translation of lyrics and pastoral verse, and occasionally of epic and dramatic fragments. Tasks thus early begun passed easily into pleasant avocations, and to the end of his life he found an ever grateful occupation in recasting the foreign thought of other men in moulds of his own. It has been deemed most expedient to group these translations by the several literatures from which they are derived, following in each group a chronological order of composition, as far as possible. As the first most important work in this field by Mr. Longfellow was in a translation from the Spanish, the group from the literature of Spain takes precedence.

The successive publication of Coplas de Manrique indicates the importance attached to it by Mr. Longfellow, and both the treatment which it received at his hands and the formal statement of his theory of translation have an interest, for the contrast which they afford to his later judgment and practice.

The preface to the book, dated Bowdoin College, August 9, 1833, besides a brief notice of Don Jorge Manrique and some characterization of the poem which will be found in the notes, contained the following remarks on the translator’s task:—

“The object of this little work is to place in the hands of the lovers of Spanish literature the most beautiful moral poem of that language. The original is printed with the translation, that in the estimate of those at least who are versed in the Spanish tongue the author may not suffer for the imperfections of the translator.

“The great art of translating well lies in the power of rendering literally the words of a foreign author while at the same time we preserve the spirit of the original. But how far one of these requisites of a good translation may be sacrificed to the other—how far a translator is at liberty to embellish the original before him, while clothing it in a new language, is a question which has been decided differently by persons of different tastes. The sculptor, when he transfers to the inanimate marble the form and features of a living being, may be said not only to copy, but to translate. But the sculptor cannot represent in marble the beauty and expression of the human eye; and in order to remedy this defect as far as possible, he is forced to transgress the rigid truth of nature. By sinking the eye deeper, and making the brow more prominent above it, he produces a stronger light and shade, and thus gives to the statue more of the spirit and life of the original than he could have done by an exact copy. So, too, the translator. As there are certain beauties of thought and expression in a good original, which cannot be fully represented in the less flexible material of another language, he, too, at times may be permitted to transgress the rigid truth of language, and remedy the defect, as far as such a defect can be remedied, by slight and judicious embellishments.

“By this principle I have been guided in the following translations. I have rendered literally the words of the original, when it could be done without injuring their spirit; and when this could not be done, I have occasionally used the embellishment of an additional epithet, or a more forcible turn of expression. How far I have succeeded in my purpose, the reader shall determine.”

It may be added that the translator did not keep to the exact metre and rhyme of the Spanish original, but adopted what he regarded as an equivalent stanza. He afterward adopted a much stricter rule of translation, indicated by the couplet from Spenser prefixed to his version of Dante:—

  • “I follow here the footing of thy feete,
  • That with thy meaning so I may the rather meete.”
  • Besides the translations preserved by Mr. Longfellow in successive volumes, there are several published in periodicals and elsewhere which are directly traceable to his pen, and are included in the Appendix to this volume, including one found among his manuscripts. As a fitting prelude to the entire series, the poem, not a translation, which was used for a similar purpose in the posthumous collection In the Harbor, is here given at the outset.