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Rubén Darío: The Princess is sad… (Sonatina)

10 Nov

Today I wanted to share this wonderful poem by the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío called “Sonatina” published in 1896 in his poetry collection “Prosas Profanas”. I love all the vibrant visual imagery, all the details that the poet so vividly describes instantly transport me to a summer garden where the pale and sad princess resides, surrounded by fragrant dahlias and lilies, and peacocks and swans. How can anyone be sad in such a heavenly place!? I love the way her features are described; she has “mouth of roses”, and “strawberry lips”. And I especially love the stanza where the princess imagines how beautiful it would be to fly like a butterfly or a swallow.

James Abbott Mcneill Whistler, Le Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine, 1863-65

Sonatina

The princess is sad . . . from the princess slips
such sighs in her words from the strawberry lips.
Gone from them laughter and the warm light of day.
Pallid she is sat in her golden chair;
unsounded the keys of the harpsichord there,
and a flower, from a vase, has swooned away.

The peacocks in the garden parade their tails.
The duenna’s chatter is incessant and stales.
The pirouetting jester is tricked out in red,
yet nothing she cares for and she does not smile
but follows a dragonfly that flits the while
as vague in the east as is her dream-lost head.

Does a prince from China or Golconda approach,
does she think of one stepping from his silver coach,
bedazzled by her beauty in the sky’s soft blues,
to court her with islands of fragrant roses,
shower bright diamonds as a sovereign disposes,
or proud owners of pearls do, out of Ormuz?

Ah, the poor princess, with that mouth of roses,
thinks of butterfly and swallow, but supposes
how easily with wings she would soar up under
the bright ladders brought down from the sunlit day.
With lillies she would meet the fresh songs of May,
and be one with the wind in the ocean’s thunder.

Listless in the palace spins the spinning wheel;
in the magical falcon and jester no appeal.
The swans are as one in the lake’s azure swoon.
From west come the dahlias for the first in court,
from east the sad jasmines, south roses of thought,
from north the waterlillies, weeping from noon.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, They toil not, neither do they spin, 1903

Her blue eyes see nothing but sad misrule:
into gold she is set and beset by tulle.
Days are poured out as from a heavy flagon,
haughtily they watch now over palace floors;
silent with the halberds are a hundred Moors,
sleepless the greyhound, and a colossal dragon.

Oh, to find freshness of the butterfly’s veil:
(The princess is sad. The princess is pale.)
Be silent as ivory, rose-coloured and gold!
Where will he fly to, the prince she had!
The princess is pale. The princess is sad,
more brilliant than the dawn is, a hundred fold.

Be patient, my princess: the horse has wings,
for you he is coming, the fairy godmother sings.
With a sword in the belt he has a hawk above,
and a kiss to ignite you, to vanquish death:
never has he seen you, but joyous the breath
from the prince who awakes you: you will be his love.