Monday, May 17, 2021

Bedřich Bridel

Bedřich Bridel (1619―1680) is a Czech baroque writer, poet, and missionary. He was educated in Prague, joined the Jesuit order in 1637, was ordained a priest around 1650, and worked in the Jesuit printing office. Besides his own original works, which were for religious education, Bridel also translated German and Latin texts into Czech. He spent the last twenty years of his life in mission work in Bohemia. He died of the plague in 1680.

The following poem was translated into English, for a forthcoming Kingdom Poets anthology, by Rhina P. Espaillat (with Henry R. Cooper Jr.). The anthology is edited by Burl Horniachek and will appear as part of the Poiema Poetry Series (Cascade Books). This is the first translation of this poem into English.

What Is God? Man?

Three-cornered and three-sided, you
are both triangular and round;
A spherical abyss far too
immeasurably deep to sound;
you are justice, but with no
plumb line, cord, or bounden duty.
Ageless, unadorned you go,
clad in wholly perfect beauty.

Flawless beauty that you are,
and happy beyond every joy,
greater than all love by far,
your purity without alloy
is too clean for time to touch you,
age deface you, force defy,
treasure own you, or death clutch you:
eternal, you can never die.

You are what perfect truth there is.
Since only perfect things can be,
all things, and man, as things are his,
wants to be yours eternally.
You are earth, but still unploughed;
you are the ocean, but still dry,
where no storm blows wild and loud.
You are god, most great, most high.

The unexplained is your disguise:
the unkindled, smokeless flame;
wind—the air on which you rise;
the sea without its seashore frame;
a valley waiting for its hill;
the sun without its morning gleam
or sunset glow; and strangely still,
that flowless interrupted stream.

You are roses with no thorn;
sourceless well; beginning; ending;
all as it was when newly born;
flawless love that needs no mending;
wine unfermented; grapes unpressed;
book without words that makes no sound;
sound not yet voice, still unaddressed;
you everywhere, as yet unfound.

Grove are you, but with no shade;
pure gold mined without the tailing;
beauty no cosmetic made;
glorious throne behind its veiling;
heaven by the light of day;
sea without the waves grown wild;
health that keeps disease away;
laughter, but serene and mild.

You’re a garden with no hedge;
speech without tongue; and without rind
you are fruit; you are the edge
of the abyss no sight can find,
where I drown, dark in that light,
under the homeland that I love:
wholly immersed, and out of sight,
far from all that lives above.

Now I ask, What is my god?
Everything here confuses me!
I wander; everything seems odd.
I’m baffled by the deity.
I can’t make sense of god: however
I prod my mind to comprehend,
however hard I try, I never
pursue god’s nature to the end.

What kind of night awaits me now,
I’m wondering, untangling such
imponderable thoughts as how
great god is? And more—so much!
I’m purified enough to think
such thoughts, to laugh like this, and be
ready to drown in them, and sink
while pondering divinity!

Posted with permission of the translators.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.