Monday, January 15, 2024

Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg*

Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (1633—1694) is an Austrian whose sonnets have much in common with the seventeenth century English Metaphysical poets.

When I first posted about her back in 2017, I mentioned that three Canadian poets whom I know and respect — Sarah Klassen, Sally Ito, and Joanne Epp — had been working together on translating some of Greiffenberg’s work. Little did I know that this project would grab hold of them to the extent that they would produce a book-length manuscript.

That book is Wonder-Work: Selected Sonnets of Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg, and consists of their new translations of 65 poems — many of which have not previously been translated into English. The title is well-suited as it reflects the compound nouns of the original German, and the sense of awe that runs through these poems.

The poet-translators had to make significant decisions in bringing Greiffenberg’s sonnets into English. Because conveying her meaning and the beauty of her images was most important, they chose the poetic dance of alliteration and assonance, rather than trying to match the rhyme-scheme of the original German sonnets. One of the sonnets begins, “Oh you whose wisdom dews the stars, the source / of destiny—and yet without their work / your art alone brings everything to pass…”

The English translation of the following poem first appeared in The Polyglot; it is included in Burl Horniachek’s fine anthology To Heaven’s Rim: The Kingdom Poets Book of World Christian Poetry (Poiema/Cascade, 2023) and is, of course, from Wonder-Work: Selected Sonnets of Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (CMU Press, 2024).

On the Holy Spirit’s Wondrous Consolation

Refreshment from on high, heart-quickening breath!
----You heavenly balm! In suffering, Joy-Spirit
----that comforts while defying death and trouble,
----and calls forth in us joy more plenteous than sorrow.
O let my life behold your heart-illumination!
----Let misery be mocked while you are ever praised,
----and I by you sustained with health and strength.
----Waft over troubled waters, as when the world began.
You good God-Spirit, pain-conqueror, overthrow
----the soul-deceiver; let not his heart-tormenting fire
----consume faith's oil in my lamp;
let not his torturous grappling-hooks ensnare me.
----Bedew my rose, O sweet soul’s dew, so she
----may rise up, by your cooling strength, through fire.

Posted with permission of the translators

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg: first post.

A launch event will take place — with Joanne Epp, Sally Ito, & Sarah Klassen — in the Atrium of McNally Robinson Booksellers, Grant Park, Winnipeg, at 7:00 pm on Friday, January 19th. Watch the Live Stream on YouTube , or view it after the fact.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.