7 June 2007

Near enough

by Matt Rubinstein at 11:56 pm

<img src="http://ma.ttrubinste buy levitra cheap.in//wp-images/lord-alfred-tennyson.jpeg” border=”0″ alt=”tennyson.jpeg” align=”right” hspace=20 vspace=10 />I just watched El Espinazo del Diablo (here called The Devil’s Backbone), Guillermo del Toro’s predecessor and companion to last year’s El Labertino del Fauno (aka Pan’s Labyrinth). Both films have the gruesome beauty of old fairytales; they are uneasy dreams that can’t decide whether or not they’re nightmares. I like them a lot, and Hellboy is great fun too.

One of the characters in The Devil’s Backbone, Casares, is fond of reciting old poems, including one subtitled like this:

Stay by my side as my light grows dim,
as my blood slows down and my nerves shatter
with stabbing pain, as my heart grows weak
and the wheels of my being turn slowly.

Stay by my side as my fragile body
is racked by pain which verges on truth
and manic time continues scattering dust
and furious life bursts out in flames.

Stay by my side as I fade
so you can point to the end of my struggle
and the twilight of eternal days
at the low, dark edge of life.

It’s very tenderly delivered at a heartbreaking point in the film, and it sounds great. But there’s also something familiar about it. Yes, it’s from Canto 50 of In Memoriam AHH, which of course is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s lengthy elegy to his Cambridge mate Arthur Henry Hallam:

Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.

Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is rack’d with pangs that conquer trust;
And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
And Life, a Fury slinging flame.

Be near me when my faith is dry,
And men the flies of latter spring,
That lay their eggs, and sting and sing
And weave their petty cells and die.

Be near me when I fade away,
To point the term of human strife,
And on the low dark verge of life
The twilight of eternal day.

Now, I don’t know enough Spanish to work out to what extent Casares was paraphrasing Tennyson. Normally where a character in a foreign film quotes an English poem or whatever, the practice is for the subtitle to revert to the original English—that way it rhymes and everything, plus as a translator you can kind of put your feet up for a bit. But maybe the paraphrase actually gives more of a flavour of the Spanish version—which, after all, doesn’t rhyme or scan or sound like nineteenth-century English poetry.

Canto 50 also supplies the title and epigraph of Andrew O’Hagan’s latest novel, Be Near Me. Andrew charmed the absolute pants off the recent Sydney Writers’ Festival with his enthusiasm, his good humour and his Scottish accent. At his session in the Blue Mountains I overheard one old dear behind me whisper to another: “Imagine being his wife.” He mentioned that he hadn’t been sure what to call his book until he heard or remembered A,LT’s canto. Was it del Toro’s film that reminded him? Probably not, but still.

4 Responses to “Near enough”

  1. Aishah Says:

    Hey matt, juz wanna say thanks for this page of urs. I finally know who wrote that poem I heard in The Devil’s Backbone. Followed ur link to the tennyson page and got the full version. The real thing is beautiful indeed.

  2. leslie Says:

    your page was alot of help, thanks ive been trying to find this poem, and the author for awhile, very beautiful. now i can actually get the book as well.

  3. Heather Says:

    The poem was actually written by a 17th century nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. It is one of her Romances.

  4. Diane Says:

    Thanks so much for researching this. I love it in the movie and I’m at the same stage of life. Very meaningful!

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