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from the Span­ish of Bal­tasar de Alcázar (1530−1606)

I’d like to tell my tale of woe,
oh Juana, but my curse is,
what I mean to say, I fear,
my verse some­times reverses.

For if I try to say what seems
impor­tant, half the time
I end up say­ing some­thing else
because I’m forced to rhyme.

Exam­ple: I would like to write
a verse to make it plain
Inez is good and lovely, but
the rhyme then adds insane.

And so I end up call­ing her
insane because it went
with plain to make a rhyme although
that isn’t what I meant.

And if I praise the sub­tle wit
with which she’s known to speak,
before I turn around, my rhyme
pro­claims her nose a beak.

And thus in sub­stance I allege
her nose, that’s so sub­lime,
is hooked, although I have no cause
except the cause of rhyme.

So rhyme is an imped­i­ment,
a deadly bur­den that’ll
make me stretch my tale of woe
with lots of point­less prat­tle.

And you won’t under­stand the cause,
you’ll just know something’s wrong;
it’s rhyme, and rhyme alone, you see,
that makes my tale too long.

And as I write, the facts get lost.
Verse lies, I now con­fess it.
A proper tale of woe in rhyme
needs lying to express it:

I hope my lies don’t go too far;
you may for­give the crime,
since when I lie, as I have said,
the cul­prit is the rhyme.

I’m lying to you now, you know,
because the rhymes ordain
I tell you more than just the truth
to tell my tale of pain.

Pow­er­less, although I try
to fix it, come what may,
with any luck you’ll read my words
and strip the lies away.

Nonethe­less, before too long
my verse will lose its wit,
since read­ing it too care­fully
can blunt the edge of it.

And you’ll dis­like my rot­ten rhymes
and say you do not need them,
and I would have to twist your arm
to make you sit and read them.

But Juana, if I tell my tale
in prose, I’m far too wordy,
and you’re so proper and refined,
my odd words might sound dirty.

You see, the fact that I’m advanced
in years means often I
write prose in ancient words I learned
in days and times gone by.

Words like eft­soons, whore­son, lief,
cock­le­bread, pis­car­ius,
fuxol, cockloft, cock­mate, cronge,
peever, vagi­nar­ius.

Dif­fibu­late or galan­tine,
quis­ter, drenge, rotar­i­ous,
bright­smith, brown­smith, bur­gon­mas­ter,
cur­ry­dow, pan­nar­ius.

Hostler, may­hap, emerods,
swoop­stake, usward, thole,
hawker, mau­gre, hatch­eler,
fletcher, rantipole.

And if I make you read such prose,
I might as well instead
bind the hor­rid pages up
and bonk you on the head.

Expe­ri­ence advises me,
if you read my immor­tal
tale of woe in prose you’d smirk,
guf­faw, har­rumph and chor­tle.

And so, if I am not deceived,
it would appear the case
that I should give up on my tale
and try to save some face.

These dif­fi­cul­ties I describe,
you’ll see, if you take stock,
would fill my verse with packs of lies,
my prose with pop­py­cock.

I like to think I’m sen­si­ble
and hon­est, as a rule,
and so I’d hate for folks to say
I lie or I’m a fool.

I have decided, there­fore,
that my story must be scrapped.
I would not wish in verse or prose
to prove such charges apt.

(orig­i­nally pub­lished in the Alabama Lit­er­ary Review)

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