A new feature: original Spanish translation by Andrew Hart
May 9, 2008, 4:03 am
Filed under: literature

I thought this would be a neat feature. From time to time, I will pick out a piece of little-known Spanish literature and translate it into English. So without further ado, for the first time ever in English, the story “Fear” by Spanish writer Ramon del Valle-Inclan.

Ramon del Valle-Inclan

That long and distressing shiver that feels like a messenger of death, the true shiver of fear, I have only felt once. It was many years ago, in that beautiful time when there was nobility in joining the military. I had just earned the stripes of a Knight Cadet. I would have preferred to enter the Guard of the Royal Family, but my mother was opposed to that idea, so following the family tradition, I became a grenadier in the King’s Regiment. My moustache has already started to fall out, and I’m about to become a decrepit old man, so I don’t recall those years exactly. But before I entered in the regiment, my mother wanted me to receive a blessing. The poor lady lived alone at the outskirts of the village in our handsome old house, so I acquiesced to her request. That same afternoon when I had arrived, I was sent in search of the Prior of Brandeso so he could come and hear my confession in the chapel. My sisters Maria Isabel and Maria Fernanda, who were just girls, came down to pick roses from the garden, and my mother filled the vases on the altar with them. Then she handed me her devotional and told me in a soft voice to search my soul.

–Go to the front of the chapel, my son. That’ll be a better place…

The dais at the front of the chapel was next to the gospels and on the other side of the library. The chapel was damp, dark, resonant. On the altarpiece, a coat of arms stood out. The mark signified the nobility that the monarchs of Spain had awarded to the Lord of Bradomin, Pedrio Aguilar Tor, who was sometimes called the Old, and sometimes the Goat. That gentleman was buried to the right of the altar. On his tomb was a sculpture of a praying warrior. The lamp that lit the presbytery day and night hung before the altar, carved like a king’s precious little gem. The golden bunches on the evangelical vine that held up the lamp appeared to be loaded with fruit. The guardian saint was that pious holy Magi who gave myrrh to the Holy Infant. His silk robe embroidered with glowing gold was a shining tribute to that oriental miracle. The lamplight between the silver chains had the shy flutter of a bird imprisoned trying to fly towards the saint.

My mother left vases full of roses at the foot of the holy Magi as an offering from her devoted soul. Then, accompanied by my sisters, she knelt in front of the altar. From the dais, I only heard the murmur of her voice, which exuded stagnant Ave Marias. But when the girls chimed in in response, I heard every word of the prayer. The afternoon died down and the prayers resonated in the chapel’s dark silences, deep, sad, and august, like an echo of the Passion. I became numb. The girls sat themselves on the steps leading up to the altar. Their clothes were as white as the flax of liturgical cloth. In the light of the presbytery lamp, I could distinguish a solitary shadow praying. It was my mother, who held in her hands an open book and read with her head tilted. In the late afternoon, the wind rocked the curtain of a high window. I looked then at the sky, already dark, and saw the face of the moon, pale and supernatural as a goddess worshiped at shrines in forests and lakes…

My mother closed the book with a sigh and called for the girls. I saw their white shadows pass through the presbytery and I saw them kneel on either side of my mother. The lamplight flickered with a faint glow over the hands that had returned to hold open the book. In the silence the pious voice read slowly. The girls listened. Their hair hung over their perfectly white clothing, draped equally over both sides of their faces, sad, Nazarene. I fell asleep, and awoke suddenly to the screams of my sisters. I looked and saw them embracing my mother in the middle of the presbytery. They were screaming, terrified. My mother grasped their hands and the three fled. I was going to follow them, but stayed in overwhelmed terror. In the tomb of the warrior the bones of the skeleton were scraping against each other. The hairs on my face and neck stood on end. The chapel had been completely quiet, and I could distinctly hear the hollow, frightening roll of the skull on its stone pillow. I was as scared as I’d ever been, but I didn’t want my mother and sisters to think I was a coward, so I remained motionless in the middle of the presbytery, my eyes fixed on the door that was slightly ajar. The lamplight flickered. High up, the window-curtain shook, and the clouds floated by the moon, and the stars turned off and on just like our lives. Suddenly, far away, dogs barked and the festive clang of bells sounded. A serious and ecclesiastical voice called:

–Here, Carabel! Here, Captain!…

The Prior of Brandeso had arrived to hear my confession. Then I heard the tremulous and fearful voice of my mother, and I distinctly perceived dogs barking. The grave, ecclesiastical voice rose slowly, like a Gregorian chant:

–Now we’ll see what it was…Not a thing of another world, surely…Here, Carabel! Here, Captain!

And the Prior of Brandeso, preceded by his hounds, appeared in the door of the chapel:

–What’s the matter, Mr. King’s Grenadier?

I responded with a choked voice:

–Prior, I heard the skeleton shaking inside the tomb!

The Prior slowly crossed the chapel. He was an elegant and upright man. In his youth he had also been one of the King’s Grenadiers. He came up to me without picking up the flair of his white robes, and with an affirming hand on my shoulder, he looked at me with his discolored face and pronounced seriously:

–Never has the Prior of Brandeso seen a King’s Grenadier trembling!

He kept his hand on my shoulder and stayed motionless, contemplating without talking. In the silence we heard the warrior’s rolling skull. The Prior’s hand did not shake. At our side, the dogs pricked their ears and raised their hackles. Again we heard the sound of the rolling skull on its stone pillow. Now the Prior was shaken:

–Mr. King’s Grenadier, we must know whether this is the work of witches or hobgoblins!

And he approached the sepulcher and grasped the two bronze rings embedded in one of the slabs marked with the epitaph. I approached nervously. The Prior looked at me without parting his lips. I put my hand on his on the ring and pulled. We slowly raised the stone. The black space, hollow and cold, sneered at us. I saw that the dry yellow skull still moved. The Prior extended his arm into the tomb to pick it up. Trembling, I received it. I was in the middle of the presbytery, and the lamplight fell on my hands. When I fixed my eyes on the skull, I shook off my hands in horror: between them was a hissing nest of snakes! The skull clanged down all the steps of the presbytery. The Prior looked at me with the eyes of the warrior that burned behind the visor of his helmet:

–Mr. King’s Grenadier, there will be no absolution. I do not absolve cowards!

With a harsh look, he left without picking up his long white robes. The Prior of Brandeso’s words have echoed in my ears for a long time, and they resonate still. Maybe because of them I later learned to smile at death as if smiling at a woman!

Translated by Andrew Hart


2 Comments so far
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andrew hart will you add me to your blogroll tia

Comment by Jerry Vinokurov

Yes, and this blog is now called KЛИHOM so adjust your blogroll accordingly.

Comment by Andrew Hart

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