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John Howard Reid

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow tackles Juan Ruiz!
by John Howard Reid
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow tackles Juan Ruiz! It seems to me that Longfellow is holding back a bit in his translation, but here it is! Readers can make up their own minds as to which version they prefer. I have published both translations -- my own and Longfellow's -- in A SALUTE TO SPANISH POETRY: 100 MASTERPIECES FROM SPAIN AND LATIN AMERICA RENDERED INTO ENGLISH VERSE BY JOHN HOWARD REID.


Charms of Little Women


translated from the Spanish of Juan Ruiz by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow




In a little precious stone where splendor meets the eyes!

In a little lump of sugar how much of sweetness lies!

So in a little woman love grows and multiplies;

You recollect the proverb says,  – “a word unto the Wise.”


A peppercorn is very small, but seasons every dinner

More than all other condiments, although ’tis sprinkled thinner;

Just so a little woman is, if Love will let you win her. –

There’s not a joy in all the world you will not find within her.


And as within the little rose you find the richest dyes,

And in the little grain of gold much price and value lies,

As from a little balsam much odor doth arise,

So in a little woman there’s a taste of paradise.


Even as a little ruby its secret worth betrays,

Color and price and virtue, in the clearness of its rays, –

Just so a little woman much excellence displays,

Beauty and grace and love and fidelity always.


The skylark and the nightingale though small and light of wing

Yet warble sweeter in the grove than all the birds that sing;

And so a little woman, though a very little thing,

Is sweeter far than sugar and flowers that bloom in Spring.


The magpie and the golden thrush have many a thrilling note.

Each as a gay musician doth strain his little throat,

A merry little songster in his green and yellow coat;

And such a little woman is, when Love doth make her dote.


There’s naught can be compared to her, throughout the wide creation;

She is a paradise on earth, – our greatest consolation, –

So cheerful gay and happy, so free from all vexation;

In fine, she’s better in the proof than in anticipation,


If as her size increases are woman’s charms decreased,

Then surely it is good to be from all the great released,

Now of two evils choose the less—said a wise man of the East.

By consequence, of woman-kind be sure to choose the least. 




Charms of Little Women


translated from the Spanish of Juan Ruiz




I should like to cut my preaching short.

Short sermons I like best myself;

plus short women and short arguments.

What is pithy and aptly put, stays in the mind.


People laugh at a man who talks too much;

and someone who laughs too much is a madman.

But great love is no laughing matter, and, believe me,

a little woman loves in a treble proportion to her size!


I would never accept a tall lady in exchange for a small.

But men who exchanged tall women for short,

have never regretted their bargain.


Cupid asked me to speak well of little women

and give a good account of their noble qualities.

And I should like to do that now.


If I was speaking in jest,

I’d say little women were as cold as snow

and burn like fire.


I’ll explain: They seem cold to all and sundry,

but burn hot when they’re in love.

In the bed of recreation, they are eager,

jovial, pleasant and cheerful. And in the house,

they’re wise and witty, yet helpful and docile.


There’s much more to discover,

so pay attention here!


In a tiny gem, great value lies.

In a speck of sugar resides much sweetness.

In a little woman abounds all the love contained in paradise!


For men with brains, these few words should be enough!


A wee grain of pepper is enough to warm the palate –

you won’t find a walnut half as warming or as comforting.

It’s the same with a little woman. Her love is more enduring

than all the pleasures the whole world has to offer.


Look how richly colored a tiny rose can rise!

Think of the wealth walled within a puny nugget of gold

or the strong scent emitted by just a wisp of balsam!

Little women overflow with sweet, golden honey

a hundred times their size!


Just as a small ruby has much grace and color,

a small woman encompasses virtue, value, love and loyalty,

beauty, elegance, tenderness, valor and charity.


The skylark is no giant. Neither is the nightingale.

But they sing more sweetly than any larger bird.

Because a woman is small, she is not less graceful,

nor does her size diminish her love.

And as far as affection is concerned, her songs

are sweeter and more melodious than any lark’s.


Orioles and pipits are likewise very small birds,

and both are super-sweet singers –

unique, graceful, playful little birds,

gifted, prized – and so is a little woman when in love!


The small woman bears absolutely no comparisons!

She is paradise on earth, a solace, a comfort,

an enchantment, a blessing and a joy –

and always better in the testing

than at a first meeting!


I’ve always preferred a small woman

to a big one or a giant.


It’s not imprudent to take wing

and fly away from a great evil.

In fact, old Aristotle was always

dead keen on a certain maxim:

“Of evils, take the least!” says he.


Therefore the smaller the woman…


John Howard Reid

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