Tonight’s poem is a masterpiece of wordplay in two languages by Robert Graves. The great poet lived on Mallorca for many years, and long familiarity with the Spaniards and their language merged with his native poetic gifts to produce this spoof. It is not widely known; for some reason it has been excluded from his Collected Poems. I found it via Google, but am unable to provide a date for it.
Mr. Graves based his poem on the bizarre English used in some of Spain’s travel brochures. With fractured forms of English now widespread on the internet, the language so ably mimicked by him in this verse seems quite familiar.
“¡Wellcome, to the Caves of Arta!”
by Robert Graves
‘They are hollowed out in the see-coast at the muncipal terminal of Capdepera at nine kilometer from the town of Arta in the Island of Mallorca, with a stuporizing infinity of graceful colums of 21 meter and by downward, which prives the spectator of all animacion and plunges in dumbness. The way going is very picturesque, serpentine between style mountains, til the arrival at the esplanade of the vallee called “The Spiders”. There are good enlacements of the railroad with autobuses of excursion, many days of the week, today actually Wednesday and Satturday. Since many centuries renown foreing visitors have explored them and wrote their elegy about, included Nort-American geoglogues.’ [From a tourist guide]
Such subtile filigranity and nobless of construccion
Here fraternise in harmony, that respiracion stops.
While all admit thier impotence (though autors most formidable)
To sing in words the excellence of Nature’s underprops,
Yet stalactite and stalagmite together with dumb language
Make hymnes to God wich celebrate the stregnth of water drops.
¿You, also, are you capable to make precise in idiom
Consideracions magic of ilusions very wide?
Already in the Vestibule of these Grand Caves of Arta
The spirit of the human verb is darked and stupefied;
So humildy you trespass trough the forest of the colums
And listen to the grandess explicated by the guide.
From darkness into darkness, but at measure, now descending
You remark with what esxactitude he designates each bent;
“The Saloon of Thousand Banners”, or “The Tumba of Napoleon”,
“The Grotto of the Rosary”, “The Club”, “The Camping Tent”,
And at “Cavern of the Organs” there are knocking strange formacions
Wich give a nois particular pervoking wonderment.
Too far do not adventure, sir! For, further as you wander,
The every of the stalactites will make you stop and stay.
Grand peril amenaces now, your nostrills aprehending
An odour least delicious of lamentable decay.
It is poor touristers, in the depth of obscure cristal,
Wich deceased of thier emocion on a past excursion day.
Good grief, what a typing exercise! Or were you able to copy and paste? All that eccentric spelling. Amusing, though.
For some reason it reminds me of Mark Twain’s essay on “English as She is Spoke”, the incompetent Portuguese-English guidebook that is so unintentionally funny that it is still in print. The full text, including the Mark Twain foreword, are Here
Wally — no, I didn’t have to type it; I found 2 copies online via Google.
When I was doing my residency and Robert Wood Johnson Fellowship at UCLA in the late seventies, I had a neurologist friend who had spent a lot of time with Graves on Mallorca, when he was in (IIRC) his late eighties. They played chess together, and Graves, who had (or who affected to have) a mild dementia at the time, cheated like hell (or so my friend claimed)!
You probably know “To Juan At The Winter Solstice” (very appropriate for this season), one of the greatest of Graves’ lyric poems.