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This review is taken from PN Review 182, Volume 34 Number 6, July - August 2008.

IVORY-TOWER WOMAN DULCE MARÍA LOYNAZ, translated by James O'Connor, Against Heaven (Carcanet) £14.95

In the enigmatic foreword to this dual-language edition of one of Cuba's most celebrated poets, Juan Ramón Jiménez pays homage with a description of 'the gentle ivory-tower woman' before going on to suggest a comparison with Saint Teresa, the Spanish sixteenth-century mystic poet. Both of these descriptions give an idea of Loynaz's style and literary heritage.

For Loynaz, poetry is a sanctuary. Throughout the poems in this generous selection love is as vivid as it is abstract, as elusive as it is present; more bequest than celebration: 'May death be this warm grave within your arms.' It is this exploration of solitude that has led some critics to draw comparisons with Emily Dickinson. Biblical allusions echo in the cloisters of her poems: fishing nets, walking on water, the garden of Gethsemane. When Loynaz writes 'Dame para ellos el vestido de los lirios, ya que no sé tejer...' she is making a clear reference to Matthew 6:25-34 ('And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies...') yet in this translation these echoes can remain out of earshot: the allusion to the Gospels is absent in the literally-translated English text: 'give me, just for them, a dress made of lilies'.

The translations, though, are generally fit-for-purpose. They are faithful, with gentle risks taken with punctuation and phrasing. As with many such dual-language collections, their fidelity aids and encourages cross-reading with the originals. However, the translations do appear to trip up occasionally on fairly basic Spanish grammar: ...


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