CAMPBELL, ROY (1901-1957, South African poet)
AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF HIS CELEBRATED TRANSLATION OF THE FIRST OF THE POEMS OF ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS 'EN UNA NOCHE OSCURA,' 40 lines in eight five-line numbered stanzas, inscribed by Campbell at the end 'Free Version by R.C. to be revised', the manuscript preserves a number of readings and some punctuation subsequently reconsidered, 1 page, small quarto, square torn away at foot not near or affecting text, small pencil sketch, no date [Brecon, June 1942]
Upon a gloomy night
With all my cares to loving ardours flush
(Oh venture of delight!)
With nobody in sight
I ventured out, when all at home was hushed...
O Night that was my guide,
O Darkness dearer than the morning's pride
Oh Night that joined the lover
To the beloved bride,
Transfiguring the one into the other.
Within my flowering breast
Which for himself entire alone I save,
He sank into his rest,
And all my gifts I gave
Lulled by the airs with which the cedars wave
From off the ramparts fanned
While the light wind was scattering his tresses,
With his serenest hand
My neck he wounded and
Suspended every sense in its caresses...
"'Upon a Gloomy Night"...is certainly among the great poems of our time' (Edith Sitwell). 'Of all living English poets Roy Campbell is the most masterly in his use of rhyme, and he is able to use metre to convey a sense of intense passion...his English versions have the freshness of original poems.' (Kathleen Raine).
Peter Alexander in his biography of Roy Campbell describes this translation of the poem as 'superb' and notes that several critics consider his translations of St John of the Cross as among his very best work; one stated that they are 'among the most pure and lucid of English mystical poems', and Edwin Muir and Kathleen Raine praised them highly. This version has ten readings varying from the printed text.
Campbell was attracted to the poems because of his association with Toledo, the Saint having been imprisoned there, and because St. John had been a close associate of St Teresa of Avila, for whom his wife Mary Campbell had a strong attraction; it was Mary who prompted him to make the translations. Campbell also associated St John with his own escapes from death in Toledo in 1936, when he rescued the Saint's papers from destruction. He began 'En la Noche Oscura' on 13 June 1941 when Mary came to see him in Brecon, where he was stationed, 'completing it within a few days.' (Alexander). Campbell's translations of St. John of the Cross were published in 1951 and the book was widely and enthusiastically reviewed. No other manuscripts have been traced: not in Location Register, from which it is also evident that the British Library is the only institution with a poetical manuscript by Campbell (a fragment); all others appear to be in America.
PROVENANCE: Mary Campbell, wife of the poet.
REFERENCES: Peter Alexander, Roy Campbell, A Critical Biography, 1982; Roy Campbell, Light on a Dark Horse: An Autobiography 1901-1935, 1969; Collected Poems, volume III, foreword by Edith Sitwell, 1960; Location Register of Twentieth-Century Literary Manuscripts and Letters, 2 volumes, 1988.