A BILINGUAL APPROACH TO THE POETRY OF SAINT TERESA OF JESUS
Ángela Pérez Fernández (English teacher)
In a perceptive article in the magazine Mercurio (volume 169, March 2015), Victor García de la Concha, director of the Cervantes Institute, lets us know that Miguel de Unamuno, a well-known Spanish writer and philosopher who formed part of a literary group known as the “Generación del 98”, used to say that the study of mysticism is largely a philological concern and that the Spanish language first reflected the human perception of God in Saint Teresa’s writings. In other words, Saint Teresa was unique because, without counting on previous literary models, she was able to express in Spanish her intimate discernment of God.
According to García de la Concha, soon after the saint died in Alba de Tormes, three professors of the University of Salamanca competed with one another to study and publish her works. However, they were outdone by Fray Luis de León, who first published them in three pocket-sized books. Within sixteen months, not least than three running editions came out. Now and again in the text, Fray Luis interspersed words from Father Gracian, a discalced Carmelite admired by Saint Teresa. For that reason, he was criticized by Father Ribera, who urged him to read and interpret the texts in all faithfulness to the Saint, who expressed herself best.
In the light of the foregoing ideas, it seems only natural to approach the writings of the Carmelite reformer in their original version in order to appreciate their content fully. Nevertheless, influenced by our interest in English, we thought it might be worth examining English versions or translations in order to decide whether they capture the richness of nuances of the original works.
Definition of the challenge
You are expected to make a journey to the writings of Saint Teresa, and particularly to her poetry, in order to appreciate some of its content and also to assess the adequacy of its translation into English.
Time allotted to overcome the challenge
What is your mission?
1. Read and listen to a selection of poems by the Saint.
2. Appreciate their form and content.
3. Examine their translation into English.
4. Comment on the English version in contrast with the Spanish one.
Tasks to be done
1. Draw a list of Saint Teresa’s writings, both in prose and in poetry.
2. Read and listen to a limited sample of her poems in Spanish.
3. Examine features of content and expression in the poems.
4. Write a literary appreciation in English which shows your understanding of the texts.
5. Access English versions of these poems on the Internet.
6. Compare the English translation with the original text in Spanish.
7. Assess the English version in terms of its adequacy and accuracy.
8. Draw some conclusions.
9. Optionally, students may be asked to produce their own translation into English of some poem.
10. Make your own recording of the English version of some poems.
In this project we intend to work with 4th-year students of ESO. The ultimate objective is to make them familiar with a sample of Saint Teresa’s poetry. The following steps will be taken:
1. Selection of some of her poems in order to read them in the classroom and discuss features of form and content.
2. Students will be divided into small groups of four or five and each of them will examine one poem as well as its English version.
3. Each group will decide on the best way to make their conclusions known. For example, they may elaborate a Powerpoint presentation which summarizes their findings. Alternatively, they may write a short text which synthesizes their views. In both cases, the analysis will be delivered in English to the rest of the classmates.
4. Submit an original English translation of a poem and comment on how it has enriched the students’ understanding of Saint Teresa’s poetry.
5. Record in your own voice the English version of some poems.
Some resources that you can use
On aspects of her biography and writings:
On recorded audios of her poems:
On English versions of some of her poems:
On bibliographical information on English versions of Saint Teresa’s writings: