P.A. Christensen Lecture: Maria do Céu’s Enganos do bosque

Dr. Valerie Hegstrom (Spanish and Portuguese) gave the annual P.A. Christensen Lecture about her work translating Maria do Céu’s Enganos do bosque, desenganos do rio.

PROVO, Utah (March 7, 2019)—For the annual P.A. Christensen Lecture, Dr. Valerie Hegstrom examined errors that came with the “translation, mistranslation, and misreading” of Maria do Céu’s Enganos do bosque, desenganos do rio. The first part of Enganos appeared in Maria do Céu’s anthology of her work in 1736. The anthology, also titled Enganos do bosque, was Soror Maria’s sixth published book. The story follows the journey of a peregrina, or pilgrim, who finds herself forced to choose between a pleasant path leading to the grove of the hunter and the difficult road leading to the shepherd’s garden.

Hegstrom first identified Enganos’s female protagonist as what sets Soror Maria’s work apart from similar stories. She stated, “The allegory asserts that female pilgrims have agency, can choose between vice and virtue, and can find their way to God without the mediation of male ecclesiastical authority.” For the time, and from a nun, this assertion was seen by many in power as radical.

Five years after Enganos was first released, Soror Maria handed over her manuscripts of part two for publishing. What followed was a series of translations and publications of Soror Maria’s story, most often with incorrect or no attribution to the original author. Hegstrom explained how this was often done with “Cubridme de Flores” (“Cover Me with Flowers”), a poem that became the most frequently quoted passage from Enganos. Originally penned by Soror Maria in Spanish, it allows the peregrina to voice the longing of the human soul as she expresses her love for God.

With every translation of the poem, however, Maria do Céu as the author became more and more lost. Having just completed a translation of Enganos herself, Hegstrom noted the general tendency of translations to either move the reader toward the writer or move the writer toward the reader. This is true in the way Padre Enrique Flores attempted to adapt Soror Maria’s work to fit a Spanish audience. However, rather than simply edit, Flores rewrote and changed even those parts originally written in his native Spanish language. With each modification, the voice of Soror Maria became fainter.

Padre Flores’s version of Enganos left lasting effects. Translators like Juan Nicolás Böhl de Faber and Sir John Bowring misnamed or completely erased Maria do Céu as the author. Hegstrom noted how they also separated the story of the peregrina from the poems, secularizing works such as “cubridme de Flores” so that the longing expressed was between mortal lovers and not a pilgrim wayfaring nearer to heaven. Hegstrom explained how her contemporary and subsequent male translators’ processes were closer to “creative or free mistranslation” than responsible translation.

In later years, Soror Maria’s words can be found echoed in many German lyrical translations of an “anonymous” Spanish poem, starting with the first version appearing in 1849 and followed by many more musical arrangements through 1899. The arrangments were written by well-known composers like Adolf Bernhard Marx and Robert Schumann. Though, Hegstrom explained, it is precisely because of the translation mistakes that “none of these composers knew that a Portuguese nun had penned the lyrics they set to music.”

Hegstrom concluded by noting how the journey of Soror Maria’s work has echoed the travels of her pilgrim. “The peregrina’s pilgrimage took her through the hunter’s grove, along the road of asperities, and across the lake of tribulation to the garden of the shepherd,” Hegstrom said, “but she also travelled to Madrid, Hamburg, London, Berlin, to concert halls in many parts of the world, and into several languages.” The peregrina’s journey has been arduous, but Hegstrom is determined that it will eventually end with the rightful attribution of Maria do Céu’s work.

— Jensyn Eubank (English, ’20)