Poetry

Poetry Sunday: Vesna Parun’s ‘You Whose Hands Are More Innocent Than Mine’

 

Love stories do not always have a happy ending. With its yearning, pain, and affection, Vesna Parun’s poem ‘You Whose Hands Are More Innocent Than Mine’ highlights the ways that old loves can haunt us even after one or more of the parties has moved on from the relationship.

Vesna Parun (1922-2010) was a Croatian poet and author who helped define the creative landscape in 20th century Croatia. Though she wrote over 20 children’s books along with myriad plays and essays, today Parun is best known for the lyrical love poems that form the bulk of her oeuvre.

‘You Whose Hands Are More Innocent Than Mine’ captures that delicate lyricism. The poem features a narrator who is speaking to the new woman in the narrator’s former lover’s life. The narrator recognizes that the new woman is a better fit for the old flame – after all, she gives the man “peace”, “courage”, and can “stop the pain” – but that doesn’t ease the grief that the narrator feels. Whatever love the narrator had for the man is lost to them no matter what feelings linger. But sometimes loves don’t entirely abandon us, and because of this leftover affection, the narrator hopes that the new woman will bring happiness to the man they both loved. In this poem, Varun expresses the conflicted nature of love with its complexity, confusion, and longing.

Because many English language countries have overlooked writings from the region of the former Yugoslavia, I have not been able to track down professional translations of Parun’s work. However, the internet’s poetry community has come to my rescue. I am indebted to the translators at Lyrics & Translations for their interpretation of ‘You Whose Hands are More Innocent Than Mine.’ Though the site can be a bit difficult to navigate, if you are interested in poetry I suggest you explore it.

In addition to the reading at the top of this post, the translation has been reproduced below.

‘You Whose Hands Are More Innocent Than Mine’ by Vesna Parun

You whose hands are more innocent than mine
and who is as wise as nonchalance
and who removes slow shadows of doubts
from his face
like the spring wind removes
shadows of clouds floating over the hill.

If your hug gives courage to the heart
and your thighs stop the pain,
if your name gives peace
to his thoughts, and your throat
a shade to his berth
and the night of your voice, an orchard
still untouched by storms.

Then stay beside him
and be more devoted than anyone else
who loved him before you.

Fear the echo approaching
the innocent love nests.

And be gentle with his dream
bellow the invisible mountain
at the edge of the soughing sea.

Walk around his coast. Be seen
by sorrowful dolphins.

Wander around his woods. Kind lizards
wont do you any harm.

And the thirsty snakes that I tamed
will be humble before you.

May the birds that I kept warm sing to you
in the nights of sharp frost.

May the boy that I protected from
stalkers on a deserted road
caress you

May the flowers that I watered with my tears
bring fragrance to you.

I didn’t witness the best years
of his manhood. His fertility
I haven’t received in my bosom
ravaged by looks
from cattle drivers at fairs
and from greedy thieves.

I will never take care
of his children. And the stories
that I’ve prepared for them long ago
I might tell, crying,
to little miserable bears
abandoned in black forest.

You whose hands are more innocent than mine
be gentle with his dream
that remained harmless.

But let me see him
his face when strange years
start to come down on it.

And tell me sometimes a thing or two about him
so that I don’t have to ask strangers
who find me silly, and neighbors
who pity my patience.

You whose hands are more innocent than mine,
stay beside his pillow
and be gentle with his dream!

 

 

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