Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. During Lent, three of us poets—Joanne Epp, Sarah Klassen and Sally Ito—decided to translate the poetry of 17th century Austrian poet, Catharina Regina Von Greiffenberg (1633-1694) from German to English. We selected a sonnet series she wrote for Easter: Die Sieben/ In dem Tod Christi geschehene/ Zeichen oder Wunder-Worte (The Seven Signs or Wonder-Words that Occurred at the Death of Christ).
We began our Lenten journey of translation by meeting at Sarah Klassen’s home on Thursday, March 27, the day after Ash Wednesday. We had all ordered the Holzinger German edition of Geistliche Sonnette, Lieder und Gedichte, a collection of Greiffenberg’s poetry first published in 1662. Sarah had selected Die Sieben for us to consider translating for Lent because this was a set of sonnets specifically written for Easter and would be appropriate for translating this time of year. We agreed to meet every Thursday during Lent and work our way through the seven sonnets with an aim to one day publishing them in a book or magazine.
Then came the pandemic.
One by one as things began to close or shut down, we were forced to figure out how we could continue our work without our weekly meetings. We switched over to meeting on Messenger video chat around the time we began translating Sonnet No. 5. At no time did we abandon the idea of giving up our translating—in fact, translating became something even more important to us. It gave us a meaningful and structured way of approaching the coming days of anxiety and idleness that lay ahead. It provided us with sustenance—the bread of Catharina’s devotion fed our minds and souls as we marveled at and puzzled over her syntactical jumps and turns-of-phrase, her ecstatic and exuberant expressions of conviction and praise, her playful and paradoxical leaps with language.
Die Sieben is a collection of sonnets that meditate on the seven wondrous events that occurred during the Crucifixion, from the darkening of the sun to the conversion of the bystanders, as told in St. Matthew’s account of the Passion (Matt. 27:51-54). Each sonnet speaks in the voice of the wonder itself, except for the seventh, which speaks in the poet’s own voice.
We hope you enjoy the fruit of our translations of these sonnets during this unusually fraught and difficult Holy Week of 2020.