Marta Kubišová: Magdaléna (Supraphon, 1969)

20 Aug

Magdaléna is based on a Spanish song, retaining the original music of Luis Eduardo Aute but adapting it to the Czech market with highly ornate lyrics created by the poet Jan Schneider. Its themes refer to the mannerisms of European Baroque literature, in this case an eroticised hymn to the Magdalene cast in a pop-Symbolist idiom, something that the very free version presented below has tried to reflect, though – it should be noted – at the expense of the song’s form, and very freely in terms of any exact correlation of image and meaning. Magdaléna first appeared on Kubišová’s 1969 album Songy a Balady, and the Czech lyric can be read here, while the song (seen in a promo clip directed by Kubišová’s husband at the time, New Wave director Jan Nemec) can be heard here.

Magdaléna (Aleluja)

(after Luis Eduardo Aute/Jan Schneider, 1969)

Hallelujah – the scent of roses in the garden’s air,
grapes ripened to sweet smooth skin;

Magdalene is not holy, is just a woman,
she quenches the pilgrims’ thirst – come, be desperate

as a prisoner drinks, is forced to drink
from the drip of water on his head,

shaved bare at the crown, its shiver of cold
a relief from the sun; drink this, and remember.


Magdalene is not holy, is just a woman,
remember this as you drink, and think of me.

Hallelujah – poor moon, keep these fox grapes safe,
weave green vines into a tailored dress,

watch as foxes scurry among the leaves,
lit by stars, their pelts glittering white and brown.

Grapes do not keep well on these warm night stalks,
beauty is other, love’s how the song

finds its way to the mouth – Hallelujah.
Magdalene is not holy, is just a woman.


And listen: grass cries in the bitter dew.
The moon of her face is bright, and shines.

The vineyard’s breezes fall through silent warmth
and, Magdalene, look, this beautiful girl

seizes lock-keepers, halts boats in their stream;
her presence brings scientists to forgiveness.

The years they spent gathering evidence, tests,
delivering papers that collate the qualities of Magdalene,

sing Hallelujah among the gleaming tiles and desks
of their lecture halls and laboratories.


Hallelujah, yes, where stones from the Mount persist,
where wicked mouths evade half-truths that lie;

hands shall yearn for her, stone after stone,
and tonight might manifest that hunger for love.

Tonight this sleeping, trademarked heart
will find itself tangled in her fragrant vines,

sing Hallelujah, speak, and press sweet wine
from words, remembrances, on a white-stained tongue.


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