Friday, July 1, 2016
Oh, sing Diana now, you tender girls,
and boys, you sing of Cynthus’ long-haired youth!
and of Latona, too, so loved
by Jupiter the strong.
What joy in streams and shady groves,
and all that flows with Algidus’ cold country streams,
the shade on Erymanthus,
the verdure of high Cragus’ woods!
You youths, exalt with praises Tempe’s valley too,
and Delos where Apollo had his birth, that god
whose shoulder bears a quiver
as well as brother Hermes’ lyre.
Away with war’s weeping and wretched famine too
and illness, too, drive off from us and from our king
to Persia or to Britain.
Your words and dancing make these flee.
This is my own translation. Though some poets have attempted quantitative verse in English (notably Spenser and Swinburne), to most ears, their effect is faint and ineffective. Like all before me who have attempted English accentual version s of Greek or Latin quantitative verse (indeed, like all translators), I have settled for something different (and less) than I find in the original. The gap is all the more painfully regrettable in view of the fact that Horace’s chief professional boast (in Odes III, 30) was his importation of Aeolic meters into Italian poetry. To know what that means one must learn to read the patterns of long and short vowels on what ancient prosody was built whether or not one knows Greek and Latin.
My own way is simpler and more well-trod. Indeed, my interest in this particular poem is largely thematic, so even a prose paraphrase would serve. If I have produced anything at all beyond that, I, for one, will deem the translation a success.
Though often an effect of “natural,” colloquial language is considered the polar opposite of artful and literary diction, Horace seems to me to resemble the troubadours in his exemplification of both ends of this spectrum in a single verse. With a tone very nearly as casual as in the Satires, Horace is nonetheless unfailingly decorous, elegant in his music, and purposeful in his word-placement.
Purely because it is so natural in English, I use a generally iambic pattern. Though I do not attempt to duplicate the meters of the original, I do preserve the number of syllables per line in the hope that this practice may transmit something of the poem’s general shape. In addition, I have usually, in spite of the contrast between a strongly inflected original and a weakly inflected target language, retained the content line by line. Though I know that the geographical references will be obscure to many and the mythological allusions to some, I prefer to leave these unchanged. Such proper names are, I think, critically important, even central to a poem like this, and the reader with sufficient interest to have a look at Horace at all will hardly be bothered by having to look up a thing or two.