Guillaume Apollinaire: The Gypsy (from French)

The Gypsy
By Guillaume Apollinaire
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The gypsy could already tell
Our lives were blocked by night on night
We said farewell to her and right
Away Hope hurtled from the well

Love heavy as a hungry bear
Danced tall with our two wills for tethers
The bluebird shuffled off its feathers
The beggars lost the will to prayer

We're bound for hell and know full well
But on the way in hope of love
We hand in hand go thinking of
All that the gypsy's words foretell

The Original:

La Tzigane

La tzigane savait d'avance
Nos deux vies barrées par les nuits
Nous lui dîmes adieu et puis
De ce puits sortit l'Espérance

L'amour lourd comme un ours privé
Dansa debout quand nous voulûmes
Et l'oiseau bleu perdit ses plumes
Et les mendiants leurs Ave

On sait très bien que l'on se damne
Mais l'espoir d'aimer en chemin
Nous fait penser main dans la main
A ce qu'a prédit la tzigane

Pushkin: To The Sea (From Russian)

This may be thought of as Pushkin's locus amœnus poem, and it was an absolute pain in the ass to translate. Seriously. Not because the language is hard, or even because of the (today) opaque allusions, but because of the resonances of language. Pushkin's gift is the ability to phrase an idea in such a way, and in such a context, that the Russophone reader somehow just feels that this is the natural way to say it. Much as Shakespeare constructed phrases (not merely obvious ones such as to thine own self be true, the fault is not in the stars, doth protest to much, to be or not to be, one fell swoop, star-crossed lovers but also words many English speakers use every day such as good riddance, laughingstock, what's done is done, hoist by one's own petard, seen better days, strange bedfellows, a sorry sight) that, by dint of talent and a hefty amount of luck, became part of the English semanticon, so too did Pushkin make much of the Russian phrasebank in his own image. One example from this poem is властитель дум "master/potentate of (one's) thoughts/ideas" a term which in modern Russian is now used to describe the dominant intellectual influence either on a person or on an age.

To The Sea
By Alexander Pushkin
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Russian

Unfettered element! Farewell
Before me now one final time
You roll again that skyblue swell,
And sparkle with a pride sublime.

Like an old friend's regretful sigh,
Like calls of fare-you-well through tears,
Your summoning sound, your sounding cry,
One final time now fills my ears.

Oh yes, my heart's desired reach!
How often I in twilight went
Quiet and dark along your beach,
Wracked by a sacred deep intent1

Dear were the answers you would send,
Dim primal sounds, the chasm's call
The silences of eveningfall
And those impulsive flights of wind.

The humble sail of fishers' slips,
With the protection of your mood,
Bravely amid your watertips,
But you, a Titan unsubdued,
Roll rough and drown a herd of ships.

'Twas not my luck to leave the night
Fallen on this dry stirless shore,
To greet you, raptured into light,
And make my grand poetic flight
Across your crests forevermore

You called... I was enthralled aground. 
Vainly my heart in shackles strained.
By spells of potent passion bound
Beside the beaches I remained.

What's to regret? Toward what far shoal
Could I my madcap voyage chart?
In all your open wilds, one goal
Could still have power to strike my heart,

One cliff...that sepulcher of glory
There a chill slumber in the west
Whelmed memories of a mighty story...
There was Napoleon felled to rest.

There rested he in tribulations.
And, after him as thunder, rolls
Yet one more genius of the nations,
One more commander of our souls2

Leaving the world his wreath forever
He vanished, grieved by liberty.
Seethe! Sound! Blow wild with angry weather.
He was your one true bard, O Sea. 

In him your spirit wrought its mark,
In your own image was he framed
Like you was potent, deep and dark.
Like you, an element untamed.

The world's a void. Now in that cold
Whither, O Sea, would you with me?
In every land one fate takes hold: 
Each drop of virtue is patrolled
By technocrats...or tyranny3

So, Sea, farewell. I will recall
Your august splendor all my years.
Long shall your boom as evenings fall
Sound and resound within my ears.

To woods and hushful wastes, away
Imbued anew with you, I bring
Your gleam and shadow, cliff and bay,
And your dear waves' blue rumoring. 

1: A reference to Pushkin's plan (which ultimately never materialized) to escape Russia and head for western Europe via the Baltic. This idea is also alluded to in stanzas 6 and 7.
2: A reference to the poet Byron, who had died at Missolonghi earlier that year (1824.)
3: The original says "enlightenment" instead of "tecnhnocrats." The latter word didn't exist in Pushkin's time. Here Pushkin was using an instance of the old Romantic idea that "enlightenment" seen in western Europe as a herald of liberation was nothing more than tyranny in new garb. Pushkin's experience of this had to do with the way in which modernization and reform were being and had been implemented in Russia, being used to entrench power rather than challenge it. 

The Original:

К Морю
Александр Пушкин

Прощай, свободная стихия!
В последний раз передо мной
Ты катишь волны голубые
И блещешь гордою красой.

Как друга ропот заунывный,
Как зов его в прощальный час,
Твой грустный шум, твой шум призывный
Услышал я в последний раз.

Моей души предел желанный!
Как часто по брегам твоим
Бродил я тихий и туманный,
Заветным умыслом томим!

Как я любил твои отзывы,
Глухие звуки, бездны глас,
И тишину в вечерний час,
И своенравные порывы!

Смиренный парус рыбарей,
Твоею прихотью хранимый,
Скользит отважно средь зыбей:
Но ты взыграл, неодолимый,-
И стая тонет кораблей.

Не удалось навек оставить
Мне скучный, неподвижный брег,
Тебя восторгами поздравить
И по хребтам твоим направить
Мой поэтический побег.

Ты ждал, ты звал... я был окован;
Вотще рвалась душа моя:
Могучей страстью очарован,
У берегов остался я.

О чем жалеть? Куда бы ныне
Я путь беспечный устремил?
Один предмет в твоей пустыне
Мою бы душу поразил.

Одна скала, гробница славы...
Там погружались в хладный сон
Воспоминанья величавы:
Там угасал Наполеон.

Там он почил среди мучений.
И вслед за ним, как бури шум,
Другой от нас умчался гений,
Другой властитель наших дум.

Исчез, оплаканный свободой,
Оставя миру свой венец.
Шуми, взволнуйся непогодой:
Он был, о море, твой певец.

Твой образ был на нем означен,
Он духом создан был твоим:
Как ты, могущ, глубок и мрачен,
Как ты, ничем неукротим.

Мир опустел... Теперь куда же
Меня б ты вынес, океан?
Судьба людей повсюду та же:
Где капля блага, там на страже
Уж просвещенье иль тиран.

Прощай же, море! Не забуду
Твоей торжественной красы
И долго, долго слышать буду
Твой гул в вечерние часы.

В леса, в пустыни молчаливы
Перенесу, тобою полн,
Твои скалы, твои заливы,
И блеск, и тень, и говор волн.

Lucan: Defeat at Pharsalus (From Latin)

Another excerpt from that unhinged epic of grotesque splendor, Lucan's Civil War. This short passage from book 7 shows Lucan's poignancy and goriness. At the end of this section, he has one of his more lofty anti-authoritarian (I won't say "republican") moments, and we get a refraction of what reads, to me at least, like a growing resentment at Caesarism and Neronian absolutism. 

The Defeat at Pharsalus (7.617-46)
By Lucan
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

  When all a world is dying, it is shameful
to squander tears on countless deaths, to track
individual destinies and ask
whose guts each kill-stroke skivered, whose feet trampled
his own intestines spilled across the ground,
who looked his enemy in the face while forcing 
the sword out of his throat with dying breath;
who crumpled at the first strike, who stood tall
as his hacked limbs fell round him, who allowed
the javelin to run him clean through, whom
the spear pinned wriggling to the plain, whose blood 
exploded from his veins into the air
drenching an enemy combatant's armor,
who speared his brother's breast then kicked away
the severed head to pick the kin corpse clean,
who mutilated his own father's face
with such demented rage to convince watchers
the man he'd butchered wasn't his own parent.
  No single death deserves its own lament,
No time to mourn the individual.  
Pharsalus was unlike all prior battles'
catastrophes. There Rome fell with men's fates,
here with entire peoples'. Soldiers died there
but here whole nations perished. Here blood streamed
from Greek, Assyrian and Pontic veins,
which might have congealed on the field in one
cross-ethnic scab, but for a huge deluge 
of Roman gore. 
        In that unholy battle
upon the stinking plains of Thessaly,
the peoples all sustained a deeper wound  
than their own era could endure. Much more
than life and safety were lost there. We were
made prostrate for eternity. Every age 
that suffers slavery fell to those swords.
  But what did grandsons and great-grandsons do
to deserve birth in an autocracy?
Were ours the blades that fell with fear? Did we
snivel behind our shields and hide our throats?
The penalty of others' cowardice 
is hung around our necks today. 
               O Fortune, 
since then you've only given us more tyrants!
Why not at least give us a chance to fight?

The Original:

Bellum Cīvīle 7.617-46
Mārcus Annaeus Lūcānus

Impendisse pudet lacrimās in fūnere mundī
mortibus innumerīs, ac singula fāta sequentem
quaerere lētiferum per cuius vīscera vulnus
exierit, quis fūsa solō vītālia calcet,                
ōre quis adversō dēmissum faucibus ēnsem
expulerit moriēns animā, quis corruat ictus,
quis steterit dum membra cadunt, quī pectore tēla
trānsmittant aut quōs campīs affixerit hasta,
quis cruor ēmissīs perrūperit āera vēnīs                
inque hostis cadat arma suī, quis pectora frātrīs
caedat et, ut nōtum possit spoliāre cadāver,
abscīsum longē mittat caput, ōra parentis
quis laceret nimiāque probet spectantibus īrā
quem iugulat nōn esse patrem. Mors nūlla querellā              
digna suā est, nūllōsque hominum lūgēre vacāmus.
Nōn istās habuit pugnae Pharsālia partēs
quās aliae clādēs: illic per fāta virōrum,
per populōs hīc Rōma perit; quod mīlitis illic,
mors hīc gentis erat: sanguīs ibi flūxit Achaeus,                
Ponticus, Assyrius; cūnctōs haerēre cruōrēs
Rōmānus campīsque vetat cōnsistere torrēns.
Maius ab hāc aciē quam quod sua saecula ferrent
vulnus habent populī; plūs est quam vīta salūsque
quod perit: in tōtum mundī prōsternimur aevum.                
Vīncitur hīs gladiīs omnis quae serviet aetās.
Proxima quid subolēs aut quid meruēre nepōtēs
in rēgnum nāscī? Pavidē num gessimus arma
tēximus aut iugulōs? Aliēnī poena timōris
in nostrā cervīce sedet. Post proelia nātīs                
sī dominum, Fōrtūna, dabās, et bella dedisses.

Lucan: Opening to his Epic on the Civil War (From Latin)

I have recently finished reading (for the first time in its entirety) Lucan's unfinished epic Bellum Civile "The Civil War." I found it extraordinary. When I had finished, I wanted to translate the entire thing. Though I quickly realized that I hadn't the time or the resources to do so without the task taking several years. So I have selected a few excerpts from the Bellum Civile that I think read well on their own, and have added these to my translation queue. Starting with this part here from the poem's opening. You can see a list of the planned excerpts on my table of contents (list of translated poems.)

Opening to his Epic on the Civil War (1.1-82) 
By Lucan
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

  I sing of war, far worse than civil war,
waged in the nasty fields of Thessaly,  
of crime gone legal, of a powerful state  
that disemboweled itself with victory's sword,  
of family front lines1; how when the pact  
of tyranny imploded, all the forces  
of a concussed world clashed in combat, leaving  
a nation guilty of abomination;  
the citizen who marched against the city,  
the Roman spear faced with the Roman spear.  

  Countrymen! What insanity was this?
This orgy of sick swords! Did you enjoy it,  
treating barbarian peoples that detest us  
to a spectacle of savage Roman bloodsport,  
when you by all rights should have been despoiling  
proud Parthia of her Italian trophies2  
in fit retaliation? Why so willing  
to wage entropic wars that stood no chance  
of triumph, while killed Crassus' grisly ghost3  
roamed unavenged abroad?   

              Can you conceive
how much land, how much sea might have been ours  
through the Roman blood that Roman blades have squandered -   
where Day's sun rises, where Night stows her stars,  
where southern midday seethes in scorching hours,  
where rigid Winter that no Spring can thaw  
fetters the Scythic sea4 in chains of ice,   
by now we'd have the wild Armenians  
and the Chinese beneath our potent yoke,  
as well as that race (if there even is one)  
that knows the secret of the Nile's true source5  
Then, if you still so lust for heinous warfare 
once you've wrenched all the world to Latin law, 
only then, Rome, may you take up the sword  
of suicide. Not while you have enemies. 

   Now in Italy's cities walls are crumbling,
the buildings teetering half-demolished, ramparts   
reduced to huge heaps of wrecked rock, the houses     
have no one to guard them. Only the odd squatter  
wanders the ancient emptied cities' streets.  
Now Italy's countryside is overrun     
with brambles, her soil unploughed for year on year, 
no hands left for the work the fields cry out for.  
It wasn't you, fierce Pyrrhus6, nor the savage  
Hannibal who achieved such devastation.    
No, foreign steel could not gore us like this.         
The deepest wounds are dealt by citizen swords.   

  But if the Fates could find no other way  
to gift us Nero7, if an everlasting  
kingdom cost the gods dear, if Jupiter  
the Thunderlord could hold no throne on high  
before a war with vicious worldborn Giants,  
then, gods, I'll not complain. The hideous crimes  
and rank abominations were all worth it.   
So heap Pharsalia's dread fields high with corpses,  
glut the brute Punic ghost with Latin blood,  
let the final combat clash at fateful Munda.  
Add to those massacres, O Caesar Nero,   
starvation at Perugia, Mutina's hardships,  
the armada overwhelmed at lethal Leucas  
and blood of slave-wars under Etna's slopes   
ablaze. Rome owes so much to civil war  
as all was done to bring us you, O Caesar.  
  And when your reign is done for, when you seek  
the stars at last, with reveling in the sky,  
you will be more than welcome in heaven's palace   
on any seat you choose. Whether you want  
to seize Jove's scepter, or Apollo's blazing  
chariot to circle earth with roving fire,  
the world won't fear the transference of suns.    
All gods will yield their place to you, and Nature  
will let you choose which god to be, and where  
in the cosmos to rule from. Only do not  
set your throne cold up in the Arctic North  
nor at the polar opposite where skies  
turn sweltering around the Southern vertex.  
Your star would look on Rome with sidelong light.  
If you put all your weight on either side   
of the unbounded ether, the sky's vault  
would buckle in your gravity's great moment.   
Stay rather at the midpoint of the heavens  
keeping the spheres in equilibrium.  
And let that stretch of sky stay clear and blue,  
let not one cloud ever stand in Caesar's way.  
That day, let humankind sheathe all its swords  
to take care of itself, and every nation  
love every other. Peace shall flutter proud  
over the earth, and shut forevermore  
the iron temple-gates of two-faced war.     
But you're a force of heaven to me already  
and if you breathe your genius through my breast
giving me visionary strength of verse,  
why would I trouble that old god who stirs   
the mysteries of Delphic seers, or call   
Bacchus from sacred Nysa? I need nothing  
but Nero to give life to Roman song.  

  And now my spirit moves me to set forth
the cause of great events. The mind has opened  
before me an enormous task, to tell  
what drove a people mad, drove them to arms  
of battle, and drove peace out of the world.    

  It was that jealous nemesis, the chain 
of fate, the law that nothing stays on top  
for long, the hard fall of the mighty: Rome  
had grown too great for her own self to bear.   

  It was as it will be when the final hour  
that ends the cycles of the universe,  
sunders the cosmic structure and all things  
are regressed to primeval chaos: burning  
stars will shoot straight into the ocean, earth  
refusing to lie flat fling all the waters  
up and away, the moon turn to her brother  
demanding rule of daylight, tired of driving  
her chariot in waxing, waning orbit.   
And the whole broken universe's machine   
in discord will overthrow the rule of nature.  
  Great things implode upon themselves. This limit  
of growth the gods ordain for all success.  


1 - Pompey and Caesar were not merely fellow citizens, but kinsmen related by marriage. 

2 - The "Italian trophies" were the Roman standards lost to the Parthians by Crassus at the battle of Carrhae (in what is today southeastern Turkey) in 53 BC. 

3 - Crassus had been killed at Carrhae. 

4 - i.e. the Black Sea

5- the question of where the source of the Nile lay was a subject of speculation, and even exploration, for Romans. Seneca in book six of his Natural Questions informs us of an expedition that had been sent to Ethiopia to gather information on, among other things, the Nile's spring.  

6- Pyrrhus of Epirus, a Greek king and general who invaded Italy in 280 BC.  

7 - The question of whether the eulogy of Nero in this section is sincere or not is an old one, as it has proven hard for many readers, ancient and modern, to take at face value. My brief perusal of the staggeringly extensive scholarly literature on this passage suggests that the question remains far from settled.    
In my considered view, tempting though it may be to see it in retrospect (and in the context of the later books of the Bellum Civile) as a form of ironic or grossly satyrical double-talk, this seems unlikely. First of all, if it was actually understood as gross satire by its original audience, then how could Nero, who was assuredly part of that audience, fail to notice? Nero was many things, but he was no idiot. Nor was Lucan, which is why it strains credulity to imagine him satirizing an eccentric autocrat literally to his face. And readings of certain lines as satirizing Nero's corpulence, among other things, take the later vilifying depictions of Nero's physiognomy at face value for no good reason. The contrast between this eulogy and the condemnation of Caesars found in later parts of the Bellum Civile, may be more reasonably explained (if explanation is really needed) by the fact that Lucan's opinion of Nero changed over time, from being a favored poet, to having his works banned, to ultimately participating in a failed attempt on Nero's life.
While it may seem out of place in a poem like this, the eulogy itself isn't unusual for Roman poetry. Similar specimens of panegyric effusion may be found elsewhere in Roman literature, including Statius' praise for Domitian, and some of Virgil's most famous passages lauding Augustus. (Parts of Virgil here are strongly echoed, or subverted if you prefer, including this passage from the Georgics, and this passage from the Aeneid.) Indeed I suspect that part of why Virgil's praise for Augustus has seemed easier to take and appreciate for what it is, is posterity's high esteem for the latter, whereas Nero has become synonymous with imperial excess, cruelty and abuse of power and so the idea of someone like Lucan praising him didn't sit well with later readers. 
Moreover, leader-praise of this kind is also quite common in autocratic regimes more generally. One notes how frequently and how effusively court poets throughout the medieval world, whether in Valencia, Aachen, Aleppo, Shiraz, Delhi or Cháng'ān, directed their talents toward the praise of the local Rei Virtuós. (See this poem by Jordi de Sant Jordi for an excellent example.) More recent examples of the same phenomenon abound in poetry written in Francoist Spain, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, Stalin's Soviet Union, Niyazov's Turkmenistan, Baathist Iraq and a number of modern Arab monarchies.  
Some of the enduring appeal of this passage is that Lucan even as he praises Nero (as he may have been expected to do) retains his integrity as an artist. What modern readers of this poem may not fully appreciate is that the eulogy does not need to be insincere or ironic to have subtext. The horrors of civil war that made Nero, and the entire Julio-Claudian dynasty, possible are thrust in the listener's face. The responsibility that lies on Nero is immense, in view of what he cost. Behind the statement that Nero was worth it, may lurk the implication that Nero had better prove he was worth it or that he ought to appreciate at what cost his power comes. The fact that Nero is portrayed as the blessèd source of inspiration for a poem about bloodshed and civil war may also suggest a different subtext still. 
Indirect tactics like this are also not hard to come by in laudatory verse addressed to autocrats. Scholars of Arabic and Persian panegyric have long understood that not all extravagant flattery is hollow, servile or sycophantic. Sometimes the only way to tell a ruler what they don't like hearing is to say it in the form of a compliment.

The Original:

Bellum Cīvīle I.1-82
Mārcus Annaeus Lūcānus

  Bella per Ēmathiōs plūs quam cīvīlia campōs
iūsque datum scelerī canimus, populumque potentem
in sua victrīcī conversum vīscera dextra,
cognātāsque aciēs, et ruptō foedere rēgnī
certātum tōtīs concussī vīribus orbis
in commūne nefās, īnfēstīsque obvia signīs
signa, parēs aquilās et pīla minantia pīlīs.
  Quis furor, Ō cīvēs, quae tanta licentia ferrī?
Gentibus invīsīs Latium praebēre cruōrem
cumque superba foret Babylōn spolianda trophaeīs                
Ausoniīs umbrāque errāret Crassus inultā
bella gerī placuit nūllōs habitūra triumphōs?
  Heu, quantum terrae potuit pelagīque parārī
hōc quem cīvīlēs hausērunt sanguine dextrae,
unde venit Tītān et nox ubi sīdera condit                
quāque diēs medius flagrantibus aestuat hōrīs
et quā brūma rigēns ac nescia vēre remittī
astringit Scythicō glaciālem frīgore pontum!
Sub iuga iam Sērēs, iam barbarus isset Araxēs
et gēns (sīqua iacet) nāscentī cōnscia Nīlō.                
Tum, sī tantus amor bellī tibi, Rōma, nefandī,
tōtum sub Latiās lēgēs cum mīseris orbem,
in tē verte manūs: nōndum tibi dēfuit hostis.
  At nunc sēmirutīs pendent quod moenia tēctīs
urbibus Ītaliae lāpsīsque ingentia mūrīs                
saxa iacent nūllōque domūs cūstōde tenentur
rārus et antīquīs habitātor in urbibus errat,
horrida quod dūmīs multōsque inarāta per annōs
Hesperia est dēsuntque manūs poscentibus arvīs,
nōn tū, Pyrrhe ferōx, nec tantīs clādibus auctor                
Poenus erit: nūllī penitus dēscendere ferrō
contigit; alta sedent cīvīlis vulnera dextrae.
  Quod sī nōn aliam ventūrō fāta Nerōnī
invēnēre viam magnōque aeterna parantur
rēgna deīs caelumque suō servīre Tonantī                
nōn nisi saevōrum potuit post bella gigantum,
iam nihil, Ō superī, querimur; scelera ipsa nefāsque
hāc mercēde placent. Dīrōs Pharsālia campōs
impleat et Poenī saturentur sanguine mānēs,
ultima fūnestā concurrant proelia Mundā,                
hīs, Caesar, Perusīna famēs Mutinaeque labōrēs
accēdant fātīs et quās premit aspera classēs
Leucās et ardentī servīlia bella sub Aetnā,
multum Rōma tamen dēbet cīvīlibus armīs
quod tibi rēs ācta est.
          Tē, cum statiōne perācta              
astra petēs sērus, praelātī rēgia caelī
excipiet gaudente polō: seu scēptra tenēre
seu tē flammigerōs Phoebī cōnscendere currūs
tellūremque nihil mūtātō sōle timentem
igne vagō lūstrāre iuvet, tibi nūmine ab omnī                
cēdētur, iūrisque tuī nātūra relinquet
quis deus esse velīs, ubi rēgnum pōnere mundī.
Sed neque in Arctōō sēdem tibi lēgeris orbe
nec polus āversī calidus quā vergitur Austrī,
unde tuam videās oblīquō sīdere Rōmam.                
Aetheris immēnsī partem sī presseris ūnam,
sentiet axis onus. Lībrātī pondera caelī
orbe tenē mediō; pars aetheris illa serēnī
tōta vacet nūllaeque obstent ā Caesare nūbēs.
Tum genus hūmānum positīs sibi cōnsulat armīs                
inque vicem gēns omnis amet; pāx missa per orbem
ferrea belligerī compēscat līmina Iānī.
Sed mihi iam nūmen; nec, sī tē pectore vātēs
accipiō, Cirrhaea velim sēcrēta moventem
sollicitāre deum Bacchumque āvertere Nȳsā:                
tū satis ad vīrēs Rōmāna in carmina dandās.
      Fert animus causās tantārum exprōmere rērum,
immēnsumque aperītur opus, quid in arma furentem
impulerit populum, quid pācem excusserit orbī.
Invida fātōrum seriēs summīsque negātum                
stāre diū nimiōque gravēs sub pondere lāpsus
nec sē Rōma ferēns.
           Sīc, cum compāge solūtā
saecula tot mundī suprēma coēgerit hōra
antīquum repetēns iterum chaos, ignea pontum                
astra petent, tellūs extendere lītora nōlet
excutietque fretum, frātrī contrāria Phoebē
ībit et oblīquum bīgās agitāre per orbem
indignāta diem poscet sibi, tōtaque discors
māchina dīvolsī turbābit foedera mundī.                
In sē magna ruunt: laetīs hunc nūmina rēbus
crēscendī posuēre modum.

Martial: Epigram 2.50 On One Who Swallows (From Latin)

Epigram 2.50: On One Who Swallows
By Martial
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

You suck dick and drink water. Which is good. 
It means you wash exactly where you should. 

The Original:

Quod fēllās et aquam pōtās, nīl, Lesbia, peccās:
quā tibi parte opus est, Lesbia, sūmis aquam. 

Aconia Fabia Paulina: For Her Dead Husband (From Latin)

Aconia Fabula Paulina, and her husband Agorius Vettius Praetextatus were among the most illustrious of Rome's pagans at a time when the old religion was on the wane in the face of an ascendant and incrementally more intolerant Christianity. Praetextatus in particular was famous among his contemporaries for his material support for, and participation in, numerous cults. (Much to the disgust of Jerome who, when Praetextatus died, was so put out by the fondness many had for him that he took the liberty of informing one of his correspondents that the dead pagan, however nice a guy he may have been, was definitely in Hell.)
This poem is inscribed on Praetextatus' funerary monument. Whether it is actually by his wife or simply placed into her mouth post mortem is probably undecidable. There are, however, metrical as well as stylistic reasons to think that the portion of the inscription containing this poem was composed by a different hand than the rest of it. For it is notably different in tone from the sort of dry formulaic prose-in-meter one usually finds in Roman epitaph inscriptions. In fact, the verse dedication that immediately precedes the poem translated here, which describes Paulina in the third person, is just such a cookie-cutter composition. If this poem is not her work, then it presumably at least summarizes or paraphrases statements of hers (such as perhaps the funeral speech.)  

For Her Dead Husband
By Aconia Fabula Paulina (4th cent. AD)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

My ancestry bequeathed no brighter glory
Than to be a fit wife for you that day
In whose light we were joined, but now I find
All light and grace lie in my husband's name: 
Agorius! Born of illustrious seed,
A beacon to your land, your wife, your senate,
Aglow with your integrity of mind,
Your actions and your scholarship together,
By which you stand at virtue's pinnacle.
All that has been set down in Greek or Latin
By sages to whom heaven's gate stands open,
Be it in rhythmed song of well-versed men
Or prose in looser speech, you have transmitted,
Leaving it better than you found in reading.
But these are trifling things. Loyal to holy
Mysteries, you sealed their insights in your thought;
The manifold divine you knew to worship,
And generously made your faithful wife
Into a comrade of the mind, a colleague 
Sharing with you the rites of gods and men. 
Why speak of earthly power, of public honor,
Such joys as men pray for with every breath? 
Such things you always reckoned short-lived, small
Beside the holy splendor of the priesthood. 
Dear Husband, by the great gift of your learning,
You have redeemed me from the bonds of death,
Led me into temples, dedicated me
In service to the Sacred Ones, stood by me
In love as I partook of mystery.
Devoted consort, with the blood of bulls
You honored me, anointed me a priestess
To fertile Cybele and fruitful Attis,
Prepared me for Demeter's liturgy
And taught me moon-dark Hekaté's three secrets,
And you have made of me a woman famed
Across the lands as blessed and devoted. 
What wife of yours could fail to win acclaim?       
Rome's matrons find their paragon in me,
And count their sons handsome who look like you.
Now men and women yearn to earn the honors
That you my teacher have bequeathed to me. 
Robbed of all that, I'm now a wife in mourning 
Wasting away. Had the gods but given me
A husband who'd outlive me, I'd have died
Happy. But I am happy. For yours I am
As I have been, as I in death shall be.

The Original:

Splendor parentum nīl mihī maius dedit,
quam quod marītō digna iam tum vīsa sum.
Sed lūmen omne vel decus nōmen virī,
Agorī, superbō quī creātus germine
patriam, senātum coniugemque illūminās
probitāte mentis, mōribus, studiīs simul,
virtūtis apicem quis suprēmum nānctus es.
Tū namque quidquid linguā utrāque est prōditum
cūrā sophōrum, porta quis caelī patet,
vel quae perītī condidēre carmina
vel quae solūtis vōcibus sunt ēdita,
meliōra reddis quam legendō sūmpserās.
Sed ista parva. Tū pius mystēs sacrīs
teletis reperta mentis arcānō premis
dīvumque nūmen multiplex doctus colis,
sociam benignē coniugem nectēns sacrīs
hominum deumque cōnsciam ac fidam tibi.
Quid nunc honōrēs aut potestātēs loquar
hominumque vōtīs adpetīta gaudia?
Quae tū cadūca ac parva semper autumās
dīvum sacerdōs īnfulīs celsus cluēs.
Tū mē, marīte, disciplīnārum bonō
pūram ac pudīcam sorte mortis eximēns
in templa dūcis ac famulam dīvīs dīcās.
Tē teste cūnctīs imbuor mystēriīs,
tū Dindymēnēs Atteōsque antistitem
teletīs honōrās taureīs cōnsors pius.
Hecatēs ministram trīnā sēcrētā ēdocēs
Cererisque Graiae tū sacrīs dignam parās.
Tē propter omnēs mē beātam, mē piam
celebrant, quod ipse mē bonam dissēminās,
tōtum per orbem ignōta nōscor omnibus,
nam tē marītō cūr placēre nōn queam?
Exempla dē mē Rōmulae mātrēs petunt
subolemque pulchram, sī tuae similis, putant.
Optant probantque nunc virī nunc fēminae
quae tū magister indidistī īnsignia.
Hīs nunc adēmptīs maesta coniūnx māceror,
fēlīx, marītum sī superstitem mihi
dīvī dedissent, sed tamen fēlīx, tua
quia sum fuīque postque mortem mox erō.

Seneca: Troades 371-408 "Death Has No Terror" (From Latin)

This is the second choral ode from Seneca's Troades "The Trojan Women" whose underlying theme, that of death as a haven and release from suffering, grows out of the titular women's experience of life as unspeakable brutality, having been taken captive by the Greek coalition that has just sacked Troy. The idea of death as a release does not necessarily imply the non-existence of an afterlife, however. The first choral ode, for example, depicts the dead Priam happily wandering in Elysium. Both belief and non-belief in an afterlife were current in Seneca's milieu (the latter position is also evinced in the Greek epitaphs which I translate here from two centuries or so after Seneca's death) and both find expression and examination in his prose works, as in De Consolatione ad Polybium. It would, however, be incorrect to suggest that he believed that places like Elysium or beings like Cerberus might be real in any literal sense. Seneca himself believed in one omnipresent God known by many names, including that of Nature. He is decidedly non-committal about whether there is anything beyond death in the works that have come down to us, and does not present a single coherent view on the matter anymore than his Stoic predecessors. Not even in a single work, where he can claim in one chapter that death is equivalent to non-existence, and in another give an elaborate depiction of a deceased man's soul rising to meet his ancestors.  "Skeptical but hopeful" might be the only apposite generalization. What really matters for Seneca, though, is not what if anything happens after death but that, either way, it means an end to suffering.                 

Death Has No Terror (From "Trojan Women" 371-408)
By Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC - 65 AD)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Is it the truth that souls live on    
  beyond the buried flesh? 
Or just a myth to drug weak hearts  
  with hope for something else?  
When fingers of the one we love  
  ease our eyes shut forever,
when our last day blots out the light  
  of days that lay ahead, 
and the grim urn has sealed away  
  the ash that was our self,
can we not give our being up    
  in the grave's gift of death? 
Are we, poor things, condemned to live  
  through more existence yet?  
Or is death something absolute,  
  no fraction of us left 
when our soul, like a burst of air  
  commingling overhead
with vaporous and fleeting clouds,    

  flees with our last gasped breath
and the cremation torches' tongues  
  have licked our naked flesh?

All that the Sun sees on its rise  
  or in its setting glow,
all that the Sea's blue billows wash  
  with global ebb and flow,
is pulled by Pegasus-swift Time  
  doomward. All things must go. 

As the cyclonic cosmos' whirl  
  the Zodiac we see,   
and Sun, the Lord of Stars, spins out  
  the roll of centuries,  
and Moon in witching orbit's arc   
  speeds to Her destiny,  
as all things extant go the way  
  they must go, so do we.
He who has reached the stagnant waves  
  of Styx, the Netherstream          
where gods are sworn to ceaseless truth,  
  has simply ceased to be.  
As smoke from sputtering fire, we soil   
  the atmosphere, then fade.
As the rain-pregnant clouds you see  
  first darken the blue day 
are scattered by the sudden Northwind's   
  chill blasts, then dissipate,
the souls that rule our flesh will flow  
  apart without a trace.
For there is nothing after death  
  and death is not a state
only the finish line of this  
  swift existential race. 
Lay down your greed for a reward,  
  your fears of punishment.
When greedy Time and gnashing Chaos  
  devour us, we just end. 
For death can be no partial thing.  
  When it destroys the flesh
it nullifies the soul. There is  
  no afterlife, no Hell,
no hellhound guardian at the gates   
  to block escape attempts,  
no savage tyrant Lord who rules  
  the kingdom of the dead.
These are no more than hollow folktales  
  unworthy of attention,
fragments of fantasy and myth   
  turned nightmare and deception.   
You ask "where will we go when we 
  are dead forevermore?"
    You'll be with the unborn.   

The Original:

Vērum est an timidōs fābula dēcipit
umbrās corporibus vīvere conditīs,
cum coniūnx oculīs imposuit manum
suprēmusque diēs sōlibus obstitit
et trīstis cinerēs urna coercuit,
Nōn prōdest animam trādere fūnerī,
sed restat miserīs vīvere longius?
An tōtī morimur nūllaque pars manet
nostrī, cum profugō spīritus hālitū
Immixtus nebulīs cessit in āerā
et nūdum tetigit subdita fax latus?

Quidquid sōl oriēns, quidquid et occidēns
nōvit, caeruleīs Ōceanus fretīs
quidquid bis veniēns et fugiēns lavat,
aetās Pēgaseō corripiet gradū.
Quō bis sēna volant sīdera turbine,
quō cursū properat volvere saecula
astrōrum dominus, quō properat modo
oblīquīs Hecatē currere flexibus:
hōc omnēs petimus fāta, nec amplius,
iūrātōs superīs quī tetigit lacūs,
usquam est. Ut calidīs fūmus ab ignibus
vānēscit, spatium per breve sordidus;
ut nūbēs, gravidās quās modo vīdimus,
arctōī Boreae dissicit impetus:
sīc hic, quō regimur, spīritus effluet.

Post mortem nihil est ipsaque mors nihil,
vēlōcis spatiī mēta novissima.
Spem pōnant avidī, sollicitī metum:
Tempus nōs avidum dēvorat et Chaos.
Mors indīvidua est, noxia corporī
nec parcēns animae. Taenara et asperō
rēgnum sub dominō līmen et obsidēns
custōs nōn facilī Cerberus ōstiō
rūmōrēs vacuī verbaque inānia
et pār sollicitō fābula somniō.
Quaeris quō iaceās post obitum locō?
Quō nōn nāta iacent.

Janus Vitalis Panormitanus: Ancient Rome (From Latin)

This is a poem which spawned a veritable micro-genre of imitations and free translations into French, Spanish, Polish, Russian, English and other languages, including this sonnet by Quevedo as well as this one by Du Bellay. Though the poem has done quite well in its cross-linguistic journeys, the original does much that the imitators do not seek to capture. The implication of the use of the term Albula, for example (coupled with the nōmen rōmānum which is the Tiber) is quite impossible to carry over into another language and in any case requires a knowledge of Roman lore to appreciate. (Albula is the mythical "original" name of the river, supposedly renamed Tiber after one of Rome's kings.)
This left me with a peculiar position as a translator. Do I attempt to further the tradition of imitative adaptation? I could do so. And maybe someday I will. But why not try to treat it like any other text, and see what shakes out in the process?

Ancient Rome
By Janus Vitalis Panormitanus (16th cent.)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

O newcomer who seek Rome in rome's midst  
  yet find nothing of Rome amidst all rome,
See the heaped walls, tall sundered stones, vast empty   
  theaters with horrid ruin overrun.
All this is Rome. See how so great a City  
  breathes threats of empire even from its corpse,
The conqueror who conquered her own self   
  that nothing be unconquered by her force. 
Now that Unconquerable Rome lies tombed  
  In conquered rome: the victor in the victim. 
Only the Tiber's left of what is Roman     
  even as its fleet waters flee to sea. 
Know Fortune's power: the immovable gives way.   
  Only what moves unceasingly remains.  

The Original:

Rōma Prīsca

Quī Rōmam in mediā quaeris novus advena Rōmā,  
  Et Rōmae in Rōmā nil reperis mediā,
Aspice mūrōrum mōlēs, praeruptaque saxa,  
  Obrutaque horrentī vasta theātra sitū:
Haec sunt Rōma.  Viden velut ipsa cadāvera, tantae  
  Urbis adhūc spīrent imperiōsa minās.
Vīcit ut haec mundum, nixa est sē vincere; vīcit,  
  Ā sē nōn victum nē quid in orbe foret.
Nunc victā in Rōmā Rōma illa invicta sepulta est,  
  Atque eadem victrīx victaque Rōma fuit.
Albula Rōmānī restat nunc nōminis index,  
  Quīn etiam rapidīs fertur in aequor aquīs.
Disce hinc, quid possit fōrtūna; immōta labāscunt,  
  Et quae perpetuō sunt agitāta manent.

Catullus: Poem 31 "Homecoming" (From Latin)

Poem 31: Homecoming
By Gaius Valerius Catullus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Jewel of the headlands, blue eye of the islands
That bow on outspread oceans and on slow
Freshwater lakes to Neptune's rule in silence:
I come to you with pleasure, Sirmio1.

I hardly yet believe I've left behind
The Asian1 plains to see you safe at last.
No greater blessing than to feel the mind
Lay down its burden, casting off the past

Journeys' exhaustion, coming back among
The household gods, to the bed for which I longed. 
And this alone repays those many labors. 
Hello, my gorgeous Sirmio! As your man
Is glad, be glad. You too, Lake Garda's wavelets,
Let loose and laugh as only sweet home can.  


1Sirmio, the location of Catullus' country house on Lake Garda.

2Catullus had just returned from Bithynia (modern northeastern Turkey) where he served on the staff of commander Gaius Memmius.

The Original:

Carmen XXXI

Paene īnsulārum, Sirmiō, Īnsulārumque
ocelle, quāscumque in liquentibus stāgnīs
marīque vāstō fert uterque neptūnus,
quam tē libenter quamque laetus invīsō,
vix mī ipse crēdēns Thȳniam atque Bithȳnōs
līquisse campōs et vidēre tē in tūtō.
Ō quid solūtīs est beātius cūrīs,
cum mēns onus repōnit, ac peregrīnō
labōre fessī vēnimus larem ad nostrum,
dēsīderātōque acquiēscimus lectō?
Hoc est quod ūnum est prō labōribus tantīs.
Salvē, ō venusta Sirmiō, atque erō gaudē
gaudente; vōsque, ō Lȳdiae lacūs undae,
rīdēte quidquid est domī cachinnōrum.

Catullus: Poem 27 "To His Wine-Bearer" (From Latin)

Poem 27: To His Wine-Bearer
By Gaius Valerius Catullus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Come boy, and serve me that rich vintage  
  The Old Campanian wine.
Pour me a strong drink. With more spirit  
  Better this bowl of mine.
Postumia the party-mistress  
  Full of more alcohol
Than these drunk grapes, demands as much.  
  It is her judgment call.
But you, weak water, great diluter,  
  Polluter of the vine,
Come nowhere near my grape-kissed lips  
  Nor touch this bowl of mine.
Be sobering with sober men,  
  And get out of my sight
For I will drink, and only drink   
  Red Bacchus straight tonight.

The Original:

Minister vetulī puer Falernī,
inger mī calicēs amāriōrēs,
ut lēx Postumiae iubet magistrae
ēbriōsō acīnō ēbriōsiōris.
at vōs quō lubet hinc abīte, lymphae,
vīnī perniciēs, et ad sevērōs
migrāte. Hīc merus est Thyōniānus.

Horace: Ode 2.1 "To Pollio, On His History of the Civil Wars" (From Latin)

To Pollio, On His History of the Civil Wars
By Horace
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Of all that civil unrest since Metellus, 
the phases, causes and the crimes of war,  
 of Fortune's games, of great men's grave
  friendships, of weapons smeared with gore
not yet atoned for – you are writing now  
a work where every turned phrase is a roll      
 of dangerous dice. Let not the ash 
  deceive: you tread on blazing coal.  
Let your stern Muse not leave the tragic stage      
for long. Soon, when you've set affairs of state  
 in order, you will heed the theater's            
  calling again. Pollio the great
bastion of law to grieved defendants, famous      
for counseling the Senate council, crowned   
 with deathless military honor
  for victory on Illyrian ground.  
Even now I hear the war-horns' baleful roar 
in your raucous music, and the bugles' blare.  
 I see the flash of swords strike panicked 
  horses and the horsemen's eyes with fear. 
I see the great commanders filthy with   
war's not inglorious dirt, I hear the whole 
 world fall at Rome's feet notwithstanding
  defiant Cato's dogged soul.
The gods allied with Africa who, helpless 
to help, left unavenged that country's shores,  
 now sacrifice to dead Jugurtha 
  the grandsons of his conquerors. 
What field has Latin blood not fertilized, 
its graves attesting the unholiest   
 of wars, and that the ears of Persia
  ring with the ruin of the West? 
What churning main, what river does not know 
those rueful wars' taste? What sea has the slaughter 
 of Rome's own sons not dyed? What beach
  has our gushed blood not washed like water? 
But stay amusing, sassy muse. Enough           
drumming up death-songs from Simonides.      
  let's flee to one of Venus' grottos
  to strum a lighter tune than these.  


Stanza 1: 
Roman dates were customarily kept according to the names of the two consuls who took office in that year (though, in this case, only one is given.) Metellus Celer was consul in 60 BC, the year the general and politician Pompey along with Marcus Licinius Crassus and a rising politician by the name of Julius Caesar, struck up the informal political alliance normally referred to as the First Triumvirate. It ushered in a period of political deterioration that led to the end of the Roman Republic as a viable political entity. Horace here refers to the problems of rivalry and civil war between the participants in this alliance and those of the Second Triumvirate, which two decades later brought together Octavian (later to be the emperor named Augustus), Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. 

Stanza 3:
Gaius Asinius Pollio (76 BC - 4 AD) served under Julius Caesar and then under Antony. In 40 BC he brought the embittered and estranged erstwhile partners of the Second Triumvirate, Antony and Octavian, together in the Treaty of Brundisium. In 39 BC he was honored with triumphal laurels for his victory over the Parthini, an Illyrian tribe allied with Marcus Junius Brutus, adversary to Octavian and assassin of Julius Caesar. The momentous work to which Horace refers here is Pollio's history of the political turmoil from 60 to 42 BC, which at the time was very fresh in people's minds and therefore, Horace would have us believe, dangerous to write about. 

Stanza 6:
Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (95– 46 BC), ruler of the North African city of Utica and great grandson of Cato the Censor, was a dogged defender of the republic who, after defeat at the battle of Thapsus, committed suicide rather than legitimate the Empire's dictatorship by accepting a pardon from Julius Caesar.

Stanza 7:
Allusion to the sack of the African city of Carthage in 146 BC. Jugurtha, king of Numidia, was defeated and executed in Rome in 104 BC. 

Stanza 10:
Simonides of Ceos, major Greek lyric poet of the 6th and 5th centuries BC, famed for his evocative elegies on fallen warriors. 

The Original:

Mōtum ex Metellō cōnsule cīvicum 
bellīque causās et vitia et modōs 
 lūdumque Fōrtūnae gravisque
  prīncipum amīcitiās et arma
nōndum expiātīs ūncta cruōribus,  
perīculōsae plēnum opus āleae,  
 trāctās et incēdis per ignīs
  suppositōs cinerī dolōsō.
Paulum sevērae Mūsa tragoediae 
dēsit theātrīs; mox, ubi pūblicās 
 rēs ōrdināris, grande mūnus
  Cēcropiō repetēs cothurnō,
īnsigne maestīs praesidium reīs 
et cōnsulentī, Pōlliō, cūriae, 
 cui laurus aeternōs honōrēs
  Delmaticō peperit triumphō.
Iam nunc minācī murmure cornuum
perstringis aurīs, iam lituī strepunt, 
 iam fulgor armōrum fugācis
  terret equōs equitumque vultūs.
Vidēre magnōs iam videor ducēs 
nōn indecōrō pulvere sordidōs 
 et cūncta terrārum subācta
  praeter atrōcem animum Catōnis.
Iūnō et deōrum quisquis amīcior 
Āfrīs inultā cesserat impotēns 
 tellūre, victōrum nepōtēs
  rettulit īnferiās Iugurthae.
Quis nōn Latīnō sanguine pinguior 
campus sepulchrīs impia proelia 
 testātur audītumque Mēdīs
  Hesperiae sonitum ruīnae?
Quī gurges aut quae flūmina lūgubris 
ignāra bellī? Quod mare Dauniae 
 nōn dēcolōrāvēre caedēs?
  Quae caret ōra cruōre nostrō?
Sed nē relīctīs, Mūsa procāx, iocīs 
Cēae retrāctēs mūnera nēniae, 
 mēcum Diōnaeō sub antrō
  quaere modōs leviōre plēctrō.

Martial: Epigram 9.33 (From Latin)

Epigram 9.33 
By Martial
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

If in a bathhouse you hear people cheer,
Then, Flaccus, know that Maro's dick is here. 


Audiēris in quō, Flacce, balneō plausum,
Marōnis illic esse mentulam scītō

Martial: Epigram 11.62 Poorly Whoring (From Latin)

Epigram 11.62: Poorly Whoring
By Martial
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Latin

She says you can't fuck her for free. It's true, 
you wouldn't fuck her unless she paid you.

The Original:

Lesbia sē iūrat grātīs numquam esse futūtam.
Vērum est. Cum futuī vult, numerāre solet.

Martial: Epigram 5.81 (From Latin)

Epigram 5.81
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

If you are poor, my friend, then you'll stay poor. 
None but the rich get wealthier anymore. 

The Original:

Semper pauper eris, sī pauper es, Aemiliāne;
dantur opēs nūllīs nunc nisi dīvitibus.

Lorca: Song of the Horseman (From Spanish)

Song of the Horseman
By Federico García Lorca
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Spanish

Afar and alone

Pitchblack pony, risen moon.
A sack of olives at my saddle.
Though I know the roads I travel
I shall never get to Córdoba.

Through the meadow, through the wind,
Pitchblack pony, crimson moon.
I am in the sights of Doom
That watches from the towers of Córdoba.

Oh the road lies long before me!
Oh for my courageous pony!
Oh for Doom out waiting for me
Long before I get to Córdoba.

Afar and alone

The Original:

Canción del Jinete
Federico García Lorca

Lejana y sola.

Jaca negra, luna grande,
y aceitunas en mi alforja.
Aunque sepa los caminos
yo nunca llegaré a Córdoba.

Por el llano, por el viento,
jaca negra, luna roja.
La muerte me está mirando
desde las torres de Córdoba.

¡Ay qué camino tan largo!
¡Ay mi jaca valerosa!
¡Ay, que la muerte me espera,
antes de llegar a Córdoba.

Lejana y sola.

Leon de Greiff: Canzonette (From Spanish)

By Leon de Greiff
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

It rains outside the windows (verlainesque
Rain, if not in in my heart:
My heart ran somewhere else one day in search
Of other songs to start)

It rains outside the windows (melancholic
Rain which in certain ways is quite poetic
-But nonetheless prosaic, or symbolic...)
It rains and rains no more....Rain is splenetic.

I never figured how to watch such rain
Tracing the pane - tranced in philosophy-
More often than not it fell upon my (blonde
till they left) locks...- a trance of atrophy-

It rains outside the windows. I smoke. I write.
The windows wall me off from the urbane
Traffickings....And I’m a lascivious
Bird clamped inside my cage. Always in vain.

It rains outside the windows (verlainesque
Rain, if not in in my heart)
My heart ran off- capricious thing!-
After a silly canzonette
Not rhyming and not reasoning,
With neither whole nor part.

The Original:


Llueve tras de los vidrios (verleniana
lluvia, si no en mi corazón:
mi corazón se fugó una mañana
detrás de otra canción).

Llueve tras de los vidrios (melancólica
lluvia, en manera alguna tan poética
– pero, menos, prosaica, – o tan simbólica . )
Llueve, llueve no más . . . Lluvia esplinética.

Yo no sabía de mirar la lluvia
tras de los vidrios – trance filosófico –
las más veces cayó sobre (fue rubia
cuando fue) mi melena . . . – trance atrófico –.

Llueve tras de los vidrios. Fumo. Escribo.
Aíslanme los vidrios del urbano
tráfago . . . , y en mi jaula soy lascivo
pájaro sitibundo siempre en vano.

Llueve tras de los vidrios (verleniana
lluvia, si no en mi corazón)
Mi corazón se fugó – tarambana –
tras una cancioncilla casquivana
sin ritmo ni razón,
sin ton ni son.

Borges: Dreamtigers (From Spanish)

By Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

As a child, I was a zealous worshiper of the tiger: not the piebald "tiger" of the Amazonian tangles and the isles of verdure afloat on the Panará river, but the striped, Asiatic, royal tiger which can only be faced down by war-men fortified on elephantback.

I used to linger endlessly in front of one of the cages at the zoo; I judged the gigantic encyclopedias and natural history books according to the majesty of their tigers. (I still remember those illustrations; I who cannot rightly recall a woman’s brow or smile.)

Childhood passed, the tigers and my passion for them grew old, but they endure in my dreams. In the submerged dimension, at that level of the chaotic, they persist. So, as I sleep, some dream distracts me and I know at once it is a dream. I think: This is a dream, a pure diversion of my will, and now that my power is limitless, I am going to cause a tiger.

Oh incompetence! Never do my dreams bear forth the wild beast I yearn for. A tiger appears indeed, but autopsied or flimsy, or with impure variations of shape, or of an implausible size, or far too fleeting, or with something of the bird or the dog.

The Original


En la infancia yo ejercí con fervor la adoración del tigre: no el tigre overo de los camalotes del Paraná y de la confusión amazónica, sino el tigre rayado, asiático, real, que sólo pueden afrontar los hombres de guerra, sobre un castillo encima de un elefante.

Yo solía demorarme sin fin ante una de las jaulas en el Zoológico; yo apreciaba las vastas enciclopedias y los libros de historia natural, por el esplendor de sus tigres (todavía me acuerdo de esas figuras: yo que no puedo recordar sin error la frente o la sonrisa de una mujer.)

Pasó la infancia, caducaron los tigres y su pasión, pero todavía están en mis sueños. En esa napa sumergida o caótica siguen prevaleciendo y así: dormido, me distrae un sueño cualquiera y de pronto sé que es un sueño. Suelo pensar entonces: éste es un sueño, una pura invención de mi voluntad, y ya que tengo un ilimitado poder, voy a causar un tigre.

¡Oh, incompetencia! Nunca mis sueños saben engendrar la apetecida fiera. Aparece el tigre, eso sí, pero disecado o endeble, o con impuras variaciones de forma, o de un tamaño inadmisible, o harto fugaz, o tirando a perro o a pájaro.

Leonard Nolens: Poem for a Friend (from Dutch)

Poem for a Friend
By Leonard Nolens
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Go and take me. Take me up
In the supple patterning of tides a-coming and going.

Hold me. Hold me out
Into that singing totality to join the gusting stars,
The leaves in the wind, all manner of folk
And seaward waters.


Then in this tenderness-filled void, the heart
Of my second birth shall be heard to beat.


Then I shall be well-numbered and well-spoken by many
Through you and by you in manifold lives.

Then I shall have one foot at home everywhere, my friend.

The Original:

Gedicht voor een vriend

Ga weg.
Ga weg en neem mij. Neem mij op
In dat soepel stramien van de komende gaande getijden.

Grijp mij. Grijp mij aan
In dat zingend geheel en vergaderd met waaiende sterren
En bladeren, mensen van allerlei slag
En het trekkende water aan zee.

Ga weg.

Dan zal in deze liefdevolle leegte hoorbaar kloppen
Het hart van mijn tweede geboorte.

Ga weg.

Dan word ik bespraakt en benummerd door velen
In jou en door jou in een veelheid van levens.

Dan heb ik overal een voet in huis, mijn vriend.

Notes on the Dutch:

Stramien was originally the word for "catgut". From there it came to refer to any sort of coarsely-woven cloth used as a foundation for embroidery. In modern Dutch, it has come to mean a fixed pattern either in space (grid, mould) or in time or personality (routine, habitus.) E.g. het zal volgens een bepaald stramien gaan "It'll follow a pre-set pattern", ik moet uit dat stramien ontstappen "I've got to break out of this routine." The word soepel "supple, willowy, flexible, smooth" is one associated with textile properties, which revives the earlier fabric sense of stramien. Soepel, however, can also be used in a semantically extended sense to refer to non-physical patterns (somewhat as the term "elastic" can be in English.)

 The komende gaande getijde "coming going tides" contains wordplay as well. Getijd "tide" is linked to tijd "time." The whole phrase also riffs loosely on a common Dutch idiom er is een tijd van komen en er is een tijd van gaan "there is a time to come and a time to go", used sometimes to mean "there is a time to all things, all things come to an end" but also more colloquially in the sense "well, I best be going now, it's getting time" to make ones excuses without needing to go into overmuch detail. (Sometimes extended with a phrase of the sort en de tijd van gaan is nu gekomen "and the time to go has now come")

Liefdevol literally means "affectionate", but morpheme-by-morpheme it equates to "love-full." The "full" part of it is made salient by being followed by leegte "void, emptiness."

This entire line is structurally atypical. The non-finite verbal forms are shifted from their normal final position to the very beginning of a long verb-phrase. Bespraakt "well-spoken, eloquent" is normally an adjective in modern Dutch, whereas the syntax leads the reader to expect a participle like besproken  "discussed, talked about." 

Adunis: The Seven Days (From Arabic)

If you know Arabic you'll notice I took some liberty with the first line- so as to make the Biblical allusion more obvious.

The Seven Days
By Adunis (aka Ali Ahmad Said)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Arabic

O Mother, mock not
My love, my hatred.
For in seven days you were created
And created the horizon, the waves
And the song's plume.

My seven days are a crow and a wound
So why the mystery in the end
When I like you am earth and wind?

The Original:

الأيام السبعة

أيها الأم التي تسخر
من حبي ومقتي
أنتِ في سبعة أيام خُلِقتِ
فخلَقْتِ الموج والأفق
وريش الأغنيه،

وأنا أيامي السبعة جُرحٌ وغراب
فلماذا الأُحجيه
وأنا مثلكِ ريحٌ وتراب؟

Nizar Qabbani: Take off your Clothes (From Arabic)

Take Off Your Clothes
By Nizar Qabbani
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click here to hear me recite the Arabic

Take off your clothes.
It has been ages since a miracle
Touched the earth. Take off your clothes
For I am mute, but your body knows
Every tongue. Take off your clothes.

The Original:

نزار قباني

تعري فمنذ زمان طويل
على الأرض لم تسقط المعجزات
تعري .. تعري
أنا أخرس
وجسمك يعرف كل اللغات

Catullus: Poem 34 "Prayer to Diana" (From Latin)

Poem 34: Prayer to Diana
By Gaius Valerius Catullus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Latin

We are unmarried youths and maidens  
  In Diana's strength secure  
And as befits us, youths and maidens  
  Let us now sing of Her.  
We sing to You, Latona's daughter,   
  Great child of greatest Jove
Whose mother gave You birth within  
  A Delian olive grove,
To be the mistress of the mountains  
  and greening woods, to rule
wild hidden hinterlands, the resonant  
  river, the calm deep pool. 
Women in labor crying out  
  call You light-bringer Juno.
But You are Crossroad Trivia too  
  And the light-borrowing Luna. 
In monthly measures you divide  
  The year's course, usher back
The plenteous harvest of the farmer  
  Into his rural shack.
By any name you choose be pleased  
  With this our worship. Hold
The Roman Race safe in your strength  
  As once you did of old. 

The Original:

Diānae sumus in fide  
puellae et puerī integrī:  
Diānam puerī integrī  
  puellaeque canāmus.
ō Lātōnia, maximī         
magna prōgeniēs Iovis,  
quam māter prope Dēliam  
  dēposīvit olīvam,
montium domina ut forēs  
silvārumque virentium          
saltuumque reconditōrum  
  amniumque sonantum:
tū Lūcīna dolentibus  
Iūnō dicta puerperīs,  
tū potēns Trivia et nothō es          
  dicta lūmine Lūna.
tū cursū, dea, mēnstruō  
mētiēns iter annuum,  
rūstica agricolae bonīs  
  tēcta frūgibus explēs.    
sīs quōcumque tibi placet  
sāncta nōmine, Rōmulīque,  
antīquē ut solita es, bona  
  sōspitēs ope gentem.

Catullus: Poem 2 "The Sparrow" (From Latin)

Poem 2: The Sparrow
By Gaius Valerius Catullus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Sparrow, my dear beloved's darling pet
Which she would pet, and fondle in her lap
Or tease with one slight finger's poke, provoking
You to peck her back with mordant beak.
Many's the time when my beloved, beaming
Girl has a mind to turn to you for comfort,
Hoping, I think, to find escape from sorrow
Or something to relieve her of that ardor. 
If only I could play the way she plays 
With you, and have release from roiling passion.

The Original:

Passer, dēliciae meae puellae,
quīcum lūdere, quem in sinū tenēre,
cui prīmum digitum dare appetentī
et ācrīs solet incitāre morsūs,
cum dēsīderiō meō nitentī
cārum nesciō quid lubet iocārī
et sōlāciolum suī dolōris,
crēdō ut tum gravis acquiēscat ārdor:
tēcum lūdere sīcut ipsa possem
et trīstīs animī levāre cūrās!

Gérard de Nerval: Delfica (From French)

Gérard de Nerval
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original French

Daphne, do you still know that lay of yore
By sycamore, white laurel, myrtle shade,
By olive-tree, or trembling willow glade?
That love song still beginning evermore?

Recall that shrine great colonnades enclose?
The bitter lemons where your teeth have pressed,
The grotto, deadly to the reckless guest
Where the slain dragon’s ancient seed repose?

The gods you mourn for shall return at last
Time will restore the order of days past.
Prophetic gusts have shuddered through the lands

While yet the Sybil with a Latin mien
Sleeps underneath the arch of Constantine,

And undisturbed the portico still stands. 

The Original:


La connais-tu, Dafné, cette ancienne romance,
Au pied du sycomore, ou sous les lauriers blancs,
Sous l’olivier, le myrte, ou les saules tremblants,
Cette chanson d’amour qui toujours recommence ?...

Reconnais-tu le Temple au péristyle immense,
Et les citrons amers où s’imprimaient tes dents,
Et la grotte, fatale aux hôtes imprudents,
Où du dragon vaincu dort l’antique semence ?...

Ils reviendront, ces Dieux que tu pleures toujours !
Le temps va ramener l’ordre des anciens jours ;
La terre a tressailli d’un souffle prophétique...

Cependant la sibylle au visage latin
Est endormie encor sous l’arc de Constantin
— Et rien n’a dérangé le sévère portique.

Théophile de Viau: To Sleep (From French)

The image of death as a kind of protracted sleep, and sleep as "but the picture" of death, is a near-universal one, familiar to readers of French and English poetry alike ("Death be not proud...", "For in that sleep of death..." etc.) as well as readers of Latin (Lucretius' famous passage, Vergil's consanguineus Leti sopor), Persian, Arabic, Greek, Chinese, Hebrew and quite possibly every other poetic tradition on earth. Théophile, ever the realist in a classicizing world, turns the cliché on its head.
The recording of the original French is in a reconstruction of pronunciation used by the upper classes of early 17th century Paris. 

To Sleep
By Théophile de Viau (1590 – 1626)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original French

Sleep! Father of dreams and minister of ease,
Why call you death's image? You are not so. 
The versifiers wronged you long ago,
Passing that off for truth with falsities.

We should tell how you plunge us into peace
Where the mind is so sweetly reft away
That you prolong the pleasure of a day
Instead of cutting it short with Fate's caprice.

O rapturing dreams! That moment in the head
When Love set all my senses in your thrall,
I had Élise all naked in my bed!

Sleep! They who made you the Image of demise,
Drew Death not having known him with their eyes.
He is not like those portraitures at all.

The Original:

Ministre du repos, sommeil père des songes,
Pourquoy t'a t'on nommé l'Image de la mort ?
Que ces faiseurs de vers t'ont jadis fait de tort,
De le persuader avecques leurs mensonges !

Faut-il pas confesser qu'en l'aise où tu nous plonges,
Nos esprits sont ravis par un si doux transport
Qu'au lieu de raccourcir, à la faveur du sort,
Les plaisirs de nos jours, sommeil, tu les alonges.

Dans ce petit moment, ô songes ravissans,
Qu'amour vous a permis d'entretenir mes sens,
J'ay tenu dans mon lict Elise toute nue.

Sommeil, ceux qui t'ont fait l'Image du trespas,
Quand ils ont peint la mort ils ne l'ont point connue
Car vrayment son portraict ne luy ressemble pas.

Molière: Alceste Has Had It With The Bullshit "The Misanthrope" (From French)

A brief passage (Act I, lines 85-95) from Molière's Le Misanthrope. Translated, somewhat freely, for no other reason than that I sometimes know exactly how Alceste feels. If humans are equal in anything it is their ability to inspire disdain. As a friend of mine put it, regardless of race, creed, or national origin, I hate humans. 
I also love humans, generally and paradoxically for the same reasons that I hate them (which is, incidentally, also true of Alceste in Molière's play, if you read carefully.) 
The word "bullshit" has no exact warrant in Molière's French (the original says literally, and rather more decorously, "I can't take it anymore. I'm furious.") Though the English word "bullshit" does encapsulate, more or less precisely, the kind of foolishness, duplicity, affectation and unconcern with the truth which Alceste gets progressively more fed up with over the course of the play. 

From The Misanthrope: Alceste Has Had It With The Bullshit
By Molière
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

It is no joke, believe you me.
On this point, I let no one off scot free. 
Too much has scarred my eyes. All I have seen
In court or town just irritates my spleen.
I fall to dark depression at the view
Of humans interacting as they do. 
Everywhere: sycophantic flattery,
Self-interest, cons, injustice, treachery...
I've had it with the bullshit, and my mind
Is set on breaking up with all mankind.

The Original:

Je ne me moque point,
Et je vais n’épargner personne sur ce point.
Mes yeux sont trop blessés, et la cour et la ville
Ne m’offrent rien qu’objets à m’échauffer la bile ;
J’entre en une humeur noire, en un chagrin profond,
Quand je vois vivre entre eux les hommes comme ils font ;
Je ne trouve partout que lâche flatterie,
Qu’injustice, intérêt, trahison, fourberie ;
Je n’y puis plus tenir, j’enrage ; et mon dessein
Est de rompre en visière à tout le genre humain.

Théophile de Viau: Lament for Clairac (From French)

Théophile de Viau's hometown of Clairac was a bastion of Protestantism in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and in May of 1621, during the Huguenot rebellions, four thousand Protestant rebels held the city against a siege by Louis XIII under the slogan Ville Sans Roy, Soldats Sans Peur "City With No King, Soldiers With No Fear." The rebels had not prepared adequately for a siege, and the city of Clairac, faced with imminent famine after two weeks, surrendered to Louis XIII who summarily executed the rebel leaders and gave his men leave to massacre, terrorize, rape and torture the populace. 
In 1622, Clairac was held briefly by Huguenot rebels again, and even more thoroughly devastated by urban warfare, and also by the Huguenots themselves just before they left it to the Catholics. In the spring of that year, Théophile revisited the city of his birth to find it largely ravaged and ruined, much of the surviving population traumatized and living in abject poverty, and still engaged in the task of identifying and burying their numerous dead. Funerals would have been a numbingly common sight.
Théophile was born to a Huguenot family, and indeed studied at the Protestant university at Saumur, though he had converted to Catholicism shortly before writing this poem. 

Lament for Clairac
Théophile de Viau (1590 – 1626)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in early 17th century French

Sweet place where I adored Phyllis of yore,
Sun-hallowed walls that held my soul in charms,
Today beneath our sundered roofs no more
Than bloody spoils for prideful men at arms,

Cloth of the altar gone in smoke and scorned,
Temple in ruins, mysteries undone,
Horrific relicts of a city burned,
Men, horses, palaces, buried as one. 

Deep moats packed with debris from shattered walls,
Tableaux of horror, shrieks and burials,
River where blood runs endlessly on by, 

Slaughterfields where the wolves and crows gorge free,
Clairac! For the one birth you gave to me
How many, many deaths you make me die.

The Original:

Sacrez murs du Soleil où j'adoray Philis,
Doux sejour où mon ame estoit jadis charmee,
Qui n'est plus aujourd'huy soubs nos toits desmolis
Que le sanglant butin d'une orgueilleuse armee;

Ornemens de l'autel qui n'estes que fumee,
Grand Temple ruiné, mysteres abolis,
Effroyables objects d'une ville allumee,
Palais, hommes, chevaux, ensemble ensevelis;

Fossez larges et creux tous combles de murailles,
Spectacles de frayeur, de cris, de funerailles,
Fleuve par où le sang ne cesse de courir,

Charniers où les Corbeaux et loups vont tous repaistre,
Clerac pour une fois que vous m'avez fait naistre,
Helas! combien de fois me faictes vous mourir.

Théophile de Viau: Nocturnal Emotions (From French)

Nocturnal Emotions
By Théophile de Viau (1590 – 1626)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in early 17th century French

I dreamt my Phyllis from the dead rose free,
Her dark shade fair as she was in the sun
Wanted one last seduction, wanted me
To couple with a cloud like Ixion.

Her specter glided naked and in heat
Into my bed: "My love! I'm back tonight,
Grown only lovelier in that sad retreat
Where Fate has held me since you left my sight, 

To kiss again the finest lover's face,
To die again in your hot arms' embrace." 
When that phantasmic idol had spent me whole

She said "Farewell. Back to the dead I go. 
You bragged of having fucked my body. So 
Can you now brag of having fucked my soul."


L4: The mortal Ixion grew amorous of Hera. Zeus caught Ixion red handed by appearing to him as a cloud that seemed to be Hera but wasn't. When Ixion embraced the cloud, Zeus was sure of his betrayal, and punished him accordingly. 

The Original:

Je songeois que Phyllis des enfers revenue,
Belle comme elle estoit à la clarté du jour,
Vouloit que son phantosme encore fit l’amour
Et que comme Ixion, j’embrassasse une nue.

Son ombre dans mon lict se glissa toute nue
Et me dit, cher Thyrsis, me voicy de retour,
Je n’ay fait qu’embellir en ce triste séjour
Ou depuis ton départ le sort m’a retenue

Je viens pour rebaisser le plus beau des Amants,
Je viens pour remourir dans tes embrassements.
Alors quand cette idole eut abusé ma flamme,

Elle me dit: Adieu, je m’en vays chez les morts,
Comme tu tes vanté d’avoir foutu mon corps,
Tu te pourras vanter d’avoir foutu mon âme.

Notes sur le texte français:

V3: Faire l'amour désigne aujourd'hui l'acte sexuel. Mais au 17ième siecle faire l'amour a la signification de "faire la cour", si bien que Racine peut faire dire à un de ses personnages "et vous ferez l'amour en présence du père."

V11: Idole. Le sens moderne, qui provient du latin chrétien, fait partie de l'étendue sémantique du mot, mais il me semble probable que Théophile pense également au sens du Grec εἴδωλον "phantasme, vision illusoire."
Abuser avait aussi le sens de "tromper." 

Valéry: Helen (From French)

By Paul Valéry
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original French

Azure! It's me...from death's caves I return
To hear waves break resoundingly ashore,
And see the galleys in the dawnlight born
Again out of the dark on golden oar.

My solitary hands call back those lords
Whose salty beards pleased my pure fingertips;
I wept. They sang their shady wars and swords,
And the great gulfs fled sternward of their ships.

I hear deep conches all along the shores,

The war-horns cadencing the swing of oars
The rowers' chanty fettering the fray;

And at heroic prows the gods grown grand
With ancient smiles insulted by the spray,
Reach out to me with carved, indulgent hand.

The Original:


Azur! C'est moi... Je viens des grottes de la mort
Entendre l'onde se rompre aux degrés sonores,
Et je revois les galères dans les aurores
Ressusciter de l'ombre au fil des rames d'or.

Mes solitaires mains appellent les monarques
Dont la barbe de sel amusait mes doigts purs;
Je pleurais. Ils chantaient leurs triomphes obscurs
Et les golfes enfuis aux poupes de leurs barques.

J'entends les conques profondes et les clairons
Militaires rythmer le vol des avirons;
Le chant clair des rameurs enchaîne le tumulte,

Et les Dieux, à la proue héroïque exaltés
Dans leur sourire antique et que l'écume insulte,
Tendent vers moi leurs bras indulgents et sculptés.

Dino Campana: Autumn Garden (From Italian)

The punctuation and/or omission of it in my translation is (a) integral to the poem and (b) integral to my translation. The background music for the recording is a digitally retweaked orchestral version of the melody Captain Picard plays on his flute at the end of the Star Trek TNG episode "The Inner Light."

Autumn Garden
By Dino Campana
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Italian

Unto the ghostly garden unto the laurels mute
Of the green garlands
Unto the autumn land
One last salute!
Out to the dried hillsides
Reddened hard in the terminal sun
Confounded into grumbles
Gruff life afar is crying:
Crying to the dying sun that sheds
A blood that dyes the flowerbeds.
A brass band plays
Ear-piercingly away: the river fades
Out amidst the gilded sands: in the quiet
The great white statues stand at the bridgehead
Turned: and what was once is now no more.
And from the depths of quiet as it were a chorus
Soft and splendorous
Yearns its way to the heights of my terrace:
And in an air of laurel,
In an air of laurel languorous and blade-bare,
Among the statues immortal under sundown
She appears to me, is there.

The Original:

Giardino Autunnale

Al giardino spettrale al lauro muto
De le verdi ghirlande
A la terra autunnale
Un ultimo saluto!
A l’aride pendici
Aspre arrossate nell’estremo sole
Confusa di rumori
Rauchi grida la lontana vita:
Grida al morente sole
Che insanguina le aiole.
S’intende una fanfara
Che straziante sale: il fiume spare
Ne le arene dorate: nel silenzio
Stanno le bianche statue a capo i ponti
Volte: e le cose già non sono più.
E dal fondo silenzio come un coro
Tenero e grandioso
Sorge ed anela in alto al mio balcone:
E in aroma d’alloro,
In aroma d’alloro acre languente,
Tra le statue immortali nel tramonto
Ella m’appar, presente.

Anne Hébert: The Piano (From French)

The Piano
By Anne Hébert
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

All it took was one light note
One fingertap
By one calm slave

A single note a supple instant
For the muffled clamor of offense
Tucked at the back of black veins
To rise and burst into the stirless air

The master knowing not what to do
Before such tumult
Commands that the piano be closed

The Original:

Le Piano

Il a suffi d'une note légère
D'un seul doigt frappée
Par un esclave tranquille

Une seule note un instant tenue
Pour que la clameur sourde des outrages
Enfouis au creux des veines noires
Monte et se décharge dans l'air immobile

Le maître ne sachant que faire
Devant ce tumulte
Ordonne qu'on ferme le piano
A jamais
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