Catullus: Poem 34 "Promises, Promises" (From Latin)

Poem 34: Promises, Promises
By Catullus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Latin

My girl says there's no one she'd rather wed
    Than me. "Not even Jupiter"
Says she. The things a woman says in bed
    To please her lover are secure
As any contract scribbled out on air.  
Or you could find a sea, and write it there.  

The Original:

Nūllī sē dīcit mulier mea nūbere mālle 
 quam mihi, nōn sī sē Iuppiter ipse petat. 
Dīcit: sed mulier cupidō quod dīcit amantī, 
 in ventō et rapidā scrībere oportet aquā 

Ovid: The Night of Exile, Tristia 1.3 (From Latin)

In 8 AD, Ovid was exiled from Rome by Caesar Augustus for reasons that are not altogether clear. This poem is a (clearly immensely stylized) retelling of his final tear-sodden night in Rome before leaving for Tomis, in the yet unsettled Roman province of Moesia (modern-day Constanta, Romania) to which he had been exiled. There, in banishment, he would ultimately die, never seeing his wife or hometown again.

The Night of Exile, Tristia 1.3
By Ovid
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

When once again the mind is filled with shades      
   Of my final night in dear sweet Rome,
Recalling the night I gave up so much I cherished,   
   A tear even now begins to flow.

Dawn was at hand. By Caesar's fiat I had to   
   Depart for the frontier, come day.1
I'd found no time to prepare, nor inclination,   
   My will was lulled by long delays.
I had not bothered with slaves, or choice of attendants,   
   Nor clothes, nor the gear an exile needs,
Stunned as one struck by a bolt of Jove's own thunder   
   Who survives, unconscious that he still breathes.

But when sheer force of grief blew that fog off my spirit   
   And at last my stricken senses returned,
Before leaving, I had last words with the grieving few   
   Friends I still had of the many that were.
I wept in the arms of my wife who wept still harder.
   Tears streaked those cheeks that didn't deserve this.
My daughter, faraway in Africa couldn't   
   Be told what fate I would now endure.
Wherever I turned: more moaning, mourning. It seemed   
   A funeral with no moment of silence.
My wife, my son and slaves all grieved my passing.   
   Each nook had its tears. A house fell crying.
To gloss the small with the grand: Troy looked like this   
   When it fell that night in Aeneas' eyes.2

Now all was still. Not a stir of dog or man,   
   As Lady Moon rode her nightly way.
And in her beams I watched the Capitoline    
   So near my home, but near in vain,
And cried "High Powers who dwell in that citadel,   
   Temples I'll see no more with my eyes,
Gods of my Rome that I must now abandon,   
   Farewell now and for all of time!
Though I now take up the shield while already wounded   
   Yet lift hate's burden from this exile.
And tell that Godly Man3 what error snared me,   
   That he not think my failing a crime,
That my exile's architect feel all that you know.   
   With godhead appeased, no grief is mine."
Such was my prayer to the gods. My wife's were many,   
   Sobs choking her every word apart.
Disheveled she fell before our family shrine,   
   Pressed trembling lips to the cold dead hearth,
And poured great prayer to no avail for her husband.   
   For our household gods were no longer ours.
The fast-ebbing night left no time for further delay.   
   The Star-bear was wheeling round his axis.
What could I do? I'd held off for love of my country,   
   But this night had been decreed my last.
Oh the times I told my friends "Why hurry? Think   
   Where to, and where from you're rushing me!"
The times I lied to myself and others, swearing   
   I'd picked a proper hour to leave.
Thrice did I cross the threshold, thrice turned back,   
   The power of intention slowing my feet.
Often I'd say goodbye and go back to talking,   
   Then once again kiss all goodbye.
Often I'd give the same self-deluded instructions,   
   Then back to my loved ones turned my eyes.
At last I said "Why rush? It's Scythia4 I leave for,   
   And Rome I leave. Two reasons to stay.
I live, yet my living wife is denied me forever   
   With my sweet household, its loyal members,
And all the attendants I loved as would a brother,   
   Hearts bound to mine in a Thesean5 faith!
This may be my last chance to embrace them ever.   
   Best make the most of what remains."
Then I turned and left my words unfinished to hug   
   Each of my loved ones. No delay.

But as I spoke and we wept, the Star of Morrow   
   Had risen bright, but boding bane.
I was ripped asunder as if I'd lost a limb.   
   Something of me was torn away,
As Mettus6 when steeds avenging his betrayal   
   Were driven apart, and tore him in half.
My kinfolk then in a climax of clamorous weeping   
   Beat bare breasts with grieving hands.
And when at last I was leaving, my poor wife clasped me   
   With one last desperate, tear-drenched plea:
"They can't tear you away. Let us go together,   
   As exile and exile's wife. Take me!
Your journey is mine. There's room for me at an outpost.   
   I'll make small weight on your ship at sea,
You, exiled by Caesar's wrath, and I by loyal   
   Love. Let love be a Caesar to me."7
So she tried as she had tried before to convince me,   
   And yielded only to practical need.8 
I went a corpse without procession, in rags,   
   Hair strewn about my unshaven cheeks.

I'm told she fainted from grief, mind plunged in dark,   
   And fell half-dead right there in our house.
When she came round, with disheveled dust-fouled hair,   
   Staggering up from the cold hard ground,
She wept for herself, for a house abandoned, screaming   
   Her stolen man's name time after time,
Wailing as though she'd witnessed our daughter's body   
   Or mine, upon the high-stacked pyre;
And longed for death, to kill the horror and hardship,   
   Yet out of regard for me she lived.
Long may she live! And in life give aid to her absent   
   Love, whose exile the Fates have willed. 

Notes:

1 - The original Latin literally reads "depart from the farthest boundaries of Ausonia." Ausonia, originally a Greek term for a particular region in southern Italy, is a literary archaism used in Greek and Latin poetry to refer to all of Italy. (Compare English poetic use of "Hellas" for Greece, or "Cathay" for China.) For Ovid it would have had strong associations with the Aeneid, as it is frequently used there as a term for Italy as a storied "promised land" sought by the exiled Aeneas. Ovid in exile is using a term for Italy which implies distance and unattainability, as well as longing.

2 - This is the most overt, but not the only, indication in this poem that Ovid perceives his exile as a kind of reverse-Aeneid. Throughout the poem, there are a great many linguistic and thematic echoes, subtle and not, of Virgil. Though the precise instances need not all detain the Anglophone reader, it is worth noting that the entire poem borrows from the language and rhetorical toolkit of epic, including the disjointed narrative structure, to treat a deeply personal matter, which epics typically do not.

3 - "Godly Man" i.e. Caesar Augustus

4 - Ovid's exile was not actually in Scythia, but he uses the term in opposition to Rome because of its associations of barbarity, harshness, remoteness, and in short, everything Rome was not.

5 - Theseus' legendary love for his friend Pīrithous had become proverbial by this point. Theseus eventually lost his friend to the underworld, and despite all dedication was unable to rescue him. Ovid's companions cannot go with him into exile. The reference is simultaneously to the depth of attachment, and to how powerless that bond has ultimately proven.

6 - Mettus Fufetius, Alban leader torn to pieces by order of Tullius Hostilius as punishment for treachery. His body was tied to two different chariots which were driven in opposite directions.

7 -The term translated as "loyal love" is pietās. Pietās in Latin is one of those words (like Russian toská or Persian ɣayrat or Portuguese Saudade) which is both readily understood by the language's user and also quite difficult to translate. The closest English word approximation is probably "devotion." It is however devotion not only as a state of being, but as a moral virtue, encompassing ideas of duty, loyalty and selfless love, devotion to one's kin, one's deities, one's countrymen, or the Roman state, and to doing right by them.

8 - Practical need: i.e. she must stay behind to watch over his interests in Rome, and also attempt to help get Ovid's exile rescinded so that he might return. It never was. Ovid never saw his wife, children or hometown again.

Original:

Cum subit illīus trīstissima noctis imāgō   
      quā mihi suprēmum tempus in Urbe fuit,
cum repetō noctem quā tot mihi cāra relīquī,
      lābitur ex oculīs nunc quoque gutta meīs.

Iam prope lūx aderat quā mē discēdere Caesar
      fīnibus extrēmae iusserat Ausoniae.
Nec spatium nec mēns fuerat satis apta parandī:
      torpuerant longā pectora nostra morā.
Nōn mihi servōrum, comitis nōn cūra legendī,
      nōn aptae profugō vestis opisve fuit.
Nōn aliter stupuī quam quī Iovis ignibus īctus
      vīvit et est vītae nescius ipse suae.
Ut tamen hanc animī nūbem dolor ipse remōvit,
      et tandem sēnsūs convaluēre meī,
alloquor extrēmum maestōs abitūrus amīcōs
      quī modo dē multīs ūnus et alter erant.
Uxor amāns flentem flēns ācrius ipsa tenēbat,
      imbre per indignās usque cadente genās.
Nāta procul Libycīs aberat dīversa sub ōrīs,
      nec poterat fātī certior esse meī.
Quōcumque aspicerēs lūctūs gemitūsque sonābant,
      fōrmaque nōn tacitī fūneris intus erat.
Fēmina virque meō puerī quoque fūnere maerent,
      inque domō lacrimās angulus omnis habet.
Sī licet exemplīs in parvīs grandibus ūtī,
      haec faciēs Troiae cum caperētur erat.

Iamque quiēscēbant vōcēs hominumque canumque, 
      Lūnaque nocturnōs alta regēbat equōs.
Hanc ego suspiciēns et ab hāc Capitōlia cernēns,
      quae nostrō frūstrā iūncta fuēre Larī,
"Nūmina vīcīnīs habitantia sēdibus," inquam,
      "iamque oculīs numquam templa videnda meīs,
dīque relinquendī, quōs urbs habet alta Quirīnī,
      este salūtātī tempus in omne mihi.
Et quamquam sērō clipeum post vulnera sūmō,
      attamen hanc odiīs exonerāte fugam:
caelestīque virō, quis mē dēcēperit error,
      dīcite, prō culpā nē scelus esse putet.
Ut quod vōs scītis, poenae quoque sentiat auctor:
      plācātō possum nōn miser esse deō."

Hāc prece adōrāvī superōs ego, plūribus uxor,
      singultū mediōs impediente sonōs.
Illa etiam ante Larēs passīs adstrāta capillīs
      contigit extīnctōs ōre tremente focōs,
multaque in adversōs effūdit verba Penātēs
      prō dēplōrātō nōn valitūra virō.
Iamque morae spatium nox praecipitāta negābat,
      versaque ab axe suō Parrhasis Arctos erat.
Quid facerem? Blandō patriae retinēbar amōre,
      ultima sed iussae nox erat illa fugae.
Ā! Quotiēns aliquō dīxī properante "quid urgēs?
      vel quō fēstīnās īre, vel unde, vidē."
Ā! Quotiēns certam mē sum mentītus habēre
      hōram, prōpositae quae foret apta viae.
Ter līmen tetigī, ter sum revocātus, et ipse
     indulgēns animō pēs mihi tardus erat.
Saepe "valē" dictō rūrsus sum multa locūtus,
      et quasi discēdēns ōscula summa dedī,
saepe eadem mandāta dedī mēque ipse fefellī,
      respiciēns oculīs pignora cāra meīs.

Dēnique "quid properō? Scythia est, quō mittimur," inquam,
      "Rōma relinquenda est, utraque iūsta mora est.
Uxor in aeternum vīvō mihi vīva negātur,
      et domus et fīdae dulcia membra domūs,
quōsque ego dīlēxī frāternō mōre sodālēs,
      ō mihi Thēsēā pectora iūncta fidē!
dum licet, amplectar: numquam fortasse licēbit
      amplius. In lūcrō est quae datur hōra mihi."
Nec mora. Sermōnis verba imperfecta relinquō,
      complectēns animō proxima quaeque meō.

Dum loquor et flēmus, caelō nitidissimus altō,
      stēlla gravis nōbīs, Lūcifer ortus erat.
Dīvidor haud aliter, quam sī mea membra relinquam,
      et pars abrumpī corpore vīsa suō est.
Sīc doluit Mettus tunc cum in contrāria versōs
      ultōrēs habuit prōditiōnis equōs.
Tum vērō exoritur clāmor gemitūsque meōrum,
      et feriunt maestae pectora nūda manūs.
Tum vērō coniūnx umerīs abeuntis inhaerēns
      miscuit haec lacrimīs tristia verba meīs:
"nōn potes āvellī. Simul hinc, simul ībimus:" inquit,
      "tē sequar et coniūnx exulis exul erō.
Et mihi facta via est, et mē capit ultima tellūs:
      accēdam profugae sarcina parva ratī.
Tē iubet ē patriā discēdere Caesaris īra,
      mē pietās. Pietās haec mihi Caesar erit."
Tālia temptābat, sīcut temptāverat ante,
      vixque dedit victās ūtilitāte manūs.
Ēgredior, sīve illud erat sine fūnere ferrī,
      squālidus immissīs hirta per ōra comīs.

Illa dolōre āmēns tenebrīs nārrātur obortīs
      sēmjanimis mediā prōcubuisse domō,
utque resurrēxit foedātis pulvere turpī
      crīnibus et gelidā membra levāvit humō,
sē modo, dēsertōs modo complōrāsse Penātēs,
      nōmen et ēreptī saepe vocāsse virī,
nec gemuisse minus, quam sī nātaeve meumve
      vīdisset strūctōs corpus habēre, rogōs,
et voluisse morī, moriendō pōnere sēnsus,
      respectūque tamen nōn periisse meī.
Vīvat, et absentem, quoniam sīc fāta tulērunt,
      vīvat et auxiliō sublevet usque suō.

The Archpoet: Confession in Pavia (From Latin)

Okay, this introduction's a long one. 

The poem here translated (which is better called a "Confession in Pavia" than the "Confession of Golias") is by the Archpoet, an irreverent, blasphemously avant-garde and brilliant 12th century German(ic) cleric, ten of whose poems survived in the Carmina Burana. For my money, he is the closest medieval Europe has to the antinomian aesthetic of Persian poets like Hafiz, though the two are in many ways extremely unalike. (Actually, one could write a very interesting article comparing Hafiz to the Archpoet. The many striking similarities are every bit as illuminating as the differences.)

We do not know the fellow's name. He's just the Archipoeta, or Archpoet. Which really is quite fitting. Despite the anonymity, we can confidently deduce a good deal about him. His poems offer crucial information (although that doesn't mean they should be read literally as most readers for the past hundred years have done- this is a court poet and a chancery clerk, after all, not a starving artist errant.) Moreover, due to his high station and the clerical circles he moved in, the Archpoet was associated with a number of extremely well-known people whose lives are well documented, most especially his patron Rainald of Dassel, chancellor of Emperor Barbarossa.

A subset of stanzas from this poem have been used as a drinking song for over a century, titled Meum Est Propositum. But this poem is so much more than simply the greatest drinking song of all time. It is courtly literature, and mirthful commentary, of the highest caliber, written by an anti-establishmentarian chancery cleric who was court poet to the equally antinomian Rainald of Dassel, under whose patronage all the Archpoet's extant verse was composed. Rainald himself was no stranger to holy orders (indeed he is the "Prelate" and "Archbishop Elect" of the text here translated) though he was little interested in religious duties as such so much as the power that came with them, and had little patience or heed for clerical moralizing. Rainald was, in fact, an outrageous man in nearly every sense. He was a reactionary of the sort who might tell both the monkish austerity-peddler and the Vatican dignitary, face to face, to go fuck themselves. He was a dirty-fighting politician, more imperialist than the holy Roman Emperor, and almost as un-Catholic as the Pope. Indeed, he had recently been excommunicated by the time this poem was composed (which adds an important dimension to the irony.) Yet he was not only the most controversial but also one of the most sophisticated and learned intellectual patrons in Latin Christendom in his day. 

The Archpoet in this poem as ever plays on biblical and patristic themes and language, in a way that is meant as much to be stimulating and amusing to his patron Rainald as shocking and unsettling to other clerics who must have been in attendance when this poem was declaimed in Pavia. To me, the Archpoet seems to be taking Matthew 11:9 as a basic theme (venit Filius hominis manducans et bibens et dicunt ecce homo vorax et potator vini publicanorum et peccatorum amicus et iustificata est sapientia a filiis suis "The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.")  There is a sense in which much of the poem consists of variations on this verse. The poet though takes this passage's implication far beyond the bounds of what would have been acceptable, positioning himself as a drinker and friend of sinners and applying to himself the same labels that were leveled against Jesus by his enemies. But the Germanic Archpoet isn't merely using value-inversion to shock the establishmentarian Italian clerics in Pavia who look upon him and his patron as being culturally backward. He's out to expose their austerity as hypocrisy. To this end he builds the piece into an ever more overt fictio (feigned repentance) directed toward a recently excommunicated prelate (namely his friend and patron Rainald) who would have been barred from the actual sacrament of confession, a subversive declaration meant to satirize the normally quite serious genre of penitential writing, and the equally serious tradition of public confession. 

Make no mistake. Tempting and even productive though it is, and has been, for later readers (especially singers) to imagine otherwise, this poem is the product of medieval Latin high clerical culture, and is produced by and for members of a clerical elite steeped in ecclesiastical latinity. Claims that the Archpoet must not have been a cleric at all are based on anachronistic and mistaken assumptions. Irreligious, and even somewhat anti-religious, this poem certainly is. What it is not, however, is popular, less so still secular (and even less does it deserve to be called a "basically pagan poem.") The Archpoet shows no signs of actual anti-clericalism. There were actual anti-clericalists in his day, and he wasn't one of them. Nor does he ever hint at the idea of actually forsaking his order. It is Rome and its orthodox moralizing he repudiates, not the institution itself. The Archpoet also is quite disdainful of the masses, and it is unlikely he would have written for the man in the street. Had he wished to do so, he could have done as some of his contemporaries did and used a vernacular. In any case, the Archpoet's own stance is made clear when he says elsewhere laici non sapiunt ea quae sunt vatis "laymen do not fathom the poet's trade." 


For all the exaltation of taverns, markets and other such riffrafferies, including a hint of brothels, these are celebrated precisely because, and only to the extent that, they shock and annoy the moralist. They should not be taken as indications that the Archpoet in his life necessarily patronized taverns and whorehouses. That said, I personally find it hard to swallow that a man of irreverence at the margins of the moral establishment, who was good friends with a man like Rainald of Dassel, lived a life of complete teetotaling virginity. Just as this poem should not be taken to represent the truth transparently (for in fact it makes feigning into an art-form), neither should one assume that it bears no relationship to the truth. No act of lying or feigning is totally unrelated to the truth. What's really going on, then? I don't really know. I doubt anyone does. The question of what is true and what is false is one that the Archpoet leaves no easy answers to, which is precisely his intent, and his point. 

As for how to translate such a poem, I found it no straightforward matter. One has to square oneself, first and foremost, with the fact that English is a vernacular, and Latin - though it was not only read and written but also spoken by the 12th century clerisy - is not. What English does have is a great potential range of registers from the poetical and biblical to the obscenities you utter when you stub your toe at 2 AM after waking up to answer a phonecall that turned out to be a wrong number. In translating this poem, I have used this entire range of registers, for which there is no warrant in the original Latin beyond the ambiguous and playful spirit in which it was written. This spirit, moreover, is what made me feel at liberty to up (or update) the outrageousness by a notch or two. 

Note on the Latin text: Those who know Latin should also note that there is in the text some wordplay which will not be obvious to modern reader due to differences of pronunciation. In most German pronunciations of Latin by the end of the eleventh century, V had been devoiced and was normally pronounced identically to F, at least word-initially (the contrast was later reintroduced during the Renaissance.) To my knowledge, none of the many scholars who have written about the Archpoet, or this most famous of his compositions, have noted the amusing fact that Venus, mentioned twice in this poem, would have been phonologically indistinguishable from Faenus "profit, advantage, financial gain." Likewise, vina proxima (wine nearby) contains an echo of finis proximus ("end is nigh", in reference to death, but also recalling apocalyptic phrasing from e.g. St. Augustine's De Fine Saeculi.) The poem is spangled with allusions to biblical and other religious texts, and classical ones, as well as ideas drawn from them. Explicating all of them didn't seem like it would really be worth it. I've mentioned a couple in the notes, but in most cases I've simply noted the passages in question in superscript on the Latin text for anyone who's interested in digging deeper. 


Confession in Pavia

By the Archpoet (12th Century)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Seething in my very gut with a violent anger,
I would have words with my heart in remorseful rancor.
Being mostly made of light, insubstantial matter,
I am like a little leaf any breeze can batter.

Since the mark of a wise man is to seek one's station
And to build on rock the firm base of his foundation,
I am verily a fool, gliding like a river 
That can't be the same thing twice, deviant forever.

Like a ship without a crew drifting with the weather,
Like a bird on airy ways roaming God knows whither.
I break free of lock and chain, and I dodge the watchers,
Join a troop of men like me: drunkards and debauchers.

Weighty matters weigh me down, and aren't even funny.
Making light is what I love, sweeter far than honey.
Every order Venus gives means delightful labor.
For she never grants a weak, craven heart her favor.

Broad the primrose path I tread, as is young men's fashion.
Virtue my anathema, vices are my passion.
Questing more for pleasure than heavenly salvation,
Dead in soul, I give my flesh great consideration.

It is beyond hard to tame Nature with mere credo,
To behold fair maids and think thoughts pure of libido.
We are young and cannot heed such harsh regulation,
Smooth young bodies cannot but fire our fascination.

To Your Grace do I confess. Grant me sin's remission.
I am dying the good death. It's a sweet perdition.
Pretty women pierce my breast, pulsing with temptation.
Those I can't have I still do in imagination.

Who escapes unburned when cast into conflagration?
Who stays in Pavia free of all fornication?
Callipygian Venus here hunts young men in leisure,
Lures them with her blowjob lips, takes them for her pleasure.

Put a chaste Hippolytusin this town on Sunday.
Chaste Hippolytus is not what he'll be by Monday.
Here all roads lead not to Rome, but to Venus' penthouse.
Alethia's2  home is no palace so portentous.

I'm accused of gambling too, told I'd best forsake it. 

Say a night of dice leaves me in the street stripped naked.
Though I'm freezing outwardly, mentally I'm sweating
In the smithy of my art, better verse begetting.  

Sinful item number three is the pub. I've never
Spurned a pub in all my years, and nor will I ever
Till the holy hosts descend and my eyes discern 'em
Singing for the dead their long "Requiem Eternam."3 

To die in a pub while drunk is my resolution
Where the wine can ease me through my last dissolution.
Then shall herald angels sing in a choir of glory:
"Deus sit propitius huic potatori."4    (Or: "Son of God have mercy on this dead drunk before Thee") 

Chalices light my soul's lamp. Spirit I am given,
And my nectar-drunken heart rises up toward heaven.
Sweeter to me is the wine that in pubs I order
Than the stuff that's watered down by our Prelate's porter.

There are poets who disdain vulgar public places,
Who run off to secret, dark, private writing spaces,
Strive in studious toil all night, without even eating,
But can't manage to produce anything worth reading.

In teetotal choruses fasting poets hustle
To avoid the brawl of pubs and the markets' bustle,
Struggle to compose one piece that can live forever,
And, not having lived themselves, die from the endeavor.

Lady Nature gives to each his own special labor.
Till my belly's full I can't put my pen to paper,
And a boy could knock me down without even trying.
Thirst and hunger I despise little less than dying.

Lady Nature gives to each his unique advantage.5 
When I write my verse I drink wine of decent vintage,
Though the innkeeper's own stash is the most amazing.
Wine like that will generate gallons of gold phrasing.

I write verse proportionate to the wine I swallow.
I can't do a thing at all, when my belly's hollow. 
When I keep the fast I am the worst poetaster.
But give me a glass or three, and I'm Ovid's master. 

No I've never been bequeathed holy inspiration,
When my belly wasn't first filled to satiation.
While my mental citadel is in Bacchus' power,
In Apollo bursts to speak wonders every hour.

Your Grace, I've exposed my own wanton inclinations
And have shown the truth of your servants' accusations.
But will they accuse themselves with their own confessions?
For they too take pleasure in worldly indiscretions.

Right here, in the presence of our most blessèd Prelate
Following the Son of God, I say let the zealot
Who would like to strike and kill this prophetic poet,
If his own soul hath no sin, get some stones and show it!

I've confessed to all I know that I've perpetrated,
Spewed out all the poison that I long cultivated.
My old life disgusts me now, let new virtue guide me.
Men see me, but Jove6 alone sees the heart inside me.

Now it's virtues I adore, as I abhor vices. 
My mind is renewed and my reborn spirit rises,
Like unto a newborn babe7, innocently nursing,
Lest my heart again grow filled with pride and perversion. 

Archbishop Elect8 of Köln, behold my contrition
And be merciful to one seeking sins' remission. 
Give a fitting penance for what I've been confessing.
I will do as you command, and call it a blessing. 

Even the lion, king of beasts, when his subjects cower
Spares them and forgets his wrath, chastening his power.
You great princes of this world can do even better,
For that which is never sweet is exceeding bitter.


Notes:

1 - Hippolytus, a classical model of male chastity who, in the Euripidean drama which bears his name, is devoted to the virgin goddess Artemis.

2 - Alethia, the personification of truth and virtue, neither of which are to be found in Pavia as the Archpoet would have it. Instead, there is falsity masquerading as truth and depravity in virtue's clothing. It is also possible that Alethia is a textual corruption of Aricia. Aricia was Hippolytus' wife when he came to earth a second time in Aeneid VII.661

3 - The phrase comes from the opening to the Mass of the Dead.

4 - This stanza is quite a famous one. The Archpoet's audience would know that publican's imprecation from the Gospel of Luke,  Deus propitius esto mihi peccatori, "Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner", was usually repeated by Catholic penitents during confession (Orthodox Christians will recognize the same general wording in the Jesus Prayer.) They would have known, too, that the formula meum est propositum "I am resolved to..." was normally followed by a list of sins the penitent would avoid. The Archpoet replaces peccator "sinner" with potator "drinker, lush" to an effect that is quite hilarious and quite impossible to carry into English satisfactorily. So here I have imported the Latin line wholesale, which seemed in keeping with the aesthetic I wanted. But I also included an alternate English translation that can also be recited in its place.

5 - The phrasing is based on 1 Corinthians 7:7. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. The Archpoet is substituting the (feminine) Nature for the (masculine) God, setting the former up as a counter to the latter.

6 - Jove (Iovis, a late latin nominative singular remodeled on the Latin -i stem) is in Medieval Latin often used interchangeably with God (Deus.) Here, however, the pagan associations of the word are clearly also to the point. It has been suggested that the use of Jove is simply for rhyme, and that the Christian God alone is the referent. Leaving aside the fact that this tremendously underrates and ignores the Archpoet's ability for subversive polysemy, if anything the words' use as a rhyme-word simply renders it all the more prominent. A passage of scripture is here paraphrased from 1 Samuel 16:7 for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

7- "Like unto a newborn babe" (Latin: Quasi modo genitus) the opening words of the mass for the first Sunday after Easter, when all infants born during Lent are traditionally baptized. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, incidentally, gets his name from this phrase.

8 - The Archpoet calls Rainald the "Archbishop Elect" here hinting jokingly at his patron's recent  excommunication. Rainald had, from Rome's point of view, ceased to be a true archbishop once he had been formally separated from the Church's communion, and thus his technical episcopal status is questionable. Which doesn't stop the Archpoet from treating him, in hilarious jest, as a legitimate confessor.

The Original: 

Confessio Papiensis
Archipoeta

Aestuans intrinsecus ira vehementi
in amaritudine loquor meae menti.(Job 10:1)
factus de materia levis elementi
folio sum similis, de quo ludunt venti.(Job 13:25)

Cum sit enim proprium viro sapienti,
supra petram ponere sedem fundamenti,(Luke 6:48)
stultus ego comparor fluvio labenti,
sub eodem aere numquam permanenti.

Feror ego veluti sine nauta navis,
ut per vias aeris vaga fertur avis;(Wisdom 5:10-11)
non me tenent vincula, non me tenet clavis,
quaero mei similes et adiungor pravis.

Mihi cordis gravitas res videtur gravis,
iocus est amabilis dulciorque favis.
quidquid Venus imperat, labor est suavis,
quae numquam in cordibus habitat ignavis.(Tibullus 1.2.23)

Via lata gradior more iuventutis,(Matthew 7:13)
implico me vitiis immemor virtutis,
voluptatis avidus magis quam salutis,
mortuus in anima curam gero cutis.(St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei XIII.21.30)

Praesul discretissime, veniam te precor,
morte bona morior, dulci nece necor,
meum pectus sauciat puellarum decor,
et quas tactu nequeo, saltem corde moechor.(Matthew 5:28)

Res est arduissima vincere naturam,
in aspectu virginis mentem esse puram;
iuvenes non possumus legem sequi duram
leviumque corporum non habere curam.

Quis in igne positus igne non uratur?
quis Papiae demorans castus habeatur,
ubi Venus digito iuvenes venatur,
oculis illaqueat, facie praedatur?

Si ponas Hippolytum hodie Papiae,
non erit Hippolytus in sequenti die.
Veneris in thalamos ducunt omnes viae,
non est in tot turribus turris Alethiae.

Secundo redarguor etiam de ludo,
sed cum ludus corpore me dimittit nudo,
frigidus exterius, mentis aestu sudo;
tunc versus et carmina meliora cudo.

Tertio capitulo memoro tabernam:
illam nullo tempore sprevi neque spernam,
donec sanctos angelos venientes cernam,
cantantes pro mortuis: «Requiem Aeternam.»

Meum est propositum in taberna mori,
ut sint vina proxima morientis ori;
tunc cantabunt laetius angelorum chori:
«Sit Deus propitius huic potatori.» (Luke 18:13, see also Ovid, Amores 2.10.29-38)

Poculis accenditur animi lucerna,
cor imbutum nectare volat ad superna.
mihi sapit dulcius vinum de taberna,
quam quod aqua miscuit praesulis pincerna.

Loca vitant publica quidam poetarum
et secretas eligunt sedes latebrarum,
student, instant, vigilant nec laborant parum,
et vix tandem reddere possunt opus clarum.

Ieiunant et abstinent poetarum chori,
vitant rixas publicas et tumultus fori,
et ut opus faciant, quod non possit mori,
moriuntur studio subditi labori.

Unicuique proprium dat Natura munus:(1 Corinthians 7:7)
ego numquam potui scribere ieiunus,(Martial 11.6.12-13)
me ieiunum vincere posset puer unus.
sitim et ieiunium odi tamquam funus.

Unicuique proprium dat Natura donum:
ego versus faciens bibo vinum bonum,
et quod habent purius dolia cauponum;
vinum tale generat copiam sermonum.

Tales versus facio, quale vinum bibo,
nihil possum facere nisi sumpto cibo;
nihil valent penitus, que ieiunus scribo,
Nasonem post calices carmine praeibo.

Mihi numquam spiritus prophetiae datur,
nisi prius fuerit venter bene satur;
dum in arce cerebri Bacchus dominatur,
in me Phoebus irruit et miranda fatur.

Ecce meae proditor pravitatis fui,
de qua me redarguunt servientes tui.
sed corum nullus est accusator sui,
quamvis velint ludere saeculoque frui.

Iam nunc in praesentia praesulis beati
secundum dominici regulam mandati
mittat in me lapidem neque parcat vati,
cuius non est animus conscius peccati.

Sum locutus contra me, quidquid de me novi,
et virus evomui, quod tam diu fovi.
vita vetus displicet, mores placent novi;
homo videt faciem, sed cor patet Iovi.(1 Samuel 16:7)

Iam virtutes diligo, vitiis irascor,
renovatus animo spiritu renascor;
quasi modo genitus novo lacte pascor,(1 Peter 2:2)
ne sit meum amplius vanitatis vas cor.

Electe Coloniae, parce paenitenti,
fac misericordiam veniam petenti,
et da paenitentiam culpam confitenti;
feram, quidquid iusseris, animo libenti.

Parcit enim subditis leo, rex ferarum,
et est erga subditos immemor irarum;
et vos idem facite, principes terrarum:
quod caret dulcedine, nimis est amarum.

Papiria Tertia: On Her Own Grave (From Latin)

Yet another poem found on a Roman tomb epitaph, this one, dating to the early imperial period, is from Ferrara in north-west Italy, by one Papiria Tertia. Presumably she and her husband reserved tombs for themselves in the same place where they buried their children. There is a limit to what can be reasonably inferred about somebody from remains so meager as a tomb and four lines of hexameter, but there are a few things. Papiria must have been not only extremely wealthy, judging by the description I have read of the tomb where this was found, but also extremely well-educated. Moreover, though this is all that may have survived of her work, it is highly unlikely that this is all she ever wrote. There is much ancient testimony to the effect that, for high-born Roman women in the classical period, the ability to compose verse was seen as very much a desirable trait (even if their verse wasn't usually taken as seriously as men's) quite unlike many more recent European societies. The paucity of surviving women's verse from pre-Christian Rome has more to do with Christian scribes not copying it in late antiquity than with women not producing it. (Only one woman's poetry survives in a manuscript tradition, having been mistaken in the Middle Ages for that of a man. Every other surviving bit of verse written by Roman women has been found, like this one, on inscriptions in stone.)

On Her Own Grave
By Papiria Tertia
Translated by Yours Truly
Click to hear me recite the original Latin

Dear passing stranger: see that I, a woman 
Bereft oall her children, had tombs built. 
Pathetic, sorrowful and far too old,
I want to be with my little ones again.
The lesson of my desolate long life: 
Sterility's a blessing for a wife

The Original:

Cernis, ut orba meīs, hospes, monumenta locāvī
et trīstis senior nātōs miseranda requīrō.
Exemplīs referenda mea est dēserta senectūs
ut sterilēs vērē possint gaudēre marītae.

Paulus Silentiarius: Epigramma Interruptum (From Greek)

The tropes of epitaphic verse had apparently become so commonplace as a genre by the 6th century, that, like all clichés, they eventually invited the wit of the parodist.  

Epigramma Interruptum
By Paulus Silentiarius
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

My name is...(do we care?) And my birthplace
Was....(seriously, who cares at all?) I come
From noble lineage that I can trace
To great...(and what if all of them were scum?)
I ended life in good repute (would we
Care if you quit this world in infamy?)
And now in death I lie beneath this tomb
(Wait...who is speaking, really? And to whom?)

The Original:

Ἐπίγραμμα
Παῦλος ὁ Σιλεντιάριος

᾽Οὔνομά μοι … «Τί δὲ τοῦτο;» Πατρίς δὲ μοι … «Ἐς τί δὲ τοῦτο;»
Κλεινοῦ δ’ εἰμὶ γένους. «Εἰ γὰρ ἀφαυροτάτου;»
Ζήσας δ’ ἐνδόξως ἔλιπον βίον. «Εἰ γὰρ ἀδόξως;»
Κεῖμαι δ’ ἐνθάδε νῦν. «Τίς τίνι ταῦτα λέγεις;»

Marcus Antonius Encolpus: Caerellia's Epitaph (From Greek)

Skepticism about the afterlife is not recent. Even in societies of millennia past that might strike us as being immensely superstitious, there were often many who didn't buy into the local mythology about death, or at least didn't take it very seriously. It is indeed a well-attested (if not widely-known) fact that there were plenty of unbelievers and skeptics in ancient Greece and Rome, at all periods. After about the 1st century BC, the Roman intellectual élite had come to the understanding that the traditional ideas of an afterlife were, at the very least, flawed and that if the soul survived the death of the body at all it wasn't in Hades. Outright ridicule of belief in the afterlife was commonplace in the empire among the elite, although among lower social strata this was less the case. One example of what may be elite skepticism, or an affectation of it, is the Greek epitaph inscribed by one Marcus Antonius Encolpus on the grave of his wife Caerellia Fortunata (CIL vi.14672) dating to sometime in the early 3rd century AD, and which I translate here.

While the message of this epitaph might on the face of it strike readers today as pessimistic or depressing, note that Charon the ferryman, like Cerberus the hell-hound, was a frightening, unpleasant figure in popular imagination, especially at this time (as Lucian's works show.) Charon wasn't someone waiting to welcome you. He was someone you dreaded having to deal with when you die. In this light, that Charon, Cerberus and Aeacus do not exist may be taken as a source of comfort. It's worth noting that archaeologists find coins placed in graves as offerings to Charon with increasing frequency during the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries, suggesting that popular superstition and fear surrounding him were nonetheless widespread, despite the pervasive skepticism toward the top of the social ladder.

The sentiment of the final line is not unique, as attested in a number of Roman grave inscriptions (e.g. nil mihi post finest nil volo nil cupio "there is nothing of me after my end. I want nothing. I desire nothing." Or non fui, fui, non sum, non curo "I didn't exist. Then I did. Now I don't. I don't care.") Not only are there many other attested expressions of doubt, about the afterlife and the efficacy of ritual offerings, going back several centuries previous, but part of the elegiac passage in this epitaph very strongly recalls part of Lucian's De Luctu where a young boy in Hades mocks his father, with great cruelty, for mourning his death with offerings.
τί δὲ ὁ ὑπὲρ τοῦ τάϕου λίθος ἐστεϕανωμένος; ἤ τί ὑμῖν δύναται τὸν ἄϰρατον ἐπιχεῖν; ἤ νομίζετε ϰαταστάξειν αὐτὸν πρὸς ἡμᾶς ϰαὶ μέχρι τοῦ Ἅιδου διίξεσθαι; τὰ μὲν γὰρ ἐπὶ τῶν ϰαθαγισμῶν ϰαὶ αὐτοὶ ὁρᾶτε, οἶμαι, ὡς τὸ μὲν νοστιμώτατον τῶν παρεσϰευασμένων ὁ ϰαπνὸς παραλαβὼν ἄνω εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν οἴχεται μηδέν τι ἡμᾶς ὀνήσας τοὺς ϰάτω, τὸ δὲ ϰαταλειπόμενον, ἡ ϰόνις, ἀχρεῖον, ἐϰτὸς εἰ μὴ τὴν σποδὸν ἡμᾶς σιτεῖσθαι πεπιστεύϰατε.
(But what good to me) is the garlanded stone above my grave? What's the point in libations of pure wine? Do you imagine it will somehow trickle down to where we are, reach all the way to the Netherworld? As for burnt offerings, I think you yourselves can gather that the greater part of the food's nutrients is born up to the heavens by the smoke, and doesn't do a whit of good for those of us in the world below, and the ash that remains is useless, too. Unless of course you think we can eat dust. 

The lack of belief in the afterlife evinced in the Greek verse epitaph(s) may be compared quite profitably with the Latin prose inscription, in which great pains are taken to see that the tomb not be desecrated by the visitation of someone who has fallen out of favor with the family patriarch, as well as to reward someone who did him a good turn with a place in it. The conjunction of dismissal of the world below and profound concern for the grave and the loved ones interred therein, is an almost unbelievably perfect illustration both of imperial Greco-Roman culture's free-wheeling approach to religious belief and of Romans' profound concern, bordering on obsession, with proper ritual practice, and of how little contradiction there necessarily was between the two. Funeral practice could often be more about remembering the dead for the life they lived, rather than anything to do with a life to come.

Attributing authorship is somewhat difficult, as is often the case with funeral epigraphy. The dedication preceding the epitaph on the stone in Latin is clearly Encolpus'. It is generally well-spelled and competently phrased (using such context-bound locutions as libertis libertabusque) with only mildly subliterary features in the non-formulaic portions. (Tam magna in the sense of tanta without complement, one confusion of "b" and "v", nasal assimilation in amnegauerit, use of opter for propter.) There is an additional inscription in Latin (not translated here) which comes after the Greek verses, and must have been appended later, very likely by somebody less literate. Apart from being much less coherent, it is far more subliterary (there is a likely conflation of nominative and accusative with iubeo, and the spelling deueuet for standard dēbēbit even though the correct spelling appears in the earlier part of the inscription.) The first 8 lines of verse are in Greek iambics and give the impression of being a complete poem on their own. (It makes them a much stronger and more sensical poem if they are read thus, in any case.) The 6 subsequent lines, in elegiac meter, with their dry irreverent take on traditional funeral offerings, may be a later addition. They are extremely different in tone. Four of those lines also appear as an anonymous epigram in the palatine anthology, though the last two lines are attested only in this inscription. This raises a possibility that both of these pieces in their entirety are not original but actually taken from elsewhere. Nonetheless I have, because "anonymous" really didn't seem suitable, listed Marcus Antonius Encolpus as the "author". I have also not regularized the spelling in the Latin, as is my general practice, but have inserted a few emendations in parentheses.

The text was taken from (and, as a matter of fact, originally found by chance in) the Packard Humanities Institute's wonderful Greek epigraphy database, available online here.

Caerellia's Epitaph (CIL VI 14672)
By Marcus Antonius Encolpus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
For my departed and dearest wife Caerellia Fortunata with whom I lived for 40 tranquil years, and for myself, I Marcus Antonius Encolpus made this tomb, and for my dearest freed slave Antonius Athenaeus, for my freedmen and freedwomen and all of their issue, with the exception of Marcus Antonius Athenio. Him I forbid access or any entry to this tomb, or to have his remains' or those of his descendants'  brought here for burial. If any should transgress in this, he that has done so must pay the priests or the tutors of the Vestal Virgins a sum of 50,000 sestertii, because after many other injuries against my person, he denied me as a parent to him. It is also for Aulus Laelius Apelles my dearest client, who may choose for himself whichever sarcophagus he wishes, as he stood by me in such a catastrophe, and whose good favor I enjoy. 
Do not pass by my epitaph, dear passer-by. 
Stop. Read and learn, and when you understand, go on: 
There is no Charon waiting on a boat in Hades. 
No judge named Aeacus, no dog called Cerberus. 
All of us who've gone dead down here are now no more 
Than rotting bone and ash. I've told it as it is 
And have no more to say. Now, passer-by, go on 
And know I keep the rule of dead men: tell no tales.  

      This tomb's just stone. So bring no myrrh or garlands,

           And don't waste money on a fire,
      If you want to give me something, you really should have 
           Done it when I was still alive.
      If you mix fine wine with ash you just get mud.
          Besides, the dead do not drink wine.
      Just sprinkle some soil, and say: what I was before
           I was, I have become once more.

The Original:
D(is) Cerelliae Fortunatae coniugi karissimae cum qua M(anibus) v. ann. XL s.u.q. M. Antonius Encolpus fecit sibi et Antonio Athenaeo liberto suo karissimo et libertis libertabusque eorum et posteris, excepto M. Antonio Athenione quem ueto in eo monimento aditum habere, neque iter ambitum introitum ullum in eo habere, neque sepulturae causa reliquias eius posterorumque eius inferri, quod si quis aduersus hoc quis fecerit, tunc is qui fecerit poenae nomine pontificibus aut antescolaris uirginum s. L m.n. inferre debebit, ideo quia me pos multas iniurias parentem sibi amnegauerit. Et A. Lelio Apeliti, clienti karissimo quem boluerit do(n)ationis causa sarcofagum eligat sibi, opter quod in tam ma(g)na clade non me reliquerit, cuius beneficia (h)abeo
μή μου παρέλθῃς τὸ ἐπίγραμμα, ὁδοιπόρε,  
ἀλλὰ σταθεὶς ἄκουε καὶ μαθὼν ἄπι.  
οὐκ ἔστι ἐν Ἅδου πλοῖον, οὐ πορθμεὺς Χάρων,  
οὐκ Αἰακὸς κλειδοῦχος, οὐχὶ Κέρβερος κύων  
ἡμεῖς δὲ πάντες οἱ κάτω τεθνηκότες  
ὀστέα τέφρα <γ>εγόναμεν, ἄλλο δὲ οὐδὲ ἕν.  
εἴρηκά σοι ὀρθῶς ὕπαγε, ὀδοιπόρε,  
μὴ καὶ τεθνακὼς ἀδόλεσχός σοι φανῶ  

   Μὴ μύρα, μὴ στεφάνους λιθίναις στήλαισι χαρίζου·
       μηδὲ τὸ πῦρ φλέξῃς ἐς κενὸν ἡ δαπάνη.
   ζῶντί μοι, εἴ τι θέλεις, χάρισαι  τέφρην δὲ μεθύσκων
       πηλὸν ποιήσεις, κοὐχ ὁ θανὼν πίεται.
   τοῦτο ἔσομαι γὰρ ἐγώ, σὺ δὲ τούτοις γῆν ἐπιχώσας
       εἰπέ ὅτ<ι> οὐκ <ὢν> ἦν τοῦτο πάλιν γέγονα



Horace: Ode 3.30 (From Latin)

Ode 3.30: My Monument
By Horace
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Latin in a reconstruction of educated Roman speech during the late republic and early empire

I've raised a monument to outlast bronze,
Whose heights no dynast's pyramid can exceed,
Which neither North Wind's bluster nor the gnaw
Of rain, nor countless years in slow stampede,
Nor flight of eras can level to the ground.
I'll not all die. Much of me will thrive long

Past Queen Funeria's reach. I in renown 
Of latter days shall grow ever fresh and young.
While yet the pontiff with the quiet virgin
Ascends to the Temple of Jove on that great hill,
I, born where the Aufidus river in violence surges
And droughted Daunus ruled a wild people, will 
Be named: the mighty leader from low birth
Who first led Greek song to Italic measure.
Now, Muse, take on the pridefulness I've earned,
And lay the laureate's wreathe on me with pleasure.

The Original:

Carmen XXX, Liber III
Quintus Horatius Flaccus

Exēgī monumentum aere perennius,
rēgālīque sitū pȳramidum altius,
quod nōn imber edāx nōn Aquilō impotēns
possit dīruere aut innumerābilis
annōrum seriēs et fuga temporum.
Nōn omnis moriar. Multaque pars meī
vītābit Libitīnam, usque ego posterā
crēscam laude recēns, dum Capitōlium
scandet cum tacitā virgine pontifex
dīcar, quā violēns obstrepit Aufidus
et quā pauper aquae Daunus agrestium
rēgnāvit populōrum, ex humilī potēns
prīnceps Aeolium carmen ad Ītalōs
dēdūxisse modōs. Sūme superbiam
quaesītam meritīs et mihi Delphicā
laurō cinge volēns, Melpomenē, comam.

Semonides of Amorgos: On Fate and Fatality (From Greek)

On Fate and Fatality (Fr. 1)
By Semonides of Amorgos
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Look, lad. Deep-thundering Zeus controls the end 
Of everything, and works it as he will. 
Men have no cognizance, but live as pastured
Cattle beholden to the flight of days,
Not knowing to what end the god will bring
All things, and all of us. Yet we all live
On nourishment of hope and confidence,
Reaching for what is out of reach. Some wait for
The next day, some the turning of next season;
No mortal thinks he will not reach next year
As Lord Wealth's protegé and healthy friend.
But old age comes upon a man before
He makes his goal, while some grotesque disease
Devours another. Others slay each other 
On Ares' bleeding fields and are taken down
By Hades underneath the dark of earth,
And some die out at sea blasted by storm
And the endless harrowing salt waves of the deep,
When they can't make a living on dry land,
And there are those who fasten their own grim noose
And leave the light of day and life by choice.
So everything has its own special harm.
Countless Daemons of doom, disasters and dangers
We can't foresee exist to blindside mortals. 
So here is my advice: don't cling to hope
For good that brings but grief, nor torture yourself
By dwelling on heart-battering regret. 

The Original:

ὦ παῖ, τέλος μὲν Ζεὺς ἔχει βαρύκτυπος
πάντων ὅσ᾿ ἐστὶ καὶ τίθησ᾿ ὅκῃ θέλει,
νοῦς δ᾿ οὐκ ἐπ᾿ ἀνθρώποισιν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπήμεροι
ἃ δὴ βοτὰ ζώομεν, οὐδὲν εἰδότες
ὅκως ἕκαστον ἐκτελευτήσει θεός.
ἐλπὶς δὲ πάντας κἀπιπειθείη τρέφει
ἄπρηκτον ὁρμαίνοντας· οἱ μὲν ἡμέρην
μένουσιν ἐλθεῖν, οἱ δ᾿ ἐτέων περιτροπάς·
νέωτα δ᾿ οὐδεὶς ὅστις οὐ δοκεῖ βροτῶν
πλούτῳ τε κἀγαθοῖσιν ἵξεσθαι φίλος.
φθάνει δὲ τὸν μὲν γῆρας ἄζηλον λαβὸν
πρὶν τέρμ᾿ ἵκηται, τοὺς δὲ δύστηνοι βροτῶν
φθείρουσι νοῦσοι, τοὺς δ᾿ Ἄρει δεδμημένους
πέμπει μελαίνης Ἀΐδης ὑπὸ χθονός·
οἱ δ᾿ ἐν θαλάσσῃ λαίλαπι κλονεόμενοι
καὶ κύμασιν πολλοῖσι πορφυρῆς ἁλὸς
θνήσκουσιν, εὖτ᾿ ἂν μὴ δυνήσωνται ζόειν·
οἱ δ᾿ ἀγχόνην ἅψαντο δυστήνῳ μόρῳ
καὐτάγρετοι λείπουσιν ἡλίου φάος.
οὕτω κακῶν ἄπ᾿ οὐδέν, ἀλλὰ μυρίαι
βροτοῖσι κῆρες κἀνεπίφραστοι δύαι
καὶ πήματ᾿ ἐστίν. εἰ δ᾿ ἐμοὶ πιθοίατο,
οὐκ ἂν κακῶν ἐρῷμεν, οὐδ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἄλγεσιν
κακοῖς ἔχοντες θυμὸν αἰκιζοίμεθα.

Forugh Farrokhzad: Captive (From Persian)

Owing to idiosyncrasies of temperament and biography, I don't engage with modern Persian poetry a great deal. I also very rarely translate it, in part because I feel I know too little of modern Iranian cultural, literary and linguistic phenomena to do it as sensibly as I'd like, compared to the classical tradition for which books are a reasonable access point, and the medieval world which nobody can study except from a distance of centuries.
But Forugh Farrokhzad, to use a phrase she might have approved of in this context, is very hard to resist.  This is the third poem of hers that I have translated, mainly due to the depth of my dismay at how badly most of her translators have botched the job (especially with her metered and rhymed works) leaving the English reader with something almost as unreadable as it is unconscionable in its traducement of Forugh.
If there is one thing to be said about Forugh, it is that she had an irrepressible genius for being herself, which isn't as tautological as it might sound. She was true to herself in spite of all attempts by the society around her and by many of the individuals she knew, to make her into something else, more ladylike, less flamboyant, less overtly sexual, and probably a good deal less interesting.  She has been rightly noted as a woman who almost singlehandedly made it possible for a poet to speak as a woman in Persian. While far from being the first woman to write poetry in Persian, she was notable for not being afraid to write poetry as an Iranian woman. Women's experience had almost no precedent in Persian poetry. Those few women of the medieval tradition (such as Mahasti and Jahan Khatun) who did write poetry and did attempt to incorporate women's experience into their work, always seem to be at great pains to remain ladylike and proper while doing so. When Jahan Khatun wishes to express sexual desire, for example, she is forced to speak as a man (to the point of comparing herself to legendary male lovers, and even talking about her beard.) Even Forugh's female contemporaries (to my ear) evince this kind of timidness. Forugh the Modernist, however, comes to express over the course of her five volumes a full range of experience as a woman, including that not only of being desired but of actively desiring. And desire she did. A lot. From the publication of her first book Asīr 'Captive' which takes its title from the poem translated here, Forugh's poetry startled, shocked, scandalized and fascinated her readers.
And Forugh writes as herself. We can almost always be certain that the poetic "I" of her poems is referring to her, or at least some stylized version of her. The poem translated here, for example, was written during an unhappy marriage which she later left (and her husband, as was the norm back there and back then, got sole custody of the child in the divorce.) This autobiographical voice, coupled with her penchant for expressing and treating taboo topics (and not being shy about having a sex life that was not limited to writing) seems to have made her an attractive subject for biographical speculation, condemnation, and outright fantasizing by male readers of her work, much as was the case for Louise Labé in Renaissance France, and Edna St. Vincent Millay in 20th century America.
Forugh would eventually come to abandon the tropes, meters and rhymes of the classical tradition (though the shadow of Persian meter always hovers behind even her freest compositions.) Yet here in a poem from her first book, she exploits them to interesting effect. Though in all but one poem ever published she has forsaken monorhyme, preferring like other early Persian modernists to adopt stanzaic rhymes reminiscent of western verse, her diction, meter and habits of phrase would have more in common with the poetry of centuries past than with the free and colloquially tinged verse she would later prefer. The imagery, too, is not entirely new. The trope of a bird trapped in a cage yearning for the loved one above is a well-worn (perhaps even worn down) classical motif. In the classical tradition, however, this is almost always used as a Sufi metaphor to refer to the soul trapped in this world, yearning for the absent Beloved Almighty. (The opening verse of this poem by Hafiz is a brief typical example.)
Forugh maintains the theme of the absent beloved, so central to Persian lyricism, and recycles much of the caged bird motif in the poem's first half or so, but there is a new tone of despair overlaying it. Moreover, whereas God and Beloved tended to merge in classical poetry (and especially when caged birds are involved,) the absent beloved is here very corporeal. And (gasp!) it's a woman desiring him. Indeed, throughout Forugh's work, alongside a near-total absence of anything recognizably "Islamic," one finds a great many such profanations, when not outright sexualizations, of the sacred, appropriating the imagery (or even meters, such as that of Rumi's Masnawī) traditionally associated with divine union or Sufi yearning. In the most inspired cases, such as her 'āšiqāna "Love Song" this has the effect of elevating the joy of carnal sexual union to the highest level of glory and wonder. But I'm getting ahead of myself, and this introductory note has now gotten far longer than I meant for it to get.
In any case, the poem here translated is a relatively sedate one, all things considered, a timid first peep that would eventually swell to full-throated song. But the signs are unmistakable. Turā mēxwāham "I want you" says she with scant decorum.

Captive
Forugh Farrokhzad
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I want you and I know I'll never hold you
To satisfy my heart in an embrace.
You are the clear bright heavens, I a captive
Bird in a cage that keeps me in my place.

My face behind these cold dark bars looks out
At yours, eyes full of wonderment and rue.
I think about a hand outstretched toward me,
That I might rise on instant wings toward you.

I think about one moment of neglect
When from this stifling sullen jail I'd glide,
Laugh in the face of him who jailed me, leaving
This life to seek a new one at your side.

I think such thoughts, but know I'll never be
Able to flee this cage before I die.
For even if my keeper wished me gone,
I've not enough strength left in me to fly.

Across the bars I see each sunlit morning
My child's eyes smile at mine in gentle glee,
And when I lift my voice in joyous song
His lips come offering up a kiss to me.

Sweet heavens, even if one day I rose
And from this smothering prison cell struck free,
What would I say to my boy's tearsoaked eyes?
"I was a bird held captive. Let me be."

I am a candle that illuminates
Cold ruins with the burning in my breast.
If I should choose to go for dark and silence
It would be desolation for my nest.


The Original:

اسير
فروغ فرخزاد 

ترا می خواهم و دانم که هرگز
به کام دل در آغوشت نگیرم
توئی آن آسمان صاف و روشن
من این کنج قفس، مرغی اسیرم

ز پشت میله های سرد و تیره
نگاه حسرتم حیران برویت
در این فکرم که دستی پیش آید
و من ناگه گشایم پر بسویت

در این فکرم که در یک لحظه غفلت
از این زندان خامش پر بگیرم
به چشم مرد زندانبان بخندم
کنارت زندگی از سر بگیرم

در این فکرم من و دانم که هرگز
مرا یارای رفتن زین قفس نیست
اگر هم مرد زندانبان بخواهد
دگر از بهر پروازم نفس نیست

ز پشت میله ها، هر صبح روشن
نگاه کودکی خندد برویم
چو من سر می کنم آواز شادی
لبش با بوسه می آید بسویم

اگر ای آسمان خواهم که یکروز
از این زندان خامش پر بگیرم
به چشم کودک گریان چه گویم
ز من بگذر، که من مرغی اسیرم

من آن شمعم که با سوز دل خویش
فروزان می کنم ویرانه ای را
اگر خواهم که خاموشی گزینم
پریشان می کنم کاشانه ای را

Romanization:

Asīr
Furōɣ Farruxzād

Turā mēxwāham o dānam ki hargiz
Ba kām-i dil dar āɣōšat nagīram
Toī ān āsmān-i sāf o rawšan
Man īn kunj-i qafas, murɣē asīram

Zi pušt-i mīlahā-i sard o tīra
Nigāh-i hasratam hayrān barōyat
Dar īn fikram ki dastē pēš āyad
Ba man nāgah gušāyam par basōyat

Dar īn fikram ki dar yak lahza ɣaflat
Az īn zindān-i xāmuš par bigīram.
Ba čašm-i mard-i zindānbān bixandam.
Kanārat zindagī az sar bigīram

Dar īn fikram man o dānam, ki hargiz
Marā yārā-i raftan zīn qafas nēst.
Agar ham mard-i zindānbān bixwāhad
Digar az bahr-i parwāzam nafas nēst

Zi pušt-i mīlahā har subh-i rawšan
Nigāh-i kōdakē xandad barōyam
Ču man sar mēkunam āwāz-i šādī
Labaš bā bōsa mēāyad basōyam

Agar, ay āsmān, xwāham ki yak rōz
Az īn zindān-i xāmuš par bigīram.
Ba čašm-i kōdak-i giryān či gōyam
Zi man bigzar, ki man murɣē asīram.

Man ān šam'am ki bā sōz-i dil-i xwēš
Furōzān mēkunam wērānaērā
Agar xwāham ki xāmōšī guzīnam
Parēšān mēkunam kāšānaērā

Hafiz: Ghazal 40 "Thanks be to God..." (From Persian)

Ghazal 40: "Thanks be to God..." 
By Hafiz
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Thanks be to God that at long last the wine-shop's door
    Is open, since it's what I'm longing, headed for.
The jars are clamoring, bubbling with intoxication.
    The wine they hold is real and not a metaphor.1
It brings me drunkenness and pride and dissipation
    I bring my helplessness, and desperate need for more.
A secret I've not told to others, nor will tell,
    I'll tell my Friend. With him a secret is secure.
It's no short story. It describes each twist and turn
    In my beloved's hair. For lovers have much lore.
Majnún's heart fell for Layla's curls,2 as King Mahmoud's
    Face fell at slave Ayáz's feet forevermore.3
I, like a hawk, have sealed my eyes to all this world,
    To catch sight of your face, the beauty I adore.
Whoever wanders in the Ka'ba of your street,
    Your eyebrow is the Qibla he must pray before. 
        Friends who would know why humbled Hafiz' heart is burning,
        Ask candles why they melt about a burning core.

Footnotes:

1 - As Wheeler Thackston writes in A Millennium of Classical Persian Poetry:
One of the major difficulties Persian poetry poses to the novice reader lies in the pervasion of poetry by mysticism. Fairly early in the game the mystics found that they could "express the ineffable" in poetry much better than in prose. Usurping the whole of the poetic vocabulary that had been built up by that time, they imbued every word with mystical signification. What had begun as liquid wine with alcoholic content became the "wine of union with the godhead" on which the mystic is "eternally drunk." Beautiful young cupbearers with whom one might like to dally became shāhids, "bearers of witness" to the dazzling beauty of that-which-truly-exists. After the mystics had wrought their influence on the tradition, every word of the poetic vocabulary had acquired such "clouds" of associated meaning from lyricism and mysticism that the two strains merged into one. Of course some poets wrote poetry that is overtly and unmistakably mystical and "Sufi." It is much more difficult to identify poetry that is not mystical. It is useless to ask, for instance, whether Hāfiz's poetry is "Sufi poetry" or not. The fact is that in the fourteenth century it was impossible to write a ghazal that did not reverberate with mystical overtones forced on it by the poetic vocabulary itself.
It is for this reason that Hafiz might feel he had reason to go so far as to explicitly state that the wine here is not a metaphor. He short-circuits the mystical tradition by acknowledging, and negating it.
It is not easy to pinpoint what, exactly, distinguishes Hafiz from his contemporaries and predecessors. My sense is that Hafiz, somewhat like Pushkin, inherited a tradition that happened to accord with his own temperament and needs, as well as his time and place, so perfectly that all of that tradition's conventions came more naturally to him than to his predecessors, and he was thus able to breathe great freshness and scope into a storehouse of ideas that were in and of themselves neither new nor unique to him. Heterodoxy is praised and vaunted in the ghazal, but Hafiz was heterodox. Likewise wine is praised as a matter of tradition, but Hafiz really did love wine that much. And so forth. Then again, given that there isn't much about Hafiz' life that we can know other than what clues in his own poems tell us, I may be open to the charge of circular reasoning there.
On this point, there are two things worth mentioning here with regard to the poem at hand. First, Hafiz likes wine. Though the theme of wine-drinking, real or metaphorical, was not new to Persian poetry, no poet before Hafiz had made wine (both real and not) and the bacchanalian scene such an integral, constant and almost obsessive part of his verse. Second: Hafiz likes sticking it to The Man when he can get away with it. His poetry is full of verses and even whole poems which blast or mock the religious establishment, which he seems to have viewed as laden with hypocrisy. While antinomianism and anti-clericalism likewise had long been part of the ghazal tradition (and indeed can be shown to have Sufi origins), it is generally agreed that in no other medieval Persian poet of his time or earlier do we find so much verse devoted to unmasking pietism, poking fun at the hypocrisy of religious authorities, and scandalizing orthodox sensibilities by praising what is normally disreputable, and casting aspersions on what is normally revered. Lines that flaunt their deviance or impiety, or indulge in wanton profanation of the sacred in Hafiz' work seem less the usual dutiful and fashionable flirtations with heterodoxy of other poets, and more chosen for their shock-value. Demystifying a normally mystically-tinted beverage would also seem to be quite in keeping with this aspect of Hafiz' temperament.

- Majnūn and Laylā: famous fictional lovers in Islamicate cultures often mentioned as a paradigm of love (rather as Romeo and Juliet are in English-speaking ones.) Majnūn fell in love with Layla when the two were young, and asked to marry her. Majnūn however, was so obsessed with Layla, so ardently in love with her and so ceaseless in professing that love, that Layla's father believed him to be mentally unbalanced and so refused to allow it, choosing another to marry her instead. On hearing that Layla had been married to another and was traveling with him, Majnun left his tribe and started wandering aimlessly in the wilderness in search of her, never to return to his tribe. She took ill and eventually died of longing for him. His dead body was eventually found at the grave where she had been buried.

-Mahmūd and Ayāz: another amorous pair, the most celebrated gay couple in all of medieval Persia. Mahmud of Ghazna (971-1030) was a Ghaznavid king who fell passionately in love with his slave Ayāz, though he also had a wife, Jahān Kawsarī, by whom he had two heirs. So great was Mahmūd's love for the handsome slave that he made him general of the royal army, and eventually installed him as the first Muslim governor of Lahore, which Mahmud had recently conquered. According to an anecdote famous at the time (though which likely hasn't a whit of historical truth to it) King Mahmūd once asked Ayāz "do you know of any king greater or mightier than I?" Ayāz responded "Yes, I am a king greater than you." Mahmūd demanded proof for such an outrageous claim. Ayāz replied thus: "though you are a king, you are a slave to your heart, and I, though a slave, am king of that heart."
Both couples were the inspiration for many poems and songs, and both are commonly referenced in Persian poetry. Yet Laylā and Majnūn are a fictional heterosexual Arab couple who fell in love as children, whose love remained unconsummated, and who never loved anyone except one another.
Mahmūd and Ayāz are a historical homosexual Turkic couple who fell in love in adulthood, whose love was consummated, and whose relationship was not exclusive. Furthermore, the story of Laylā and Majnūn is one which focuses on Majnūn,  the pursuer, as the ideal, or at least paradigmatic, lover. The story of Mahmūd and Ayāz, on the other hand, focuses, as do most literary allusions to the couple, on Ayāz, the pursued, conceived as the ideal beloved. In mentioning these two contrasting couples in parallel fashion, Hafiz is delineating the great range of possible forms love may take, and the possible points of view from which one can conceive and experience it.



The Original:

المنة لله که در میکده باز است   
زان رو که مرا بر در او روی نیاز است
خم‌ها همه در جوش و خروشند ز مستی   
وان می که در آن جاست حقیقت نه مجاز است
از وی همه مستی و غرور است و تکبر   
وز ما همه بیچارگی و عجز و نیاز است
رازی که بر غیر نگفتیم و نگوییم  
 با دوست بگوییم که او محرم راز است
شرح شکن زلف خم اندر خم جانان   
کوته نتوان کرد که این قصه دراز است
بار دل مجنون و خم طرۀ لیلی   
رخسارۀ محمود و کف پای ایاز است
بردوخته‌ام دیده چو باز از همه عالم   
تا دیده من بر رخ زیبای تو باز است
در کعبۀ کوی تو هر آن کس که بیاید   
از قبلۀ ابروی تو در عین نماز است
ای مجلسیان سوز دل حافظ مسکین   
از شمع بپرسید که در سوز و گداز است



Tajik Cyrillic: 

Алминнату лиллаҳ, ки дари майкада боз аст, 
3-он рӯ, ки маро бар дари ӯ рӯи ниёз аст. 
Хумҳо ҳама дар ҷӯшу хурӯшанд зи мастӣ 
В-он май, ки дар он ҷост, ҳақиқат, на маҷоз аст. 
Аз вай ҳама мастиву ғурур асту такаббур 
В-аз мо ҳама бечорагиву аҷзу ниёз аст. 
Розе, ки бари ғайр нагуфтему нагӯем, 
Бо дӯст бигӯем, ки ӯ маҳрами роз аст. 
Шарҳи шикани зулфи хам андар хами ҷонон 
Кӯтаҳ натавон кард, ки ин қисса дароз аст. 
Бори дили Маҷнуну хами турраи Лайлӣ, 
Рухсораи Маҳмуду кафи пои Аёз аст. 
Бардӯхтаам дида, чу боз, аз ҳама олам, 
То дидаи ман бар рухи зебои ту боз аст. 
Дар Каъбаи кӯи ту ҳар он кас, ки биёяд, 
Аз Қиблаи абрӯи ту дар айни намоз аст. 
Эй маҷлисиён, сӯзи дили Ҳофизи мискин 
Аз шамъ бипурсед, ки дар сӯзу гудоз аст.

Romanization:

Alminnatu lillah ki dar-i maykada bāzast,
Zān rō, ki marā bar dar-i ō rōy-i niyāzast.
Xumhā hama dar jōš o xurōšand zi mastī
Wān may, ki dar ānjāst, haqīqat, na majāzast.
Az way hama mastī o ɣurūrast o takabbur
Waz mā hama bēčāragī o 'ajz o niyāzast.
Rāzē ki bar-i ɣayr naguftēm o nagōyēm,
Bā dōst bigōyēm, ki ō mahram-i rāzast.
Šarh-i šikan-i zulf-i xam andar xam-i jānān
Kōtah natawān kard, ki īn qissa darāzast.
Bār-i dil-i Majnūn o xam-i turra-i Laylī
Ruxsāra-i Mahmūd o kaf-i pāy-i Ayāzast.
Bardōxta am dīda, ču bāz, az hama 'ālam,
Tā dīda-i man bar rux-i zēbā-i to bāzast.
Dar Ka'ba-i kūy-i to har ān kas ki biyāyad
Az qibla-i abrū-i to dar 'ayn-i namāzast
Ay majlisiyān, sōz-i dil-i Hāfiz-i miskīn
Az šam' bipursēd, ki dar sōz o gudāzast. 

Goethe: Unbounded (From German)

This poem was originally titled "Hafiz" and is a tribute to the Persian poet whom Goethe, during his oriental phase, loved dearly. Such things are not fashionable to say nowadays, but Goethe actually shows a greater understanding of the character of classical Persian lyric poetry than many western scholars who actually knew Persian. Though perhaps it is simply that Goethe's understanding and appreciation of Hafiz' in all his bacchanalian mysticism and mystical bacchanalianism, is so very like my own. He seems to have perceived in Hafiz many of the same qualities that I do, qualities which so many far more learned in Persian than I have often been deaf to. Goethe even includes a poem in the Divan about the shallowness of those who think it profound to call Hafiz a Sufi Mystic.
In 1813, Goethe had begun to read Hafiz in a recently published German translation by Austrian diplomat and Orientalist Joseph Von Hammer, and felt inspired to imitate him. When he met the beautiful and talented Marianne von Willemer in Wiesenbaden, the two fell in love and found a powerful connection in their shared admiration for Hafiz. In the passionate correspondence that developed between them, Marianne and Goethe would send each other coded messages via numerical reference to Hafiz' lyrics. A great many poems drawing on "the East" for inspiration were born of their fruitful, albeit ephemeral, affair. The end result was Goethe's West-Östlicher Divan "West-Eastern Divan", from which the poem translated here is taken.
The Divan is essentially an imagined and imaginative dialogue between the German poet of Weimar and the Persian poet of Shiraz, a salute to an artist who greatly appealed to Goethe (rather correctly) as an enemy of dogmatism and lover of life's pleasures who prized spiritual experience and disdained religious institution, and in whom he perceived (rather mistakenly) a kind of Persian analogue to Voltaire. 

Unbounded
J.W. Goethe
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

You cannot end, and that's what makes you great.
You've no beginning, and that is your fate. 
So like the vault of stars, your circling song:
The end is the beginning all along,
And what the middle holds for all to see
Preceded all, and after all shall be.

True fount of poets' joy forever new,
Numberless waves on waves flow forth from you!
Lips ever ready for a kiss,
Song of the breast that sweetly wells,
Throat ever parched for drink and bliss,
Good heart that freely pours and tells.

Let this world perish, so I know
I vie with you and only you,
Hafiz! Lets share all joy and woe
As true twin brothers, one from two.
To love and drink as you would do
Shall be my pride and my life too.

Now song with your own fire, ring truer!
For you are older. You are newer.

The Original:

Unbegrenzt
J.W. Goethe

Daß du nicht enden kannst, das macht dich groß,
Und daß du nie beginnst, das ist dein Los.
Dein Lied ist drehend wie das Sterngewölbe,
Anfang und Ende immerfort dasselbe,
Und was die Mitte bringt ist offenbar
Das was zu Ende bleibt und anfangs war.

Du bist der Freuden echte Dichterquelle,
Und ungezählt entfließt dir Well auf Welle.
Zum Küssen stets bereiter Mund,
Ein Brustgesang der lieblich fließet,
Zum Trinken stets gereizter Schlund,
Ein gutes Herz das sich ergießet.

Und mag die ganze Welt versinken!
Hāfis, mit dir, mit dir allein
Will ich wetteifern! Lust und Pein
Sei uns den Zwillingen gemein!
Wie du zu lieben und zu trinken,
Das soll mein Stolz, mein Leben sein.

Nun töne Lied mit eignem Feuer!
Denn du bist älter, du bist neuer.

Sharafaddin Khorāsāni: Death (From Persian)

Death
By Sharafaddin Khorasani
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

This sleep forever drained of consciousness,
this consciousness eternally asleep,
this pit of bones and boulders keeps a silence
even the moons abodes could never keep.

It is a snowfall settled on a roof
covering an abandoned cabin's floor.
The cage there has released an air-bound message
whose ravened beak now pecks against the door.

Through radiance of the noonday's candlelight
sleep, ponderous as a boulder, holds it pent
though you could swear you heard eternity
playing the silence like an instrument.

In the hushed wastes of sand and salt out there
the lightning comes with a mirage's sign.
Is it the mere light of the moon and sea
or slumber's Houris, bright with the divine?

Our house's musk-sweet, wine-bright torch is out,
leaving mere smoke on walls it once possessed;
The sleek and gorgeous leopard is away,
leaving a lost sigh in the forest's breast.

Sprouts sow themselves and germinate in thirst
beneath the parched crust of this brackish ground;
The bosom of this slumberous sphere now lies
around the spent ash of a world of sound.

Arise! For now these regions of the dark
lie in the gyre of the morning breeze.
The reckless ship is scuttled in the narrows,
tired and retired now from the stir of seas.



The Original:


مرگ
شرف الدين خراسانى

خوابيست كه مانده خالى از هوش
هوشيست كه رفته جاودان خواب
چاهيست پر استخوان و پر سنگ
خاموشتر از ديار مهتاب

برفيست فرونشسته بر بام
وان بام ز كلبه ايست متروك
آنجا ز قفس پريده پيغام
مرغيست كه ميزند بر ان نوك

در پرتو شمع نيمروزى
خوابيش گران گرفته چون سنگ
از كاسۀ ان سكوت جاويد
گوئى شنوى هنوز اهنگ

ان سوى در اين كوير خاموش
برقى و نشانى از سرابست
يا پرتو ماهتاب و درياست
يا جلوۀ حوريان خوابست

زان مشعل مشكبوى ميفام
در خانۀ ما نمانده جز دود
زان ماده پلنگ خوش خط و خال
اهيست درون بيشه مفقود

هر گوشه از اين كوير بى اب
بس ريشۀ تشنه خيز و خودروست
در سينۀ اين سپهر پرخواب
خاكستر يك جهان هياهوست

برخيز! كه باد بامدادى
پيچيده در اين فضاى تاريك
وان زورق خستۀ بى ارام
افتاده در اين خليج باريك

A. N. Onymous: Humpty Dumpty (From Modern to Old English)

As a break from all the lyricism I've been working on of late, because literary translators don't always have to take themselves entirely seriously, and because it's been a while since I paid a visit to the lovely English tongue of auld lang syne, here's my translation of a widely known English nursery rhyme into a version of English somewhat less widely known than that of the original.

Hēafdol Dēafdol
By A. N. Onymous
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Hēafdol dēafdol sæt on wāge
Hēafdol dēafdol fēol swā trāge
Ealle cyninges dryhte and wihte
Nā mihton Hēafdol gelīman on rihte.

The Original:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again

Jahan Khatun: Woman Aging (From Persian)

The poem here translated is by a Persian princess who lived in the same time and place as Hafiz. It is of particular interest in its expression of gender. Two of the images, that of the curling locks of the beloved snatching the heart or attention of the lover in verse 3, and the beloved having the gracile sexiness of a cypress tree in verse 4, are typically used to refer to the poet's addressee (who is by convention the beloved) in medieval Persian lyric verse. Here, however, one finds the speaker describing themself in these terms, which has a mildly disorienting effect, inverting the typical point of view, switching the voice to that of the pursued rather than the pursuer. The speaker is not passive, however, as other verses of the poem indicate. But the overall experience conveyed is that of being the object of attention, rather than its agent. The significance of this should be obvious, given that medieval Persian lyric poetry is a male-dominated tradition in which Princess Jahan is a happy anomaly.  
Anyway, some of the artistic liberties I've taken in my English rendering reflect this gendered reading of the poem, and indeed amplify it somewhat, partly compensate for the fact that the atypical image use is not as jarring in English as it seems to be in Persian. (For example, and in the interest of full disclosure, the words "the game was never fair" are my addition and do not correspond to anything in the Persian.)

"Woman Aging"
By Jahan Khatun
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I had no sense of my own worth
When I was young and fair.
     Now that my years have run their course, 
     I know. What point is there? 
I know the good and bad of life,
Now that they've passed me by,
     Sped in my prime swift as a breeze
     In bright brief morning’s air.
There were so many nightingales
Of passion that I lured
     And captured in the curling locks
     That were my beauty’s snare.
Then in the orchard I could raise 
My face as gracefully
     As any thin young cypress tree
     Over the greensward there.
What handsome challengers I played
Against in lovers’ chess,
     And lost so many of love’s pieces.
     The game was never fair.
How often in the world’s arena
Of beauty I would spur
     The racing steed of my heart's hopes
     Through every bleak affair.
Now there is not one leaf or shoot
Left of my sweet green youth.
     Cold with old age I turn to face
     A dark night of white hair.

The Original:

در جوانى قدر خود نشناختيم
اين زمان حاصل چه چون درباختيم
چون گذشت از ما چو باد صبحدم
نيك و بد را اين زمان بشناختيم
اي بسا مرغ هوس را كز هوا
در سر دام دو زلف انداختيم
سر برعنائي ميان بوستان
بر سهى سرو چمن افراختيم
با بتان در عرصۀ شطرنج عشق
اى بسا نرد هوس كان باختيم
بس بميدان ملاحت در چهان
بارۀ اميد دلرا تاختيم
از جوانى شاخ و برگى چون نماند
با شب ديجور پيرى ساختيم


Romanization:

Dar jawānī qadr-i xwad našnāxtēm
Īn zamān hāsil či čūn dar bāxtēm
Čūn guzašt az mā ču bād-i subhdam
Nēk o badrā īn zamān bišnāxtēm
Ay basā murɣ-i hawasrā kaz hawā
Dar sar-i dām-i do zulf andāxtēm
Sar bara'nāī miyān-i bōstān
Bar sahy-i sarw-i čaman afrāxtēm
Bā butān dar 'arsa-i šatranj-i 'išq
Ay basā nard-i hawas kān bāxtēm
Bas bamaydān-i malāhat dar jahān
Bāra-i ummēd-i dilrā tāxtēm
Az jawānī šāx o bargē čūn namānd
Bā šab-i dayjūr-i pīrī sāxtēm

Share it