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Unread 07-16-2010, 04:28 PM
Geoff Brock's Avatar
Geoff Brock Geoff Brock is offline
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Default #2--Horace, Ode 1.31

Horace, Ode 1.31

What does the poet pray new-enshrined Apollo?
Just what might he wish for,......letting new wine
spill from the saucer?......Not rich Sardinia's
fruit-bearing fields,......not feverish Calabria's
eye-pleasing plow-cattle,......not a whole pile
of goods from the Ganges......of ivory and gold,
not lands slowly the silent Liris
with its stream of soft-flowing,......nearly still waters.
Let them who good fortune......grants use of the grapevine
keep it well-clipped......with the Calenian sickle.
Let the rich merchant guzzle......from golden goblets
the wines that he won......with his Syrian wares.
The gods love that man:......they must, since he manages
to look on the leagues......of the distant Atlantic
and comes back to tell the tale......three times a year.
But as for myself,......if I have mild mallows,
small olives and succory,......that's plenty for supper.
Just keep me healthy, ......happy with what I have,
and, Latona's son, head remain level.
And don't let my something disgraceful,
nor let those last years lack......the sound of the lyre.


Quid dedicatum poscit Apollinem
vates? quid orat de patera novum
fundens liquorem? non opimae
Sardiniae segetes feracis,

non aestuosae grata Calabriae
armenta, non aurum aut ebur Indicum,
non rura, quae Liris quieta
mordet aqua taciturnus amnis.

premant Calenam falce quibus dedit
fortuna vitem, dives ut aureis
mercator exsiccet culillis
vina Syra reparata merce,

dis carus ipsis, quippe ter et quater
anno revisens aequor Atlanticum
inpune. me pascunt olivae,
me cichorea levesque malvae.

frui paratis et valido mihi,
Latoe, dones et precor integra
cum mente nec turpem senectam
degere nec cithara carentem.


What will the poet ask of enshrined Apollo? What does he pray for, pouring out fresh liquid from the libation-bowl? Not for rich fields in fertile Sardinia, not for pleasing herds from hot Calabria, not for Indian gold or ivory, not for lands that the silent river Liris is biting away with its calm waters. Let those to whom fortune has given the vine prune it with a Calenian scythe, let the rich merchant drain the Syrian wines he traded his goods for from gold cups; he is the beloved gods themselves, of course, as three or four times a year he revisits the Atlantic sea without punishment. But olives give me my food, as do chicory and light mallows. Let me enjoy what I have and grant me, Latous, strength and an undiminished mind. I beg that I not pass my old age in an unsightly way, or without the lyre.
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Unread 07-16-2010, 04:32 PM
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Geoff Brock Geoff Brock is offline
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What an inspired formal choice: to render Horace’s Alcaic stanzas into English accentual-alliterative verse! The translator’s decision to employ an ancient meter that lies at the root of our poetic tradition recalls Horace’s own decision to adapt Alcaeus’s ancient form to his own time and tongue. And the meter here is, for the most part, quite well handled. There are a few spots where the syntax or the form or the sense seems faintly strained, but these are small infelicities in an otherwise charming translation.

In line 1, for example, I trip ever so slightly on the two prepositions that span the caesura; I wish we could cut one (perhaps: “How shall the poet pray || to new-enshrined Apollo?”). In the next line, I wasn’t fond of the “just,” and the value of “letting” was less immediately clear to me than a phrase such as “as he lets the wine” would have been. Also, I didn’t like encountering the word “new” again so soon; it seemed more significant in the first instance. (Quibble, quibble.)

Most of the lines seem about the right length, and there is a nice rhythmic variability to them—the translator is taking good advantage of the possibilities of the form. In a couple of half-lines, however, I simply could not, try as I might, hear only two major arses (that last word looks wrong, doesn’t it?): line 15 (“and comes back to tell the tale”) and the last line (“nor let those last years lack”). Such bumps, of course, are easily smoothed; possible solutions include: “and returns to tell of it” and “nor my last years lack.”

When I came to the “eye-pleasing plow-cattle,” I confess I wondered for a moment whether Horace’s “herds” would likely have been something else—sheep, say, or goats. But I decided to assume that “plow-cattle” was historically plausible, simply because it’s so ear-pleasing. I’m less pleased by “small” as a modifier for “olives”—it seems odd that the speaker would bother to specify the size of the olives (unless he needed another S word). Perhaps something like this: “olives and succory, || the simplest of suppers.” And I’m displeased by “level” in the antepenultimate line; not being level-headed is one thing, senile dementia is quite another, and I’m not sure the line, as it stands, adequately conveys what’s at stake here: the fear of losing one’s “mente” to old age.

Finally, there are a few instances (“Sardinia’s,” “grants,” “Calenian,” “myself,” etc.) in which the translator seems to be counting as an alliteration a consonant that does not begin an arsis. Most of these don’t trouble me, as I find the consonants in question audible enough, and as every poet has the right to decide how strictly to observe these traditions, which were not after all written in stone. But the word “disgraceful” (stressed of course on the second syllable) in the next-to-last line was an instance where I found myself wanting the consonant to coincide with the arsis, as in the word “dismal” or “dignity.”

On the whole, though, I think the fact that I was moved to fiddle and quibble so much is a sign of how engaging I felt this translation was.
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Unread 07-16-2010, 06:32 PM
Peter Coghill Peter Coghill is offline
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Wow this is really good.

It is unusual, for me at least, to think of such a quietly toned poem being in alliterative form, being associated for me with blood, battles and bone snapping. As such I quite like that some of the arsis (really? I never knew the word) should be on unstressed syllables. In particular the disgraceful one. I find it softens what could otherwise be an over intrusive form.

On the other hand I would also change line one.
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Unread 07-16-2010, 08:05 PM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is online now
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I like small olives, they really are much more modest than the larger ones. Plus the menu, though enjambed, holds together so musically...

mild mallows, small olives and succory

Wonderful, that.

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Unread 07-16-2010, 08:37 PM
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Petra Norr Petra Norr is offline
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I, too, like the "eye-pleasing plow-cattle", and they're right at home in the poem and environment because they'd been around for several thousand years by the time Horace was born.
I enjoy the whole translation. The alliteration doesn't always follow "correct" A-S accentual meter (I think generally there should be more alliteration with the first strong stress of the second hemistich), but what I like about it is that it doesn't fall into anapestic mode throughout, which otherwise seems to happen a lot when trying to write this meter.
I'm not at home with Horace and the classics, but to me the poem seems to suit the meter.
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Unread 07-16-2010, 10:02 PM
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Maryann Corbett Maryann Corbett is offline
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Originally Posted by Peter Coghill View Post
It is unusual, for me at least, to think of such a quietly toned poem being in alliterative form, being associated for me with blood, battles and bone snapping.
I've seen this reaction from other people, and it's really unjustified. There's a great deal of peaceful, charming, and very domestic poetry in Old English--the gnomic poetry, proverbs, and riddles.

I'm very fond of this translation. I remember it from the translation board not so long ago, but fortunately I don't remember whose it is, so I can't accidentally spill any beans. My only quibble is the first line, which seems to set me up to expect three beats per half line, so that I'm slow to catch on that the form is alliterative verse. Even if an additional line were required to get in all the concepts, I'd try to cut that down. But it's only one out of many pleasures. Like Nemo, I think the small olives are a nice touch.
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Unread 07-16-2010, 10:08 PM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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Last edited by Allen Tice; 07-16-2010 at 11:42 PM. Reason: error
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Unread 07-17-2010, 12:05 AM
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Catherine Chandler Catherine Chandler is offline
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Sufferin' succotash!

I'd give this a few extra points for originality in concept, but as a "translation" . . . many of the lines seem overly tortuous, some words used in order to obtain the requisite alliteration (examples: "spill from the saucer","eye-pleasing plow-cattle, not a whole pile" and "look on the leagues"). Though translation necessarily involves some sacrifice -- often for meter's or rhyme's sake -- I'm afraid this one has let the chosen form drive the choice of words. The basic meaning does come through, but at a cost.
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Unread 07-17-2010, 01:29 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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This one really “makes it new,” and it does so cleverly, drawing on the formal reservoir of old English verse. So it makes new in two temporal directions, which is what translation is all about. Wonderfully creative work here.

Succory for “chicory” is a first for me--and chicory is my favorite green! I like “succory” here, since it gives an antique feel (or at least it does for me) without being old-farty.

There are all kinds of pleasing sounds running through this, elegant in a Horatian way, e.g., the vowel play in eye and [/i]plow[/i] and in clipped and sickle.

I admit that I’m not spending any time here looking for accuracy or faithfulness to the original. If I were to do that, and if I found that it veered off in significant ways, I’d just say this is a very successful free version and leave it at that.
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Unread 07-17-2010, 02:37 AM
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Stephen Collington Stephen Collington is offline
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O Blue-Eyed Eye of Sauron! I have to be careful to scroll down before I start reading certain posts here or else I start to get all twitchy, and start muttering about the Precious, and how it's our Birthday, and how WE HATES the BAGGINS! Thirty seconds of it, and I'd be out for good, curled up in a corner sucking my scaly green thumbs.

That said . . . once I have scrolled my way to safety (whew!), what a treat it is to read Geoff's lucid and insightful critiques. He has a sharp eye indeed, and he sees both fine grain and broad stroke with equal clarity--and generosity. Geoff, it's a pleasure to read you here. (And I'll get that ring back to you as soon as I can!)

The translation? It's the sort of thing that's bound to divide people, but for me, the experiment with accentual-alliterative works. If nothing else (though I do think there's more), it's off the beaten path, and that's saying something when it comes to the well-beaten paths of Horace translation. And the form fits the Alcaics rather well, despite the obvious differences. Horace's lyrics are full of unexpected turns and stops, and the short phrasing and frequent pause/override "decisions" forced on the reader by the mid-line caesura makes for a strangely effective analogue of that rocky Horatian style. It works. I like it.

A thought from earlier today: on my first read-through, when I got to the "silent Liris" with its "with its stream of soft-flowing,......nearly still waters," it suddenly struck me that there's a stream flowing right down the middle of the poem, that current of silence making it's meandering way between the half lines. A nice example of formal iconicity. Yes, of course, it shows up in any poem in the metre, and so it can hardly be considered special to the translation here in particular . . . and yet it still seems a nice effect in context.

A little note on a question raised above. One of our higher-order Latin wizards may correct me, but I'm pretty sure that "armenta" must refer to cattle (i.e., cows) here. The word for a herd (flock) of sheep or goats and the like would be "grex," though (confusingly) I think that word may also be used of cows. It's just that "armentum" is specific to draft animals--apparently (according to Lewis and Short) because it's etymologically related to "aro," or "plow" (vb.--compare, "arable," etc.). Anyway, for the record, here's L & S on both: armentum and grex.

Tiny nit: I don't think the hyphen is needed in "well-clipped." The rule is to hyphenate "well" compounds only when used attributively before the noun. (Like I said, tiny.)

Interesting translation, much enjoyed.

Steve C.
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