‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

George Buchanan's ‘Desiderium Lutetiae’ (1567)



In George Buchanan's allegorical idyll ‘Desiderium Lutetiae’ (written 1552, first published as the third of Buchanan's Silvae in 1567), the poet, unhappy in Portugal, addresses his beloved Paris as ‘Amaryllis’, styling her a pastoral maid and himself a lovelorn pastoral swain called Daphnis. It was one of Buchanan's most famous poems (at least, among his secular poems) and Buchanan himself was for centuries Scotland's most famous writer—indeed, arguably he was sixteenth-century Europe's single most celebrated poet, although because he wrote in Latin he's more or less been forgotten now. Still: I needed a sense of this poem for an academic-y thing I was looking into, and couldn't find a translation anywhere (there's this, and this, but in neither case can I lay my hand on a copy of the actual books, and Google Books, as you can see, only gives us snippet views). So I had to gorblimey up a rough English version. Having done so, I thought I might as well blog it. It's a line-by-line translation, more or less. If anyone is reading this post (not likely, I know) and wants to offer corrections on my translation, they would be very gladly received. I shan't be holding my breath, though.

Desiderium Lutetiae
O formosa Amarylli, tuo jam septima bruma
Me procul aspectu, jam septima detinet aestas:
Sed neque septima bruma nivalibus horrida nimbis,
Septima nec rapidis candens fervoribus aestas
Extinxit vigiles nostro sub pectore curas.
Tu mihi mane novo carmen, dum roscida tondet
Arva pecus, medio tu carmen solis in aestu,
Et cum jam longas praeceps nox porrigit umbras:
Nec mihi quae tenebris condit nox omnia vultus
Est potis occultare tuos, te nocte sub atra                 [10]
Alloquor, amplector, falsaque in imagine somni
Gaudia sollicitam palpant evanida mentem.
At cum somnus abit, curis cum luce renatis
Tecta miser fugio, tanquam mihi tecta doloris
Semina subjiciant, et solid moestus in agris
Qua vagus error agit feror, & deserta querelis
Antra meis, silvasque & conscia faxa fatigo.
Sola meos planctus Echo miserata gementi
Adgemit, & quoties suspiria pectore duco,
Hæc quoque vicino toties suspirat ab antro.              [20]
Sæpe super celsæ prærupta cacumina rupis
In mare prospiciens, spumantia cœrula demens
Alloquor, & surdis jacto irrita vota procellis:

O mare! quæque maris vitreas, Nereides, undas
Finditis, in vestros placidæ me admittite portus:
Aut hoc si nimium est, nec naufragus ire recuso,
Dummodo dilectas teneam vel naufragus oras.
O quoties dixi Zephyris properantibus illuc,
Felices pulchram visuri Amaryllida venti,
Sic neque Pyrene duris in cotibus alas                     [30]
Atterat, & vestros non rumpant nubila cursus,
Dicite vesanos Amaryllidi Daphnidos ignes.
O quoties Euro levibus cum raderet alis
AEquora, dicebam, Felix Amaryllide visa,
Dic mihi, Num meminit nostri? num mutua sentit
Vulnera? num veteris vivunt vestigia flammæ?
Ille ferox contra rauco cum murmure stridens
Avolat irato similis, mihi frigore pectus
Congelat, exanimes torpor gravis alligat artus.
Nec me pastorum recreant solamina, nec me            [40]
Fistula, Nympharumque leves per prata choreæ,
Nec quæ capripedes modulantur carmina Panes:
Una meos sic est prædata Amaryllis amores.

Et me tympana docta ciere canora Lycisca,
Et me blanda Melænis amavit, Iberides ambæ,
Ambæ florentes annis, opibusque superbæ:
Et mihi dotales centum cum matribus agnos
Ipsi promisere patres, mihi munera matres
Spondebant clam multa: meum nec munera pectus,
Nec nivei movere suis cum matribus agni,                [50]
Nec quas blanditias teneræ dixere puellæ,
Nec quas delicias teneræ fecere puellæ.
Quantum ver hyemem, vietum puer integer ævi,
Ter viduam thalamis virgo matura parentem,
Quam superat Durium Rhodanus, quam Sequana Mundam,
Lenis Arar Sycorim, Ligeris formosus Iberum,
Francigenas inter Ligeris pulcherrimus amnes:
Tantum omnes vincit Nymphas Amaryllis lberas.
Sæpe suos vultus speculata Melænis in unda,
Composuit, pinxitque oculos, finxitque capillum,        [60]
Et voluit, simul & meruit formosa videri.
Sæpe mihi dixit, Animi male perdite Daphni,
Cur tibi longinquos libet insanire furores?
Et quod ames dare nostra potest tibi terra, racemos
Collige purpureos, & spes ne concipe lentas.
Sæpe choros festos me prætereunte, Lycisca
Cernere dissimulans, vultusque aversa canebat
Hæc, pedibus terram, & manibus cava tympana pulsans;
Et Nemesis gravis ira, atque irritabile numen,
Et Nemesis laesos etiam punitur amores.                      [70]
Vidi ego dum leporem venator captat, echinum
Spernere, post vanos redeuntem deinde labores,
Vespere nec retulisse domum leporem nec echinum.
Vidi ego qui mullum peteret piscator, & arctis
Retibus implicitam tincam sprevisset opimam,
Vespere nec retulisse domum mullum neque tincam.
Vidi ego qui calamos crescentes ordine risit
Pastor arundineos, dum torno rasile buxum
Frustra amat, (interea calamos quos riserat, alter
Pastor habet,) fragiles contentum inflare cicutas.         [80]
Sic solet immodicos Nemesis contundere fastus.

Hæc & plura Melænis, & hæc & plura Lycisca
Cantabant surdas frustra mihi semper ad aures.
Sed canis ante lupas, & taurus diliget ursas,
Et vulpem lepores, & amabit dama leænas,
Quam vel tympana docta ciere canora Lycisca
Mutabit nostros vel blanda Melænis amores,
Et prius æquoribus pisces, & montibus umbræ,
Et volucres deerunt silvis, & murmura ventis,
Quam mihi discedent formosae Amaryllidos ignes:       [90]
Illa mihi rudibus succendit pectora flammis,
Finiet illa meos moriens morientis amores.
‘O lovely Amaryllis’: ‘O formosa Amarylli’ is Vergillian (Eclogue 1 line 5 praises formosam Amaryllida, echoing Vergil’s Theocritan original, both the 3rd and 4th of whose Idylls address ὦ χαρίεσσ᾽ ᾿Αμαρυλλί) as is Buchanan's pseudonym, Daphnis. The two lovely nymphs Melaenis and Lycisca are the Portuguese towns of Coimbra and Evora, where Buchanan spent most of his time, both of which offered him academic posts, but whose charms, though not negligible, are outshone in his opinion by those of the University of Paris. Likewise the generic pastoral rivers mentioned in the poem, Durius, Munda, Sycoris and Oberus are the Iberian rivers Douro, Mondego, Segre and Ebro. Here's my line-by-line Englishing:


Missing Paris

Lovely Amaryllis! Seven winters gone
and seven long summers since I saw your face,
though endless sevens, wintry clouds of snow,
hot blasts of fervid summers, nothing
could ever quench the ardour in my breast.
You're the song I sing at dawn, as the flock returns
to crop the dew-wet grass; it's you in the hot noon
and when the night is long and shadow stretches
night embalms everything, but not for me
since you are there, hidden behind the darkness:                        [10]
in dreams I talk to you, embrace you, share
the complex joys of my mind's idea of you.
When sleep is lost to day my cares are reborn
I leave the town—the houses blanks to me
units of subduing pain—and rush through fields,
sad-hearted fugitive, hopeless escapee:
through caves, through woods I haul my weary thoughts.
Grieving Echo hears my rough-edged groans
and groans back at me to my chest's tempo,
the very caves sigh round me as I do.                                         [20]
Sometimes I loiter on tall, rugged cliffs
watching a sky-blue sea thrash itself foam-mad
and yell my yearning at the deaf-eared storm:

“Carry me over waves of sea-coloured glass
Nereids, gently across to my safe harbour.
If safety's too much, I'm fine with shipwreck,
provided such dangers bring me to my love.
How often I've addressed the quick winds, saying:
You fortunate breeze, you will see Amaryllis;
I pray no Pyrenees crags bruise your wings                                 [30]
no clouds chafe you as you go rushing on
to tell Amaryllis of Daphnis’s wild desires.
How often I've asked Euro, as his wings
scrape foam from wavetops: is Amaryllis well?
does she still remember me? does she feel
the pain I do? Does our flame still live in her?
But the wild wind recoiled with a rasping
angry rush, dashed off, chilled the soul in my breast
seizing up my veins, freezing my helpless limbs.
Nor can I take comfort now in rural thoughts:                            [40]
meadow nymphs dancing to a shepherd’s pipe
nimble-footed, singing songs of feasting
all tainted now by thoughts of Amaryllis.”

Lycisca taught me rhythms from the drum,
and gorgeous Melaenis is crowned with love;
both rightly proud of their  youthful beauty.
And I've been promised a hundred fatted lambs
as dowry by their fathers, their mothers,
promising extra gifts. Pledges that don’t move me,
no matter that the lambs are white as snow;                           [50]
erotic words, low-spoken by these girls,
such promises could never change my mind.
Wizened winter to the boyish blush of spring—
that, times three, is how they fall short of my girl;
As Durius trumps the Rhone, Seine the Munda,
Sycoris than Saone, Ebro than the Loire,
(though the Loire is France’s loveliest river!)
so Amaryllis bests Iberian nymphs.
Melaenis saw her face in the waters' mirror,
her powder, painted eyes, her fine-dressed hair,                  [60]
thought to herself she was the lovely one.
“Such agony” (she said), “in Daphnis’s soul!
Why waste your love on what is far away?
Why blank the attractions of our earth, our clustered
black-and-purple grapes—why yearn for what's not here?”

I've watched Lycisca at the festival
Pretending I'm not there, sly-glancing, beating
her foot, pounding the hollow drum, singing:
“Nemesis is cruel, my lad, a wild god,
Nemesis will punish your transgressions.                                 [70]
I've seen the hunter chase the hare, and ignore
the easy hedgehog, only to return hungry
at dusk, bringing home neither hare nor hog;
seen fisherman lay nets for deep-sea mullet
ignoring rich schools of small tench; returning
home at last with neither tench nor mullet.
And I, I sneered at basic reeds, desiring
instead the polished lathe-turned shepherd's flute
vainly wanting what I could not have, ignoring
slender hemlock: though it's fine for playing!                             [80]
So Nemesis works, crushing insolent pride.”

This (and more) Melaenis and Lycisca sang
to ears that were quite deaf to all their words.
Dogs shall love wolves and bulls shall yearn for bears
hares adore foxes and deers pair off with lions
before the rhythms of Lycisca’s music or
Melaenis’s smooth beauty change my love.
Fish will leave the sea and mountains lie down,
birds quit the woods, the winds give up their roar
before my Amaryllis ardour fades.                                         [90]
She it was who lit these flames in my heart;
only when she dies will my death put them out.

3 comments:

  1. You know, Adam, in some ways you remind me of my undergraduate mentor, Dick Macksey – co-editor, along with Eugenio Donato, of The Structuralist Controversy: The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man. To be sure, your budget of activities is very different from his, but I can imagine him doing such a translation and then, for that matter, passing it out in one of the many classes he taught. And I rather imagine he'd have been properly bemused at your cyborg effort on behalf of the Wake. As for me, for better or worse, I remain resolutely monolingual, though, now that I think of it, I did have a run at amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant in secondary school (then German in college).

    My Danish grandfather, who immigrated to America early in the 20th century, on the other hand, did translate some ancient poems from Greek, but only on a casual basis, for he was trained as an engineer. A few years ago I was reading through his diaries and discovered a reference to his wife, Louisa, reading Proust, in French of course. Old School.

    In fact, why not give you some snippits. This from 22 November 1938:

    Talking about books I think mama [his wife] is on the way to become literary. She was interested in Anatole France some time ago and read some of his books, and now she is buried in Marcel Proust. Whether she is enjoying their language or their outpourings of both I do no know for she does not say much about it. Anatole France’s language is of course concise, clear and classically French and is therefore enjoyable...

    ...As to Proust it is said that the translation into english is so much better than the french edition that if it were retranslated into french it would be a much better book. The french language is not adapted to the outpourings of the quickly decaying spirit departing disillusioned from the splendor that was nothing less than a stinking dungheap as was the fate of Proust. He longed for what he thought was the highest he could think of on this earth; he found it discovered is was rottenness. But just the same his description is more worth than Dos Passos’ description of the world as he found it in the twenties, to take an example.


    Mama enjoys her reading more than she enjoys bringing up flowers or plants.
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  2. From 8 September 1941, where he talks of his own reading:

    Also a book by Frank Buck, the animal dealer and a novel by Storm “Count Ten” which I should read at least twice in order to understand it properly. The style is somewhat like that of Ulysses and it deals with a man who does not know what he should do by tries his utmost to live a life of decenty [sic] wherein he can retain his selfrespect [sic].

    That Storm fellow has a quick mention in Wikipedia:

    Hans Otto Storm (1895–1941) was a German-American novelist and radio engineer. His literary reputation quickly faded into obscurity after his early death, but in the 1940s received some positive praise from literary critic Edmund Wilson.

    And why not close with this entry, from 2 December 1940:

    Incidentally I listened to Wells the other day over the radio and was shocked to hear how feeble was his voice – hardly distinguishable – but the old radical spirit was there undaunted – he really sounded as were he speaking from one of the many and deep shell holes dug by the barbaric german bombers in the relics from the old Londinium.

    There you go, H. G. Wells, on the radio no less, WWII, and a touch of Latin.

    I can't help but ponder how far we've come from those days. And I'm not so much thinking of the run up to WWII, but of my grandfather's education. He would have gone to college somewhere in the last decade of the 19th century or the first decade of the 20th–I'm not sure of the dates. He was trained as an engineer, and yet had his Latin and Greek, which, for all I know, he picked up in secondary school. He knew French, likely German as well. And I rather imagine this wasn't exceptional for his time and station; that's just how things were. I wonder how many of those disruptive deep neural learning Silicon Valley engineers translate from the Greek for pleasure?
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    1. Bill: having followed up the links you supplied, and read up about the amazing sounding Macksey, I have to say: your very flattering comparison does me much too much honour! He sounds like a fascinating man and scholar, and I'm sorry not to have known him.

      Thanks, too, for the passages by your grandfather. Really interesting stuff.

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