Janus Vitalis Panormitanus: Ancient Rome (From Latin)

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

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

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

The Original:

Rōma Prīsca

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

Catullus: Poem 31 "Homecoming" (From Latin)

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Original:

Carmen XXXI

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

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

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

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

The Original:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Original:

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

Martial: Epigram 9.33 (From Latin)

Epigram 9.33 
By Martial
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

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


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

Martial: Epigram 11.62 Poorly Whoring (From Latin)

Epigram 11.62: Poorly Whoring
By Martial
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

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

The Original:

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

Martial: Epigram 5.81 (From Latin)

Epigram 5.81
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

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

The Original:

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

Lorca: Song of the Horseman (From Spanish)

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

Afar and alone

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

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

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

Afar and alone

The Original:

Canción del Jinete
Federico García Lorca

Lejana y sola.

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

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

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

Lejana y sola.

Leon de Greiff: Canzonette (From Spanish)

By Leon de Greiff
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

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

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

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

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

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

The Original:


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

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

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

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

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

Borges: Dreamtigers (From Spanish)

By Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

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

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

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

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

The Original


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

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

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

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

Leonard Nolens: Poem for a Friend (from Dutch)

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

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

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


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


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

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

The Original:

Gedicht voor een vriend

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

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

Ga weg.

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

Ga weg.

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

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

Notes on the Dutch:

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

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

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

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

Adunis: The Seven Days (From Arabic)

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

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

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

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

The Original:

الأيام السبعة

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

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

Nizar Qabbani: Take off your Clothes (From Arabic)

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

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

The Original:

نزار قباني

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

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

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

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

The Original:

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

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

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

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

The Original:

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

Gérard de Nerval: Delfica (From French)

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

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

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

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

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

And undisturbed the portico still stands. 

The Original:


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

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

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

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

Théophile de Viau: To Sleep (From French)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Original:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Original:

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

Théophile de Viau: Lament for Clairac (From French)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Original:

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

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

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

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

Théophile de Viau: Nocturnal Emotions (From French)

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Original:

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

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

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

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

Notes sur le texte français:

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

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

Valéry: Helen (From French)

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

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

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

I hear deep conches all along the shores,

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

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

The Original:


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

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

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

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

Dino Campana: Autumn Garden (From Italian)

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

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

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

The Original:

Giardino Autunnale

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

Anne Hébert: The Piano (From French)

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

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

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

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

The Original:

Le Piano

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

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

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

Victor Hugo: Republican Exile (From French)

In 1851 prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte staged a coup d'état which abolished the French National Assembly and reinstated the French Empire, with Louis-Napoléon as its emperor. Hugo went into exile, moving to the island of Jersey in the English channel. 

Republican Exile
By Victor Hugo
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original French

Since men of honor sink in slime,
Since the scepter is held by crime,
Since rights have all been wronged away,
Since all the proud lie beaten down
And on streetposts through every town
My country's shame is on display;

Republic of our Fathers' right,
Gold dome, great pantheon of light  
Under the free and open blue,
Oh temple of immortal shades!
Since now the step-ladder brigades
Paste empire to your walls with glue,

Since hearts are beaten to the core
Since we all crawl, since we ignore
The right, the true, the great, the brave,
The eyes of history in fury,
The law, all honor and all glory 
And those now gone into the grave;

Exile and anguish!....I love them.
Let sorrow be my diadem.
I love my prideful poverty!
I love the door lashed by the gale
I love the statue, grave and pale,
Of Mourning seated next to me.

I love the hardships I endure,
That darkness where I find once more
All that delights and bids me live:
Veiled virtue, truth, faith, dignity,
Freedom the dauntless deportee,
And loyalty the fugitive. 

I love this isle out on the deeps,
Good Jersey which free England keeps
Behind her banner's ancient shield,
Dark waters high and higher now,
The vessel - a meandering plow,
The billows - a mysterious field.

I love the gull, O sea, that swirls
Your waters' wavelets up in pearls
Upon its wildly colored wings,
Dives down into the monstrous surges
And from their gaping jaws emerges,
As does the soul from sufferings. 

I love this solemn height of stone
Where I hear the eternal moan, 
Relentless as a deep regret,
Born and reborn in the dark air,
Of waves over bleak reefs out there, 
Of mothers over children dead.

The Original:

Puisque le juste est dans l'abîme,
Puisqu'on donne le sceptre au crime,
Puisque tous les droits sont trahis,
Puisque les plus fiers restent mornes,
Puisqu'on affiche au coin des bornes
Le déshonneur de mon pays ;

Ô République de nos pères,
Grand Panthéon plein de lumières,
Dôme d'or dans le libre azur,
Temple des ombres immortelles,
Puisqu'on vient avec des échelles
Coller l'empire sur ton mur ;

Puisque toute âme est affaiblie,
Puisqu'on rampe, puisqu'on oublie
Le vrai, le pur, le grand, le beau,
Les yeux indignés de l'histoire,
L'honneur, la loi, le droit, la gloire,
Et ceux qui sont dans le tombeau ;

Je t'aime, exil ! douleur, je t'aime !
Tristesse, sois mon diadème !
Je t'aime, altière pauvreté !
J'aime ma porte aux vents battue.
J'aime le deuil, grave statue
Qui vient s'asseoir à mon côté.

J'aime le malheur qui m'éprouve,
Et cette ombre où je vous retrouve,
Ô vous à qui mon coeur sourit,
Dignité, foi, vertu voilée,
Toi, liberté, fière exilée,
Et toi, dévouement, grand proscrit !

J'aime cette île solitaire,
Jersey, que la libre Angleterre
Couvre de son vieux pavillon,
L'eau noire, par moments accrue,
Le navire, errante charrue,
Le flot, mystérieux sillon.

J'aime ta mouette, ô mer profonde,
Qui secoue en perles ton onde
Sur son aile aux fauves couleurs,
Plonge dans les lames géantes,
Et sort de ces gueules béantes
Comme l'âme sort des douleurs.

J'aime la roche solennelle
D'où j'entends la plainte éternelle,
Sans trêve comme le remords,
Toujours renaissant dans les ombres,
Des vagues sur les écueils sombres,
Des mères sur leurs enfants morts.

Petrarch: Sonnet 164 (From Italian)

Sonnet 164
By Petrarch
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Now at the hush of wind and earth and sky,
Sleep bridles beasts and holds the birds aground,
Night drives her star-lined chariot on its round,
And, waveless, seas lie bedded, only I
Still see and think and burn and rave and fret.
My bringer of sweet pain undoes me more.
In rage and tears, mine is a state of war
And thoughts of Her are all the peace I get.

Thus drink I sweet and bitter draughts that flow
Forth from a single, living fountain's spray.
One single hand both heals and deals each blow.
To keep my ship of martyrdom at sea
Have I a thousand births and deaths a day.
So far is my salvation's port from me.

The Original:

Sonetto CLXIV
Francesco Petrarca

Or che ‘l cielo e la terra e ‘l vento tace,
e le fere e gli augelli il sonno affrena,
notte il carro stellato in giro mena,
e nel suo letto il mar senz’ onda giace;
vegghio, penso, ardo, piango, e chi mi sface
sempre m’è innanzi per mia dolce pena;
guerra è ‘l mio stato, d’ira e di duol piena,
e sol di lei pensando ho qualche pace.
Così sol d’una chiara fonte viva
move ‘l dolce e l’amaro ond’ io mi pasco;
una man sola mi risana e punge.
E perchè ‘l mio martìr non giunga a riva,
mille volte il dì moro mille nasco;
tanto da la salute mia son lunge.

Lady Castelloza: To Her Lover Gone Away (From Occitan)

We know little about the trobairitz Lady Castelloza beside what her later vida records. The latter says that she was from Auvergne, the wife of Truc de Mairona, and the lover of Armant de Brion (both nobles, incidentally, though the latter would have been of higher social status than the former.) There seems to me to be no reason to either believe or disbelieve this.   

To Her Lover Gone Away
By Lady Castelloza (c. 13th cent.)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

My darling, it has been so long
Since from my arms you took your leave.
And it is painful, cruel and wrong.
You promised, pledged, made me believe
That you would take no other lady
Until the day death do us part.
Now if some other holds your heart
Then you have murdered me, betrayed me
Who hoped your love was no conceit
But undivided and complete.

My handsome noble-natured dear,
I've loved you since the day you pleased me.
How great a fool I am is clear.
For you held back, while such love seized me
That I not once have turned away.
Though you repay my good with ill
I'll stand my ground and love you still,
For love so has me in its sway
That I now doubt my life can offer
Much good without you as my lover.

I set no proper precedent
For other women in love's course, 
Since it is for the man to send
Word in well-chosen, well-turned verse.
And yet it does my spirit good
To show how great a faith you test;
To be a suitor suits me best. 
The wealthiest of women would
Be all the richer for the trove 
Of your embrace, your kiss, your love.

God doom me if I've ever shown
A fickle heart or been untrue,
I have not wanted anyone,
However noble, who was not you. 
No, I am pensive, pained in bed
Because your mind has left my love.
If you don't send joy soon enough
You may discover I am dead.
In ladies, slight disease can kill
Without a man to lance the ill.1 

For everything you've done to me,
For all the hurtful grief and gall,
You've thanks from all my family
And from my husband most of all. 
If you have sinned toward me, my dear
Then in good faith I pardon you
And pray that you'll at last come true
To me, the moment that you hear
This song. I promise as I live
The fairest welcome I can give. 


1 - "lancing" i.e. drawing blood. Draining out the "ill humors" by controlled bloodletting was thought to relieve a patient's suffering in medieval European medicine. Of course, there is more to the line and its imagery than reference to a medical technique.   

The Original:

"Mout avetz fach lonc estatge..."
Na Castelloza

Mout avétz fach lonc estatge,
Amics, pos de mi·us partitz;
Et es me grèu e salvatge,
Quar me jurètz e·m plevitz
Quez als jorns de vòstra vida
Non acsétz dòmpna mas me:
E si d'autra vós perté,
M'avétz mòrta e trahida,
Qu'avi' en vos m'esperança
Que m'amassetz sés dubtança

Bèls amics, de fin coratge
Vós amèi, pois m'abellitz,
E sai que faich ai follatge,
Que plus m'en ètz escaritz
Qu'anc non fis vas vos ganchida,
E si·m fasètz mal per be:
Be·us am e non m'en recré;
Mas tan m'a amórs sazida
Qu'ièu non cre que benenança
Puòsc' avér ses vostr' amança.

Mout aurai mes mal usatge
A las autras amairitz
Qu'óm sòl trametre messatge
E motz triatz e chausitz.
Et ièu tenc me per garida,
Amics, a la mia fe,
Quan vos prèc, qu'aissi·m cové;
Que·l plus pros n'es eniquida
S'a de vos qualqu' abondança
De baisar o d'acoindança.

Mal aj'ièu, s'anc còr volatge
Vos aic ni·us fui camjairitz,
Ni drutz de negun paratge
Per me non fo encobitz;
Anz sui pensiv' e marrida
Car de m'amór no·us sové,
E si de vos jòis no·m ve
Tòst me trobarétz fenida:
Car per pauc de malanança
Mòr dómpna, s'óm tot no·il lança.

Tot lo maltraich e·l dampnatge
Que per vos m'es escaritz
Vos fai grazir mos linhatge
E sóbre totz mos maritz;
E s'anc fétz vas me fallida,
Perdón la·us per bòna fe;
E prèc que venhatz a me,
Despois quez aurétz auzida
Ma chansón, que·us fatz fiança
Sai trobétz bèlla semblança

François Villon: Ballad of Ladies of Yore (From French)

In translating this widely-translated poem I have tried to bring to light a different side of it, to convey some of the obscene undertones present in Villon's word choices throughout the poem.

Ballad of the Ladies of Yore
By François Villon
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in Middle French

So, tell me where on lands or seas
Has Flora gone, the Roman belle,
And Thais and Archipiades,
Great twins of beauty as stories tell.
And Echo who by brook and dell
Answered the rising cock come dawn,
And wove a more than mortal spell?
Well, where could last year’s snows have gone?

And where is learned Heloise
For whom Pete Abelard once fell

So hard he came to Saint Denis’
Where his cut was a eunuch's cell?
And where’s that dowager quaintrelle
Who bagged her plaything Buridan 

Then sent him down the Seine to Hell?
Well, where could last year’s snows have gone?

That lily quean whose tune could tease
Sires even Sirens couldn't swell?
Broad Bertha, Alice, Beatrice
And Erenburg who banged Maine's bell
That Maid of Orléans that fell
To English torches at Rouen?
Where are they? Where, Queen Virgin, tell?
Well, where could last year’s snows have gone?

Prince, ask no longer where they dwell.
For as the days and years draw on,
I’ve this and naught but this to tell:
Well, where could last year’s snows have gone?

The Original:

Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis

Dictes moy où, n’en quel pays,

Est Flora, la belle Romaine
Archipiada, ne Thaïs,
Qui fut sa cousine germaine;
Echo, parlant quand bruyt on maine
Dessus rivière ou sus estan,
Qui beauté eut trop plus qu’humaine?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan !

Où est la très sage Heloïs,

Pour qui fut chastré et puis moyne
Pierre Esbaillart à Sainct-Denys?
Pour son amour eut cest essoyne.

Semblablement, où est la royne

Qui commanda que Burridan
Fust jetté en ung sac en Seine?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!

La royne Blanche comme ung lys,
Qui chantoit à voix de sereine;
Berthe au grand pied, Bietris, Allys;
Harembourges, qui tint le Mayne,
Et Jehanne, la bonne Lorraine,
Qu’Anglois bruslèrent à Rouen;
Où sont-ilz, Vierge souveraine?

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan !

Prince, n’enquerrez de sepmaine

Où elles sont, ne de cest an,

Qu’à ce refrain ne vous remaine:
Mais où sont les neiges d’anten?

Joan Bodon: Hunting the Chimera (From Occitan)

This poem starts out with what seem to be nationalist clichés, but these are subverted as the text unexpectedly shifts gears into something quite different toward the end. 

Hunting the Chimera
By Joan Bodon
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Oh the war I fought is lost
My color is a mournful white
If they take away my land
They'll smear my grief in their delight. 

As I see those northern lice
Glutted with glory all through France
In the great winds of history
What can we say, we Occitans?

To give protection to our language
Of a poor eighty-year-old few...
There is nobody who remembers.
They rob us of our children too. 

Banging heads against a door...
Lunatics in the hospital...
A nice strong rinse, and for a helmet
The holy grail upon your skull....

When you're hunting the Chimera
Nothing beats electroshock
Like the wrong the world has done
I spit blood and fire and rock. 

The Original:

La caça de la Quimèra

Ai perduda la miá guèrra
Blanc de dòl es ma color
Se me ganhan la miá tèrra
Mascaran la miá dolor.

Pesolhs confles de lor glòria
Quand vesi los francimands
Dins lo vent grand de l’istòria
Que direm los Occitans?

Per aparar nòstra lenga
De vielhs de quatre vints ans…
Pas degun que se sovenga
E nos rauban los enfants.

Còps de caps per una pòrta...
Los falords a l’espital....
Una chucada pro fòrta....
Per casco lo Sant Grasal.

La caça de la Quimèra:
Res non val l’electròchòc
Coma lo mal de la tèrra,
Escupissi sang e fuòc…

Joan Bodon: False Dawn (From Occitan)

Another translation of an Occitan poem by Joan Bodon. His formal features are the sort of challenge I relish, as they force the translator into unexpected directions, ways of rendering that go beyond the surface. Though I certainly took more liberties with this one than the last one I translated.  

False Dawn
Joan Bodon (mid 20th cent.)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

A false dawn creeps up on the hills. Who knows
If the bird's cry will hail the morning on? 
Soon there will be a stir of beds and clothes,
A priest will sing his Latin all alone.

The little girl in white who weeps for dawn...
Look at her, friend, at the path's edge in dread.
Why this mulberry pick against her heart?
Spilt blood has stained the whitethorn flower red. 

Down from the heavens this new dawn unfurls:
Flesh in decay under a linen sheet. 
A votive candle of death burns in the chapel:
A lark moving its wings...in one last beat.


Stanza 3: "A lark moving its wings"... allusion to one of the most famous poems by the medieval Occitan troubadour Bernart de Ventadorn (my translation available here.) 

The Original:

Alba Falsa

Una alba falsa se trigòssa suls puèges.
Qual sap se l'aucèl cridarà lo matin?
Començaràn lèu los saquejals dels lièches,
Tot sol un rector va cantar son latin...

La filha blanca que de l’alba se plora,
Vei-la, mon amic, a la broa del camin.
Mas perqué sul seu còr aquel picon d’amora?
Lo sang a techat sus la flor d’albespin.

Davala del cèl aquela alba novèla,
La carn se blasís jos la tela de lin.
Un ciri de mòrt crèma dins la capèla:
Lauseta que mòu sas alas... A la fin...

Baudelaire: Correspondances (From French)

By Charles Baudelaire
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Nature’s a shrine where living columns stand
And now and then breathe a confounded phrase,
Man wanders there amid a forestland
Of symbols, followed by their intimate gaze.
As long-drawn echoes blent from far away
together into dark deep unison,
As vast as night and like the light of day,
colors, sounds and perfumes respond as one.

There are scents fresh as flesh of any child,
Meadow-green, mellow as an oboe tone,
- and others: rich, corrupt, triumphant, wild
expanding like the infinite alone
like ambers, musks and orient frankincense
that sing the ecstasies of soul and sense.

The Original:


La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.
Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
— Et d'autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,
Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.
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