Leakages from an Alternate Literary History: Homer and Virgil in Old English


In an alternate (fictional) timeline, an Old English speaker ca. 750 AD took the liberty of translating Homer and Vergil into verse. The text survives of course only in Late West Saxon, even though the translator himself composed in a different dialect. The translator bucks taboo and nativizes his material to the point of substituting Germanic gods for the mediterranean ones. The role of Zeus/Jupiter, for example, is given sometimes Wōden, and sometimes to Þunor. (Sometimes they appear together, or Þunor speaks on behalf of Wōden. The translator can do this because his version is not a literal one.) Various other characters are Germanicized. For example, Aeneas is given the name Wīdhere. 

Here are some fragments:

Odyssey 1.1-10

Hwæt! Þisne sang  be sīðfætum   
Searuðoncles fyrdbeornes fand ic on sefan.
Ic oft gefrægn  in fyrndagum
hū wearþ þes eorl  tō ȳðwræccan
swīcende geon Midgeard   siþþan his gūðwudu
wǣpenwedere  on wælbedde
hlōðede rancre hēahbyrge godhearh.
Moniges lēodes  medubyrig sceawode,
moniges monnes  mynd gewiste
monge ælfsorge  sinnihte þolode
on sefan on sǣ. Sylfes feorhhūse 
ealle hwīle   ond hāmcyme  
swǣsra gesīða   sōhte tō beorgenne.
Ac nā hē cūðe  nerian his gesīðas
worhte swā hē wolde.  Witlēast hiera
sylfre hīe swefde.  Sottmenn, hīe ǣten
hālige cȳ Sōles,  swegles wægnfrōwe,
þe him feorhcandla  cwencede on bānhūsum.
Dæges lēohtcwēn dwǣscede of ēagum
hāmcymes dagunge. Hēr saga þisra,
Wōdnes godbearn,  wōþgāst Breohcwis,  
gal þæt hēahlēoþ eft  ūre tīdum.

Listen. In my soul I found this song of the journeyings of the shrewdminded war-man. I have often heard tell how in ancient days this noble man turned a wave-fugitive, errant through the mid-earth after his war-wood
1, in weapon-weather on the gore-bed of battle, despoiled an overweening capital city's god-hall. Many a people's mead-city he saw, many a man's mind he fathomed, and many an elf-sorrow2 in evernight he endured in his soul at sea. All the while he sought to save his body-housed life, and ensure the homecoming of his own dear comrades. But he stood no chance of saving his comrades, try whatever he did. It was their own witlessness did them in. Those fools ate the cattle of Sowilo3, the heavens' charioteeress, who put out the life-candles in their bodies. The light-queen of day blackened from out of their eyes the daybreak of homecoming. Here, tell us of these things once more in our time, Oh godchild of Woden, verse-spirit Breohcwis4, lift that great song again.

1— Guðwudu "warwood" is a poeticism found in the Finnsburg fragment, where it is assumed to mean "spear."In this timeline, at least, that is exactly what this quite old poetic stock phrase means. The translator has reporposed it to both refer to spears, and to the war-wooden Trojan horse. Of course, many alt-present day scholars aren't sure the pun is intended.

2 — elf-sorrow, i.e. a sorrow induced by supernatural powers. Cf. Germ. Albtraum.

3 — The sun deity is a woman here, as per usual in Germanic, unlike in the Greek.

4 — Immediately after Johnson Grimmer's discovery of the Lowell Codex containing these translations, one of the first thing alt-present day scholars noticed was that the translator consistently substitutes the entity "Breohcwis" for the Graeco-Roman Muse. Generally they have sought, or simply assumed, a connection between this figure and Bragi, the Norse poetry god. They are, however, mistaken. This is the name of the alt-timeline Anglo-Saxon poetry god (well, originally goddess). But it is simply a compound of "prince" (*brag-) and "speech" (*kwiss-) and has no connection to the Norse god. Part of the difficulty recognizing the compound for what it is lies in the fact that one would normally have expected the form *Bregucwiss or the like, rather than Breohcwis. The name as given originates in Old Kentish (whence the diphthong), and underwent irregular development due to taboo-deformation. (The god was briefly and locally euhemerized into a saint on the Isle of Wight.) Even the West Saxon copyist who produced the Lowell Codex didn't know what the name was or meant. In this instance, Breohcwis is given an epithet using wōþ "poetry, song, exclamation" (cf. Lat. Vātēs) from the same root that yields Woden's name (compare Old Norse Óðinn vs. Óðr.) Alt-present day comparative philologists have made a great deal of hay over this, imagining it to reflect awareness of an ancient connection on the part of the translator. Some have even posited that this is a relic of a genuine pagan invocation to the poetry god. In fact, it's a complete coincidence. The translator was unaware of the etymological connection, and just did it because he thought it would sound cool.

Corresponding Greek passage:

Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσε·
πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω,
πολλὰ δ’ ὅ γ’ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν,
ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
ἀλλ' οὐδ' ὧς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο, ἱέμενός περ·
αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο,
νήπιοι, οἳ κατὰ βοῦς Ὑπερίονος Ἠελίοιο
ἤσθιον· αὐτὰρ ὁ τοῖσιν ἀφείλετο νόστιμον ἦμαρ.
τῶν ἁμόθεν γε, θεά, θύγατερ Διός, εἰπὲ καὶ ἡμῖν.

Aeneid 1.1-8

(There is a lacuna of several lines after this passage, due to fire damage. Lord Peter Pintle, who owned the Lowell Codex in the late 15th century, was an incorrigible pyromaniac. On March 5th 1492, while Lord Pintle was enjoying an evening performance by his live-in torch juggler, his 3-year-old ran headlong into the performer's knee. The torches went careening, and parts of this translation were one casualty of the ensuing fire. Another was Lady Pintle's dildo. Though this was not as much of a blow to her sex life as was the summary firing of the torch-juggler.)        

Lēoþ ic secge  secga ond þæs ǣrbeornes
se þe fram Trōian sīþ  āsette tō Eatules
Wǣgrimum, wyrdes  wræcmon ond sǣrinc.
Hine geon mearclond  ond mererāda þrēow
Ōsþrymmes mihtmōd.  Irregemynd Wælfrōwan
Feor in wælfǣhþe  wræc his bānhūs.
Wann eac beadugryras  oþ þæt þā burh sette
and his cōfgodas gecorene bǣre
in Lǣdene lond  þanon Lǣdencynn,
Ealdras Alban and eaforan hiere
rison, and regnhēage  Rōmbyrge weallas.
Hwæt! Breohcwis wecþ  on breoste þā þing...  

A lay I sing of swords1 and of the original hero who from Troy set forth to Italy's wave-rims, fate's exile2 and seawarrior3. He through countrylands and the waveroads was thrown about by the fell passion of the Aesir powers4. Valfreyja's5 rage-memory in deadly feud harrowed the bones of his body far in exile. And war-horrors he weathered also, until he founded a city, and brought his dear household gods into Latium, whence rose the Latin race, the Elders of Alba and their sons, and the all-high6 ramparts of Rome. Attend! Breohcwis quickens in my breast the causes...

1 — This word could also be translated as "warriors, men." Secg as a feminine i-stem noun means "sword." As a masculine a-stem noun it is a poetic word for "warrior, man." Some in the alt-present day who don't feel comfortable with the idea of this kind of wordplay are unsure as to whether this word is meant to translate Latin arma or to refer to warriors.

2 — Other possible translations are "wretch, persecuted one." In the alt-present day, scholars have tried to read much into the translator's use of compounds with wræc-, attempting to tease out of it an idea about the translator's attitude toward Aeneas/Wīdhere. 

3 — Also translatable as "sea-raider." This word can be used to describe Vikings in attested OE. Alt-present day Scholars have wondered whether this suggests a complicated attitude toward the protagonist, and much has hinged on when the translation is dated to (some who opt for a later date have read sǣrinc as a negative word, implying ambivalence about a protagonist reminiscent of Norse invaders).

4 — Alt-present day scholars have been vexed by the word ōsþrymm. Like many words used by the translator, it is attested nowhere else in surviving OE. While a word like ærbeorn is transparently interpretable as "the first man, the original hero," it is not clear to scholars what the ōs- of ōsþrymm is to mean exactly. It is clearly a cognate of ON ǫ́ss, and the same element found in Saxon theophoric names. They therefore conclude that it is some form of pre-christian divine power, though they are unsure of the specifics. In fact, the translator himself (who was of course a Christian) did not have a very clear sense of it. It was the vague associations of the word ōs in his mind that in part motivated ōsþrymmes mihtmōd as a rendering vi superum. (The Ms. reads osþrymmas, which is clearly a scribal error, owing to the fact that the scribe was less devoted to declensions than he was to his wife. See below.)

5 — The translator renders Juno as Wælfrōwe (Slaughterdame, gore-woman, Our Lady Of The Slain), which is a morpheme-for-morpheme cognate to Norse Valfreyja, one of the names of the goddess Freyja in the Skáldskaparmál. In the alt-present day scholars don't know what to make of this, as they have no way of guessing that the translator was actually repurposing what had by his day become an epithet of the Virgin Mary when invoked as a protector in battle. The prayers in which it occurs were seldom written down, and were not long in use after the mid 8th century, so alt-present day scholars have no knowledge of them. In fact, even the scribe who produced the extant manuscript of this translation in the 900s (at the behest of his extraordinarily eccentric yet inexplicably wealthy father-in-law) did not know what this was, and assumed it to simply be a Pagan Goddess. The irony is that the brief tradition of addressing the Blessed Virgin as Wǣlfrōwe before battle only arose by syncretizing her with the war-goddess Sigewyn whose epithet this was.

6 — This use of the prefix regn- has puzzled alt-present day scholars. In fact, it is simply an archaism that the translator deployed for stylistic effect. 

Corresponding Latin passage: 

Arma virumque canō, Troiae quī prīmus ab ōrīs
Italiam, fātō profugus, Lāvīnaque vēnit
lītora, multum ille et terrīs iactātus et altō
vī superum saevae memorem Iūnōnis ob īram;
multa quoque et bellō passus, dum conderet urbem,
īnferretque deōs Latiō genus unde latīnum
albānīque patrēs atque altae moenia Rōmae
Mūsa mihī causās memorā...

By a strange series of events involving a crossbow, a bag of supposedly magical grain and a very temperamental astrologist from Limousin, the codex was briefly owned by a renegade monk from Fleury who — a week before being killed by the man he had stolen it from — penned the following lines of verse along the margins:

 Chant lays de guerra  e l'ome guerreian
 Lo prims de Troya q'en fayditz sobrastratz,
 Son azil quist en lo sol Italian.
 Molt fo per mar e terra trabaillatz
 Sotz lo poder  dels speritz celestiaus.
 Car fetz aici ab malcor immortal
 Iunon cruzela qe li volc maior dan

Aeneid 1.198-207

(The scribe was pissed off and distracted the day he copied this part, after having to deal with a surprise visit from a belligerently drunk cleric who wanted to baptize his dog. So it's no surprise that this is one of the places where the West Saxon copy betrays a few telltale traces of his Mercian antigraph.)

Wīdhere mæðelode  wīdgenga ārǣd 
"Ealdgesīðas! Ǣr wē onfundon
Earfoða on ȳðum. Yflu gē wyrsan
þolodon ealle.  Ende þisses
ēac giefþ ūs god.  Gē þe Sceorfþyrses 
cyrmendum clifum cāflīce nēalǣhton, 
þe Ēageotenes ecestānas wiþstōdon,
mōd hēr nimaþ,  and mānōgan
ālecgaþ eallne. Eaxlgesteallan,
ēaðe wē mægen  munan ēac þissa
wynnum and wordcræfte  in wīnærne.
Gomen æfter gyrnstafa  giefþ ūs Wōden.
Monigum þorh gelimpum  mislicum and þingum 
orleahtrum in þisse  eorðan sceattum,  
Lǣdene tō londe  ūre lād fundiaþ. 
Weoroldwefenda   Wyrda þǣr ūs ābīedaþ
on behātsande sīðlīce frið.
Þǣr is ālīeded   þāra Trōiāna   
rīce eftārīsan  in randgebeorh. 
þȳ healdaþ forð heortena fūse
uferran þingum. Biþ þæt mīn hāt."

So spoke Wīdhere, the resolute wayfarer: Oh Long-standing comrades! We have been through hardships on the waves before. Worse woes than this have you all endured. God will send us an end to this too. You who who bravely drew nigh the shrieking cliffs of the Ripper-Troll (Scylla), who survived the pain-stones of the Eye-Eoten (Cyclops), take courage here and dispel vile terror now. My shoulder-comrades! This too may yet be a thing we look back on with delight and eloquent lays in the wine-hall. Woden shall give us joy after sorrow. Through many varied events/misfortunes, and dangerous/decisive crises/affairs in the regions of this earth our course holds on for Latin land. There the world-weaving Fates hold out to us peace at last (or: at journey's end) on the Promised Strand. There it is given to the Kingdom of the Trojans to rise again into a wave-buffered bulwark. So hold on, with ready hearts, for better/higher things/deeds. This I promise.

Note on Monsters:

Sceorfþyrs (Ripper-Troll) and Ēageoten (Eye-Eoten) are the translator's equivalents for Scylla and the Cyclops. Later scholarship has almost without exception assumed that he took these from native Anglo-Saxon lore and much ink has been spilled trying to identify them. In fact he just made them up for the purposes of translation, but — based on their occurrence in this translation — an elaborate lore was confected (especially by the Romantics) around these creatures as rough Germanic counterparts to Scylla and the Cyclops, and so in the alt-present day, they are reasonably well known as mythical English monsters. Much is found in translation by misunderstanding. Just ask Isaiah about that virgin. 

Corresponding Latin passage:

Ō sociī (neque enim ignārī sumus ante malōrum),
Ō passī graviōra, dabit deus hīs quoque fīnem.
Vōs et Scyllaeam rabiem penitusque sonantīs
accestis scopulōs, vōs et Cyclōpia saxa
expertī: revocāte animōs maestumque timōrem
mittite; forsan et haec ōlim meminisse iuvābit.
Per variōs cāsūs, per tot discrīmina rērum
tendimus in Latium, sēdēs ubi fāta quiētās
ōstendunt; illīc fās rēgna resurgere Troiae.
Dūrāte, et vōsmet rēbus servāte secundīs.

Aeneid 1.275-88:

(The text here is corrupt in one or two places. The penultimate line contains an unorthodox break across the caesura which also produces an internal rhyme.)

Wōden maðelode, woruldes hēahfæder:
Wynsum in geolhȳde  wylfes Rōmling
his cynn bewāt wyrcende Tīwsweallas
cwiðende Rōmwaran  be rihtnaman his.
Nāne mearce  mete ic þissum,
ac endlēasne onweald. Ēac swā Wælfrōwe
þe nū hranrāda   ond hēahwolcnu
ond werwegas þrīt   mid wælnīðe,
hyge sceal settan  sǣligre æhte,
ond dēoran ēac mē  dōmēadige Rōmwaran,
weorlddryhtnas mǣrðes, māþþumgiefan.  
Gewurðe min willa.  Weorðaþ þā hālgēar
þā Grēcþegnas  geþȳþ Trōia,
oþ þæt nīdgomban   gieldeþ se Ealdfēond.
Cynrenes Trōiesces  Cāsere āwiexeþ,
hlīsan mid steorrum,  stōl mid gārsecgum,
ymbsettende. Swā   hit sōðlīce agā.
Iūlius hē hāteþ on āre giūldæges....

"Thus spoke Woden, Worldfather Almighty: delightful in tawnhide of the she-wolf, Romulus shall take up his race, rearing the Walls of Tiw1 and naming by his true name the Romans. No boundary have I set for these, but unending weal over all. Even Valfreyja who now wearies the high heavens and the whale-roads and man-ways with her banewrath, shall set her thought to a better reckoning, and hold dear the judgement-prosperous renowned Romans, glory's worldlords, the treasure-givers. My will be done. As the holy years (?) come, so Troy shall enslave the thanes of Greece, and the Ancient Foe will be forced to yield tribute. A Caesar of Trojan stock shall spring forth, surrounding his fame with stars and his throne with the Oceans (lit: spearmen)2. So let it truly be. Julius shall be his name in honor of the Yule day3...

1 — Tīw is the god commonly equated with Mars. The day of the week known as Diēs Martis "Marsday" (cf. Fr. mardi) was Tīwesdæg, or Tuesday to Germanic peoples. Alt-present day scholars are correct to see this as a mechanical equation of the "tuesday" type.

2 — In Pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon mythology, the Ocean was apparently personified by a man with spears. Old English texts use gārsecg in the sense "Ocean" quite naturally, generally without note of its etymology. But gārsecg in the sense "Ocean" is always singular. Here the text uses the dative plural. Among alt-present day scholars, only alt-present Day Tolkien guessed the correct explanation: the translator is reviving a dead image for a dual sense, wherein Caesar's throne is literally guarded by spearmen, even as his rule is littorally bounded by the ocean's worldwater. Unfortunately Alternate Tolkien was a bit more eccentric than his counterpart in our timeline. And after witnessing the horrors of the (alt-timeline's) Anglo-Aragonese war of 1950, alt-Tolkien went off to join a neo-pagan druid cult in the breakaway Republic of Provença. Later 20th century scholars didn't take his insights as seriously as they should have.

3—   The translator has substituted for Virgil's fantastical etymology of "Julius" an equally fantastical Saxon etymology of his own. The disgruntled copyist (wondering if it really was worth agreeing to copy this silly thing for his father-in-law in exchange for his wife's hand in marriage) scribbled a note in the margin of the MS here: "satis absurditate imbutus videtur." Fire-damage due to Lord Pintle's juggling mishap has destroyed the corner of the page on which the scribe's maladjusted nephew scrawled a quote from Martial "in tuis nulla est mentula carminibus" with an appropriate drawing to remedy the situation so described.

 Corresponding Latin passage:

Inde lupae fulvō nūtrīcis tegmine laetus
Rōmulus excipiet gentem et Māvortia condet
moenia Rōmānōsque suō dē nōmine dīcet.
Hīs ego nec mētās rērum nec tempora pōnō:
imperium sine fīne dedī.   Quīn aspera Iūnō,
quae mare nunc terrāsque metū caelumque fatīgat,
cōnsilia in melius referet, mēcumque fovēbit
Rōmānōs, rērum dominōs gentemque togātam.
Sīc placitum. Veniet lūstrīs lābentibus aetās
cum domus Assaracī Phthīam clārāsque Mycēnās
servitiō premet ac victīs dominābitur Argīs.
Nāscētur pulchrā Troiānus orīgine Caesar,
imperium Ōceanō, fāmam quī terminet astrīs,
iūlius, ā magnō dēmissum nomen Iūlō.

Góngora: On The Deceptive Brevity of Life (From Spanish)

On the Deceptive Brevity of Life 
By Luís de Góngora
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Less did the speedy bowshot arrow seek
its destined target than it sharply bit!
No more silently did the chariot streak 
round to its goal across dumb sand and grit
than hastens toward its end, invisibly
harried, this time of ours. He that would doubt
(a beast bereft of reason though he be) 
has a black star in each sun coming out. 
Carthage proclaims it. How can you not know? 
You dice with danger, friend, while yet you chase
shadows and cling to fraud against your fears. 
Think not the hours will spare you as they go,
the hours forever grinding down the days,
the days as ever gnawing up the years.

The Original:

De la Brevedad Engañosa de la Vida

Menos solicitó veloz saeta
Destinada señal, que mordió aguda!
Agoral carro por la arena muda
No coronó con mas silencio meta
Que presurosa corre, que secreta
a su fin nuestra edad. A quien lo duda,
(fiera que sea de razón desnuda)
cada sol repetido es un cometa.
Confiéssalo Cartago ¿y tu lo ignoras?
Peligro corres Licio, si porfías
en seguir sombras y abraçar engaños.
Mal te perdonarán a ti las horas;
las horas que limando están los días,
los días que royendo están los años. 

Francisco de Quevedo: Giganton (From Spanish)

gigante or gigantón was an enormous stuffed effigy paraded through town streets on certain holidays during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. They were usually made out of flammable materials, and were often set on fire in celebration. This sonnet has been misunderstood by many — even trained hispanists — who didn't grasp that this poem's "giant" is in fact such a gigantón. Willis Barnstone, for example, completely misses this in his translation and so bungles a number of lines which don't make much sense unless one knows what a gigantón is.

Disillusionment with External Appearances, whence an Examination of Inner Truth
By Francisco de Quevedo
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

See how that paunchy wicker-giant struts
Along the street, all pride and gravity?
Well, he's got rags and kindling-brush for guts.
A flunkey props him up for all to see,
Whose soul he feeds upon to move as well.
He waves his grandeur anywhere he wants,
But any who examine his stiff shell
Will sneer at all that frippery he flaunts.

Such is the seeming splendor of the vile 
Tyrants who live by ludicrous illusion, 
An eminent, fantastic garbage pile. 
See how they blaze in purple as they girt
Their hands with gems in colorful profusion. 
Inside, they are all nausea, worms, and dirt.


The Original:

Desengaño de la Exterior Aparencia, con el Examen Interior y Verdadero

¿Miras este Gigante corpulento
Que con soberbia y gravedad camina?
Pues por de dentro es trapos y fajina,
Y un ganapán le sirve de cimiento.
Con su alma vive y tiene movimiento,
Y adonde quiere su grandeza inclina,
Mas quien su aspecto rígido examina
Desprecia su figura y ornamento.

Tales son las grandezas aparentes
De la vana ilusión de los Tiranos,
Fantásticas escorias eminentes.
¿Veslos arder en púrpura, y sus manos
En diamantes y piedras diferentes?
Pues asco dentro son, tierra y gusanos.

Notas Léxicas:

Fajina: conjunto de ramitas, cortezas y otros despojos de las plantas, que se solía emplear para hacer rellenos de diversas clases; en este case, la materia de la que se compone el gigantón.

Escorias: en un sentido literal, las heces vidriosas que flotan a la superficie de los hornos de fundir metales; y en otro figurado, cualquier cosa vil, desechada y de ningún valor.

Garcilaso: Sonnet from Carthage (Spanish)

To Juan Boscan from Carthage
By Garcilasso de la Vega
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Boscan! Arms and the rage of Mars in war, 
which, as their bloody powers irrigate 
the soil of Africa, induce Rome's great 
Empire to flower upon these sands once more,  
have led back into memory of yore 
the art and ancient valor of Italy 
whose power and doughty hand on land and sea 
scarred a scared Africa from shore to shore. 
Here, where the Classic Roman holocaust
with wanton flame and fire once left the whole 
of Carthage nothing but a name alone,  
Here Love returns to overturn my thoughts,
lays waste with fire and wounds my fearful soul 
and I in tears and ashes am undone. 

Audio of me reciting the original in a reconstruction of Early 16th century Elite Toledan Spanish pronunciation


The Original:

Boscán, las armas y el furor de Marte,
que con su propia fuerça el africano 
suelo regando, hazen qu'el romano 
imperio reverdezca en esta parte, 
han reduzido a la memoria el arte
y el antiguo valor italïano, 
por cuya fuerça y valerosa mano 
Africa s'aterró de parte a parte. 
Aquí dond' el romano encendimiento,
dond' el fuego y la llama licenciosa 
solo el nombre dexaron a Cartago, 
buelve y rebuelve amor mi pensamiento,
hiere y enciend' el alma temerosa, 
y en llanto y en ceniza me deshago. 

Ruben Darío: Symphony in Gray Major (From Spanish)

Symphony in Gray Major
By Ruben Darío
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The sea like a vast quicksilver crystal pane
reflects a rolled zinc sky's sheet metal plate 
faraway there are flocks of birds that stain 
the glossed background of a pale shade of gray.

The sun, a piece of glass, opaque and round
walks to the zenith at a sick man's pace;
the sea wind takes its rest in shadow, using 
for a pillow its black trumpets as they play.

The waves that move their bellies made of lead
seem to be moaning underneath the quay. 
Sitting upon a cable, his pipe puffing,
there is a mariner musing about beaches
of some country, foggy and faraway.

He's an old man, this sea-dog. Burning beams
of Brazil's sun have toasted his crisp face. 
The toughest of the China Sea's typhoons
have seen him sipping gin amid the spray.

Nitrate and iodine fecundate the foam 
that knows his red nose well from the old days, 
his curly hair, too, and his two athlete biceps, 
his canvas cap, his drill shirt frayed away.

He in the midst of the tobacco smoke-clouds
discerns that country, foggy and faraway,
for which one warm and golden afternoon,
his brigantine weighed anchor and set sail.

Tropical siesta. The sea-dog sleeps, 
all wrapped up in a gamut of the gray. 
It seems a gentle giant paper-stump 
would smudge the curved horizon's edge away.

Tropical siesta. The old cicada
tries out his senile, raucous guitar's strain. 
And the cricket strikes a solo monotone
on the one-stringed violin it has to play.

The Original:

Sinfonía en Gris Mayor

El mar como un vasto cristal azogado
refleja la lámina de un cielo de zinc;
lejanas bandadas de pájaros manchan
el fondo bruñido de pálido gris.

El sol como un vidrio redondo y opaco
con paso de enfermo camina al cenit;
el viento marino descansa en la sombra
teniendo de almohada su negro clarín.

Las ondas que mueven su vientre de plomo
debajo del muelle parecen gemir.
Sentado en un cable, fumando su pipa,
está un marinero pensando en las playas
de un vago, lejano, brumoso país.

Es viejo ese lobo. Tostaron su cara
los rayos de fuego del sol del Brasil;
los recios tifones del mar de la China
le han visto bebiendo su frasco de gin.

La espuma impregnada de yodo y salitre
ha tiempo conoce su roja nariz,
sus crespos cabellos, sus biceps de atleta,
su gorra de lona, su blusa de dril.

En medio del humo que forma el tabaco
ve el viejo el lejano, brumoso país,
adonde una tarde caliente y dorada
tendidas las velas partió el bergantín ...

La siesta del trópico. El lobo se duerme.
Ya todo lo envuelve la gama del gris.
Parece que un suave y enorme esfumino
del curvo horizonte borrara el confín.

La siesta del trópico. La vieja cigarra
ensaya su ronca guitarra senil,
y el grillo preludia un solo monótono
en la única cuerda que está en su violín.

Angel Gonzalez: Other Nights (From Spanish)

Other Nights
By Angel Gonzalez
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I hear these nights of rain upon the window panes,
these nights of wind, and no I cannot move. 

The guard is watching at the door of fear,
a child prisoner, let him not shed his chains. 

Other nights of heavy rain upon the panes,
other nights of wind and I again inquire.  

Since it was all in vain I have changed masters, 
at the door of sleep, the Lady of the Light. 

The Original:

Otras Noches
Angel Gonzalez

Estas noches de lluvia las oigo en los cristales,
estas noches de viento y no puedo moverme.

A la puerta del miedo vigila el celador,
prisonero infantil, no se desencadene.

Otras noches de lluvia profunda en los cristales,
otras noches de viento y vuelvo a interrogar.

Porque todo era inútil he cambiado de dueño,
a la puerta del sueño, dama de claridad

Saadi: Golestan 1.10 (From Persian)

From the Golestan: Chapter 1, Story 10
By Saadi of Shiraz
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I was in contemplative retreat at the tomb of John the Baptist (Peace Be Upon Him) in the Mosque at Damascus when one of the kings of the Arabs, notorious for injustice, happened to visit on pilgrimage. He said his prayers and invocations, and made a supplication.

Both rich and poor shall serve this dust indeed
The richest will be in the greatest need.  

Then he turned to me and said "Since you dervishes are known for your powerful spirits and true dealings, lend me your thoughts for the road. You see, I've got this powerful enemy that's worrying me."

I told him: deal mercifully with your weakest subjects, and the strongest enemy can never subject you.

It's wrong to maim  with mighty arms
The open fingers  of the feeble poor
Let him who lends  no hand to the fallen
Be felled, nor hope for another's aid.  
Who sows sick seed  yet seeks good fruit
Is a baldfaced fool  with spit for brains. 
Unplug your ears  give people justice
Be just or face  your Judgment Day. 
 Humans are limbs of one totality, 
 Since all were formed of one identity.  
 If any limb is harmed by fate's caprice 
 None of the rest have any rest or peace. 
 If others' suffering does not pain you too, 
 Then "human" is too good a name for you. 

The Original:

بر بالين تربت يحيي پيغامبر عليه السلام معتکف بودم در جامع دمشق که يکي از ملوک عرب که به بي انصافي منسوب بود، اتفاقا بزيارت آمد و نماز و دعا کرد و حاجت خواست

درويش و غني بنده اين خاک درند
وآنان که غني ترند محتاج ترند

آنگه مرا گفت از آنجا که همت درويشانست و صدق معاملت ايشان خاطري همراه من کنيد که از دشمني صعب انديشه ناکم، گفتمش بر رعيت ضعيف رحمت کن تا از دشمن قوي زحمت نبيني

ببازوان توانا و قوت سردست
خطاست پنجه مسکين ناتوان بشکست
نترسد آنکه بر افتادگان نبخشايد
که گر ز پاي درآيد کسش نگيرد دست
هر آنکه تخم بدي کشت و چشم نيکي داشت
دماغ بيهده پخت و خيال باطل بست
ز گوش پنبه برون آرو داد خلق بده
و گر تو ميندهي داد روز دادي هست
بني آدم اعضاي يکديگرند
که در آفرينش ز يک گوهرند
چو عضوي بدرد آورد روزگار
دگر عضوها را نماند قرار
تو کز محنت ديگران بيغمي
نشايد که نامت نهند آدمي

Saadi: Golestan 1.11 (From Persian)

From the Golestan: Chapter 1, Story 11
By Sa'di
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

There appeared in Baghdad a dervish whose prayers always got answered, and Al-Hajjaj the Tyrant was informed. He sent for the dervish and said "pray for me." "O God" said the dervish "take this man's life." "Oh for God's sake" he said "what kind of prayer is that?" The dervish replied "it's a prayer for your own good, sire, and for everybody's good."

You with the upper hand
Who torment underlings,
How long do you suppose
You'll get your run of things? 
What is the point of you,
Your worldly sovereignty?
Better to put you out
Of people's misery.

Audio of me reciting the text in Persian


The Original:

درویشی مستجاب الدعوة در بغداد پدید آمد حجاج یوسف را خبر کردند بخواندش و گفت دعای خیری بر من کن.گفت خدایا جانش بستان. گفت از بهر خدای این چه دعاست. گفت این دعای خیرست ترا و جمله مسلمانان را

ای زبردست زیر دست آزار
گرم تا کی بماند این بازار
به چه کار آیدت جهانداری
مردنت به که مردم آزاری

Sa'di: Golestan 1.2 (From Persian)

From the Golestan: Chapter 1, Story 2
By Sa'di
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

One of the Kings of Khorasan had a dream in which he saw Sabüktegin's son Mahmoud, his body all rotted apart and turned to dust — all except for his eyes, which kept on turning and looking round about inside their sockets. It was a dream none of the wise men had it in him to interpret, but a dervish spoke up and said he is still worried that his lands are now in others' hands.

Beneath this earth lie men of fame whose days
Existing on this earth have left no trace. 
The carcass they bequeathed to clay is gone,
Devoured by dirt that left no bit of bone. 
Noshirvan's name still lives for justice, though
His sweet soul ceased existing long ago. 
Live well, do good — whoever you are — before
The cry goes out that you are you no more.

Audio of me reciting the text in Persian


The Original: 

یکی از ملوک خراسان محمود سبکتکین را به خواب چنان دید که جمله وجود او ریخته بود و خاک شده مگر چشمان او که همچنان در چشم خانه همی‌گردید نظر مى گرد. سایر حکما از تأویل این فرو ماندند مگر درویشی که به جای آورد و گفت هنوز نگران است که ملکش با دگرانست.

بس نامور به زیر زمین دفن کرده‌اند
کز هستیش به روی زمین بر نشان نماند
وان پیر لاشه را که سپردند زیر گل
خاکش چنان بخورد کزو استخوان نماند
زنده است نام فرّخ نوشین روان به خیر
گر چه بسی گذشت که نوشین روان نماند
خیری کن ای فلان و غنیمت شمار عمر
زان پیشتر که بانگ بر آید فلان نماند

Slauerhoff: Letters at Sea (From Dutch)

Letters at Sea
By Jan Slauerhoff
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

They're read and re-read in repeated anguish 
Even though their contents were already known,
Made of the same stuff of life in every language,
Worn down to the last word in the long run.

Yet, opened back up after lonely meals
At night on watch, in bunks, when tales are over, 
Their penstrokes still have nourishment that heals
Those who have had such loneliness to suffer. 

Between 'My Dear' and 'Yours Truly' there's one
Story of island, town, home, son or daughter,
Which births and marriages and deaths rephrase.

After so many journeys, it's as if a haze
Shrouds what they knew on land. They are alone,
One with the ship, consorting with the water.

The Original:

Brieven op Zee

Gelezen worden ze ontelbre malen,
Al was de inhoud haast vooruit geweten,
Van ’t zelfde levensstof in alle talen
En op den duur tot op het woord versleten.

Toch weer ontvouwd, na ’t eenzaam avondeten,
Des nachts op wacht, te kooi en na ’t verhalen;
Voor hen die zooveel eenzaamheid verbeten
Is uit de letters leeftocht nog te halen.

Tusschen lieve en liefhebbende steeds staat er
Van kroost, huis, dorp en eiland weer ’t alleen
Bij trouw, geboorte en dood gevarieerd relaas.

Na tal van reizen is het of een waas
’t Bekende aan land omhult, men is alleen
En hoort bij ’t schip en houdt het met het water.


Pushkin: My Talisman (From Russian)

My Talisman
By Alexander Pushkin
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Preserve my soul, my secret charm. 
Preserve in me my desperate life,
In days of rue, in days of strife. 
You were my gift in sorrow's swarm.


When sea around me, turned to storm, 
Beats me with waves of angry spume, 
When thunderclouds above me boom,
Preserve my soul, my secret charm. 


When fiery war sounds its alarm,
When dull peace wears away the mind,
When far in banishment I wind,
Preserve my soul, my secret charm. 


Sacred seduction's guileful arm,
The magic beacon of my day,
Now darkened, changed, has gone its way. 
Preserve my soul, my secret charm. 


Let not the memories as they swell 
Open this wounded heart to harm. 
Sleep now, sweet dreams. Great hopes, farewell.
Preserve my soul, my secret charm.

The Original:

Храни меня, мой талисман,
Храни меня во дни гоненья,
Во дни раскаянья, волненья:
Ты в день печали был мне дан.

Когда подымет океан
Вокруг меня валы ревучи,
Когда грозою грянут тучи, —
Храни меня, мой талисман.

В уединеньи чуждых стран,
На лоне скучного покоя,
В тревоге пламенного боя
Храни меня, мой талисман.

Священный сладостный обман,
Души волшебное светило...
Оно сокрылось, изменило...
Храни меня, мой талисман.

Пускай же ввек сердечных ран
Не растравит воспоминанье.
Прощай, надежда; спи, желанье;
Храни меня, мой талисман.

Camoes: Opening of the Lusiadas (From Portuguese)


"Would you not like to be understood for what you were in your own time rather than what some will make of you? We live short lives, try to make our mark, hoping for some kind of afterlife in memories about us. We owe it to past people to try to understand them, just as we hope future people will respect us."

— Patricia Crone in The Qur'anic Pagans and Related Matters

Luíz Vaz de Camões was a scholar, courtier, sailor, colonial administrator and playwright of the Portuguese Renaissance. Oh, and a poet too. Here translated are the first 18 stanzas (constituting a proem) of the first canto of Os Lusíadas, the Portuguese national epic. The actual action of the poem starts immediately after the last stanza translated here. Camões is one of very few epic poets to write about historical events that he himself had participated in. (The only other that comes to mind is Alonso de Ercilla, author of La Araucana "The Araucaniad" a brilliant and horrifyingly disturbing epic about the Spanish conquest of Chile.) I may or may not do more from the Lusiadas. It's not a book from which it is easy to select manageable excerpts that hang together on their own. For some rambling thoughts on translating Camões see my post On Translating Camões on my other blog.

Landeg White said of his own translation  into English of the Lusiadas "...in retrospect, my translation has divested the poem of its imperialistic, nationalistic and colonial intention by playing down the multiple adjectives and finding alternative narratives for nouns and verbs in the poem."

One can hardly blame White for this.

Modern performances of medieval plays find various ways to deal with the antisemitism often pervasive in such plays. Dialogue can be recast, certain scenes may be removed, or the staging may be done in a way that plays to how a modern viewer would feel about what they're seeing. The aim is to make the play work better for a modern audience with modern sensibilities. But in doing this kind of thing to works that are "problematic" (last time I'll use the P-word I promise), there seems to be a point where you are essentially pretending that the original is something other than it is, that its creator was something other than what they really were, or even that history did not happen as really it did.

I don't feel the need to prettify this poem. Camões was a full believer in the colonial civilizing mission. With a certainty and a zeal that would not have disgraced an Umayyad Caliph or even Henry Kissinger, Camões believed in the superiority of what he believed to be his civilization, and its obligation to impose its order on the rest of the world for that world's own good. There is no handwaving away the bloodiness of European expansionism either. To translate Camões as the poet I wish he had been, instead of the poet that he was, simply does not sit right with me. The things that make the Lusiadas worth reading, and worth translating, are legion. But neither I nor my reader can have them without dealing with certain things.

We do not have to make Camões' mistake of thinking all things revolve around Christendom and its history. Camões' eructations about expanding "Faith and Empire" are not so different from those of medieval Muslim poets glorifying more or less the same thing in Arabic, where the word for it was jihād. Tariq ibn Ziyad didn't cross the straights that bear his name for the greater glory of cultural exchange anymore than the British colonized India to give it a railway system. Artistic exaltations of conquest and domination have existed in every empire for as long as empires have existed. If that were all that this poem was, there would be little to explain its appeal to centuries of readers, little to distinguish it either from its counterparts in other languages, or from its numerous imitations in Portuguese (which prompted one critic to describe Portuguese epic as a fungus growth.)

In the Lusiadas, we see a European poet confronted for the first time with questions of how to deal with many alien things. No other Renaissance European epic contains so many sprawling nationalities. No other is so propelled by the excitement of the first-hand experience of a "New World." Camões is — and Landeg White is right to dwell on this point — the first European poet to write about the tropics who had actually been there. He can be as fun a narrator as Dante, and some of his narrative tactics were unparalleled because they had to be, grappling as they did with both the geographic discoveries and the scientific revolutions of his time. His Vasco Da Gama is not an epic hero, but — just as Camões was during his time overseas — a human being with a job to do, and little patience for the likes of Aeneas who was such an incompetent seaman that he lost his helmsman on a clear night. 

The Portuguese empire had begun to unravel in Camões' day. The French and English, eventually joined by the Dutch, were gaining both territory and trade access at Portugal's expense, both in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere. Portugal just didn't have the capital needed to sustain a large navy on a scale comparable to other European powers, and lacked the institutions needed to continually train large enough groups with the specialized skills needed for effective overseas colonial administration.
When we read the Lusiadas we are reading of things that had already happened, however recently.  The later books especially have strong whiff of elegy. As Ausiàs March put it: temps d'avenir en negun be·m pot caure, / aquell passat en mi és lo millor.

If in the proem Camões looks to King Sebastião with the optimistic hope of a reinvigorated age of expansion for doughty Portugal, he is also doing what is expected of him. His letter home from Goa strongly implies that he could sense the jig was basically up. Camões spares no spleen in attacking the world of government officialdom, greedy merchants, the commercial racketeering of the spice-trade either in the Lusiadas or in his letter home. It never seems to have fully sunk in for him that overseas exploration and colonization was largely an expression of commercial interests. Camões will have none of it.

For him — at least, in his poetry — Europe’s discovery of the world's water-routes is to be seen as a crusade against the partes infidelium, despite his recognition of the commercial venture that it increasingly was and in many ways had always been. The focus on overseas exploration as essential to missionary warfare gave him a more convenient way to think of it. Camões' hostility to Islam in particular should be understood in context both of this, and of the broader European background. In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire was a rival super-power. Constantinople had fallen less than a hundred years earlier, Turkish armies were expanding in North Africa and the Balkans. The first siege of Vienna was still within living memory. The Battle of Lepanto occurred while Camões was writing this poem.

We do not need to forget history to remember that some of it was still yet to happen. In reading Camões, the modern notion of Muslims as the victims of history is an anachronism. It gains its force from global developments that would not take place until centuries after both Camões and Portugal's imperial ambitions had rotted to dust. The Lusiadas, as a poem, transcends them both "and is the lovelier because we know / it has gone beyond itself, as great things go."

From The Lusiads
By Luís Vaz de Camões
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

1

These are the tales of arms and matchless men
Who from our Portugal's far western shore,
Journeyed to Taprobana and beyond
By oceans nobody had braved before,
And in combat and crises held their own, 
Drawing on more than human skill, in war
Among a distant people, to bring the name
Of a New Kingdom, and earn it deathless fame;

2

And glorious memory of that line of kings
Who through the ages magnified the expanse
Of the Faith and Empire, and kept havocking
Asia and Africa's degenerate lands; 
And fame of men who did immortal things
Whose names are now immune to death's commands. 
I'll spread their song wherever there are men
So long as Art and Invention helm my pen. 

3  

Tell no more tales about the subtle Greek,
The Trojan refugee on epic seas,
The Roman Trajan or grand Alexander
With all their Asiatic victories. 
Look to the men who made Neptune and Mars
Obey: I sing the daring Portuguese.
Have done with all the Ancient Muses prize.
A higher code of honor's on the rise.

4  

And you, nymphs of the Tagus, since you have
Birthed the new burning genius in me,
If ever I have paid your kindly river
The homage of my rustic poetry,
Return to me the tones of the sublime,
A style both grand-tongued and contemporary. 
Apollo: bless their stream as my lines run.
Make Portugal a Modern Helicon.

5  

Fill me with mighty firing cadences. 
Not with a piping goatherd's rude flute bars,
But shouts of battle horns that flame the cheek
And stir the breast and steel the skin for wars.
Give me a new song equal to the feats
Of your people, proudly served by ruddy Mars,
To sing and spread their praise in space and time,
If verse can compass something so sublime. 



And you, Boy King, scion and guarantor
Of Lusitania's ancient liberty,  
No less a certain hope of increase for
Christendom's little empire on the sea, 
You who have put new terror in the Moor,
The marvel of our age, our destiny, 
Given the world by God's all-willing reign
To win much of that world for God's own name. 



You, green and tender sapling from the tree
More precious in the heart of Christ than all
The other lineages of the West, 
Be it the Kaisers' or the Kings of Gaul, 
(Witness your coat of arms that bears the sign
Of victory against the Infidel
When Christ bestowed, as emblem to emboss,
The five wounds that he suffered on the cross.) 



You, mighty king, whose global realm the sun
Sees as it first comes up an Indian hill,
Then shines — mid-hemisphere — above your throne
Until it casts a last beam at Brazil,
You whom we look upon to yoke and humble 
The scurvy horsemen spawned of Ishmael, 
The heathen Turk, and the Hindu believer
Drinking the waters of his hallowed river. 



Come set that majesty aside awhile
That in your youthful countenance I see
Already, and which in fullness of your years 
You'll bear to the temple of eternity;
Bend your magnanimous and kingly eyes
Earthward. Behold a loving eulogy
For my country's doughty feats in modern times
Given the world in good and cadenced rhymes. 

10 

Here you will see a love of country, driven
Not by base greed, but everlasting worth.
It is no base reward to be renowned
For voicing praises for my land of birth.
Listen, and you will note the names extolled
Of men to whom you are the lord on earth.
Judge for yourself: would it be greater, then,  
To be king of the world, or of such men? 

11 

Listen. You will not hear of counterfeit
Exploits. We do not need the fantasies
That other nations' Muses fabulate
To glorify themselves in lies. For these 
Historic deeds I sing to you transcend
Fables, and would outstrip the vagaries
Of France's Roland, and Ariosto's too, 
Even if every word of them were true. 

12 

Instead I give you Nuno Álvarez
Grand servant of his kingdom and his king,
I give you Egas Moniz, Fuas Roupinho
Whose praise only Homer's lyre could rightly sing.
Arthur's knights yield to the twelve Portuguese
Of England, and Magriço's traveling.
And I will give you Lord da Gama's genius
Wresting the fame from wandering Aeneas.

13 

My liege, if what you want is equal stature
To Julius Caesar or the Charlemagne
Look to Afonso the first whose lance eclipsed
All foreign reputations in his reign;
Or João the first who kept this kingdom free
In victory against the steel of Spain;
Or João the second, conquered by no sword,
Or the fourth or fifth Afonso, or the third.

14 

Nor shall my verses fail to monument
Those heroes who in Kingdoms of the Dawn
By force of arms rose to such excellence
Your banner always triumphed in that sun: 
Peerless Pacheco, and fearsome Francisco
Whom the Tagus still mourns as it mourns his son,   
Albuquerque the fierce, Castro the brave,
And other men whose feats defeat the grave. 

15 

And while I sing to you of these, of you
My liege, I would not dare presume a thing. 
Go, liege, take up the reins of your own reign, 
And give me even greater stuff to sing. 
Let the world groan and gape already, sensing
The weight of your feats and your forces, King
Of African lands and Oriental seas,
Where you fulfill your destined victories. 

16 

On you the frightened Moor has fixed his eyes,
And sees his doom foretold in all you do. 
At a flash of you the rugged Indian
Will offer his cowed neck to yoke. For you
Lord Neptune's Thetys has prepared already
A dowry of her whole domain of blue. 
Your worth and beauty hold her in such awe
She wants to win you for a son-in-law.  

17 

Today from Mount Olympus there gaze down
Your two grandfathers. Such renown they bore:
One for a golden angel-cherished Peace
The other for red works of bleeding War. 
In you they hope to witness resurrection
Of their heroic deeds and days once more,
Keeping a place, when all must cease to be
For you, in the temple of eternity. 

18 

But as your long reign rolls on slowly over
Your people, as they dearly wish it to, 
Look favorably on my boldness so 
My epic can become your epic too. 
You will see the salt sliver ocean cut 
By Portuguese Argonauts who will see you 
Are watching over them on wrath-green sea. 
Prepare to be invoked in jeopardy. 

Notes:

S1: Taprobana - the Greek, and later Latin, name for the island of Sri Lanka.

S3: The Greek is Odysseus, and the Trojan Aeneas.

S6: I.e. King Sebastião who had ascended to the throne at the age of 14.

S7: The victory is that won at the Battle of Ourique, south of the Tagus, where Afonso Henriques defeated the Almoravids. Legend had it that Christ appeared on the field promising the deliverance of Portugal. The five shields in the Portuguese coat of arms are said to represent the wounds of Christ.

S11: The final couplet in the original refers to different characters from Orlando Furioso and Orlando Inamorato.

S12: Egas Moniz and Fuas Roupinho were allies of Afonso I. Nuno álvares was a hero of the battle of Aljubarrota. The original references the myth of the Twelve Peers of France, and not Arthur's knights. But I felt that the Twelve Knights of the Roundtable did more in English with little consequence for the poem beyond.

S14: Description of renowned men from Portuguese India. Duarte Pacheco Pereira conquered the Malabar coast. Francisco and his son Lourenço de Almeida established a line of fortresses from Sofala to Cochin. Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa. 

The Original:

As armas e os barões assinalados,
Que da ocidental praia Lusitana,
Por mares nunca de antes navegados,
Passaram ainda além da Taprobana,
Em perigos e guerras esforçados,
Mais do que prometia a força humana,
E entre gente remota edificaram
Novo Reino, que tanto sublimaram;

E também as memórias gloriosas
Daqueles Reis, que foram dilatando
A Fé, o Império, e as terras viciosas
De África e de Ásia andaram devastando;
E aqueles, que por obras valerosas
Se vão da lei da morte libertando;
Cantando espalharei por toda parte,
Se a tanto me ajudar o engenho e arte.

Cessem do sábio Grego e do Troiano
As navegações grandes que fizeram;
Cale-se de Alexandro e de Trajano
A fama das vitórias que tiveram;
Que eu canto o peito ilustre Lusitano,
A quem Neptuno e Marte obedeceram:
Cesse tudo o que a Musa antiga canta,
Que outro valor mais alto se alevanta.

E vós, Tágides minhas, pois criado
Tendes em mim um novo engenho ardente,
Se sempre em verso humilde celebrado
Foi de mim vosso rio alegremente,
Dai-me agora um som alto e sublimado,
Um estilo grandíloquo e corrente,
Porque de vossas águas, Febo ordene
Que não tenham inveja às de Hipocrene.

Dai-me uma fúria grande e sonorosa,
E não de agreste avena ou frauta ruda,
Mas de tuba canora e belicosa,
Que o peito acende e a cor ao gesto muda;
Dai-me igual canto aos feitos da famosa
Gente vossa, que a Marte tanto ajuda;
Que se espalhe e se cante no universo,
Se tão sublime preço cabe em verso.

E vós, ó bem nascida segurança
Da Lusitana antiga liberdade,
E não menos certíssima esperança
De aumento da pequena Cristandade;
Vós, ó novo temor da Maura lança,
Maravilha fatal da nossa idade,
Dada ao mundo por Deus, que todo o mande,
Para do mundo a Deus dar parte grande;

Vós, tenro e novo ramo florescente
De uma árvore de Cristo mais amada
Que nenhuma nascida no Ocidente,
Cesárea ou Cristianíssima chamada;
(Vede-o no vosso escudo, que presente
Vos amostra a vitória já passada,
Na qual vos deu por armas, e deixou
As que Ele para si na Cruz tomou)

Vós, poderoso Rei, cujo alto Império
O Sol, logo em nascendo, vê primeiro;
Vê-o também no meio do Hemisfério,
E quando desce o deixa derradeiro;
Vós, que esperamos jugo e vitupério
Do torpe Ismaelita cavaleiro,
Do Turco oriental, e do Gentio,
Que inda bebe o licor do santo rio;

Inclinai por um pouco a majestade,
Que nesse tenro gesto vos contemplo,
Que já se mostra qual na inteira idade,
Quando subindo ireis ao eterno templo;
Os olhos da real benignidade
Ponde no chão: vereis um novo exemplo
De amor dos pátrios feitos valerosos,
Em versos divulgado numerosos.

Vereis amor da pátria, não movido
De prémio vil, mas alto e quase eterno:
Que não é prémio vil ser conhecido
Por um pregão do ninho meu paterno.
Ouvi: vereis o nome engrandecido
Daqueles de quem sois senhor superno,
E julgareis qual é mais excelente,
Se ser do mundo Rei, se de tal gente.

Ouvi, que não vereis com vãs façanhas,
Fantásticas, fingidas, mentirosas,
Louvar os vossos, como nas estranhas
Musas, de engrandecer-se desejosas:
As verdadeiras vossas são tamanhas,
Que excedem as sonhadas, fabulosas;
Que excedem Rodamonte, e o vão Rugeiro,
E Orlando, inda que fora verdadeiro,

Por estes vos darei um Nuno fero,
Que fez ao Rei o ao Reino tal serviço,
Um Egas, e um D. Fuas, que de Homero
A cítara para eles só cobiço.
Pois pelos doze Pares dar-vos quero
Os doze de Inglaterra, e o seu Magriço;
Dou-vos também aquele ilustre Gama,
Que para si de Eneias toma a fama.

Pois se a troco de Carlos, Rei de França,
Ou de César, quereis igual memória,
Vede o primeiro Afonso, cuja lança
Escura faz qualquer estranha glória;
E aquele que a seu Reino a segurança
Deixou com a grande e próspera vitória;
Outro Joane, invicto cavaleiro,
O quarto e quinto Afonsos, e o terceiro.

Nem deixarão meus versos esquecidos
Aqueles que nos Reinos lá da Aurora
Fizeram, só por armas tão subidos,
Vossa bandeira sempre vencedora:
Um Pacheco fortíssimo, e os temidos
Almeidas, por quem sempre o Tejo chora;
Albuquerque terríbil, Castro forte,
E outros em quem poder não teve a morte.

E enquanto eu estes canto, e a vós não posso,
Sublime Rei, que não me atrevo a tanto,
Tomai as rédeas vós do Reino vosso:
Dareis matéria a nunca ouvido canto.
Comecem a sentir o peso grosso
(Que pelo mundo todo faça espanto)
De exércitos e feitos singulares,
De África as terras, e do Oriente os mares,

Em vós os olhos tem o Mouro frio,
Em quem vê seu exício afigurado;
Só com vos ver o bárbaro Gentio
Mostra o pescoço ao jugo já inclinado;
Tétis todo o cerúleo senhorio
Tem para vós por dote aparelhado;
Que afeiçoada ao gesto belo e tenro,
Deseja de comprar-vos para genro.

Em vós se vêm da olímpica morada
Dos dois avós as almas cá famosas,
Uma na paz angélica dourada,
Outra pelas batalhas sanguinosas;
Em vós esperam ver-se renovada
Sua memória e obras valerosas;
E lá vos tem lugar, no fim da idade,
No templo da suprema Eternidade.

Mas enquanto este tempo passa lento
De regerdes os povos, que o desejam,
Dai vós favor ao novo atrevimento,
Para que estes meus versos vossos sejam;
E vereis ir cortando o salso argento
Os vossos Argonautas, por que vejam
Que são vistos de vós no mar irado,
E costumai-vos já a ser invocado.

Camoes: Hopeless Case (From Portuguese)

Hopeless Case
By Luís de Camões
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

They all consider me a hopeless case
Seeing me so addicted to my cares,
Cutting myself off from the human race,
Forgotten in humanity's affairs. 
But I who twice have trekked across the globe 
And learned the way of it from sea to sea,
Find him a vulgar, clueless little rube
Who has not been refined in my agony. 

So land and sea and winds revolve and roll. 
Let other men quest after wealth and fame,
Conquering cold, cast-iron, calm and flame,
And leave me alone in honest beggary 
Happily carrying to eternity 
Your gorgeous face incised upon my soul.

The Original:

Julga-me a gente toda por perdido,
Vendo-me, tão entregue a meu cuidado,
Andar sempre dos homens apartado,
E de humanos commercios esquecido.
Mas eu, que tenho o mundo conhecido,
E quasi que sôbre elle ando dobrado,
Tenho por baixo, rustico, e enganado
Quem não he com meu mal engrandecido.

Vá revolvendo a terra, o mar, e o vento,
Honras busque e riquezas a outra gente,
Vencendo ferro, fogo, frio e calma.
Que eu por amor sómente me contento
De trazer esculpido eternamente
Vosso formoso gesto dentro da alma.

Slauerhoff: Comfort in Illness (From Dutch)

Comfort in Illness
By Jan Slauerhoff
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Pizarro at age fifty still had not 
Gained much fame from the dangers of his life.
With plumes decking the hair of his first wife,
A second tended to his family plot. 

They knew him as a madcap murderer, 
Guilty of every kind of felony.
But that was what they called morality
On Hispaniola in his fiftieth year. 

His chance came: on a rotting caravel
He made the journey none had made before
And with a hundred men conquered Peru. 

He was fifty. I'm thirty. Who can tell
If I'll discover the sixth continent's shore,
Though walking now is more than I can do? 


The Original:

Ziekentroost

Pizarro had de vijftig overschreden
En weinig roem behaald uit veel gevaar;
Zijn eerste vrouw droeg veeren in het haar
En op zijn kleine akker werkte een tweede.

Hij stond bekend als drieste moordenaar,
Geen wet haast die hij niet had overtreden,
Maar dat behoorde tot de goede zeden
Op Hispaniola – hij was vijftig jaar.

Toen kwam de kans: met een vermolmd karveel
Maakte hij de reis die niemand vóór hem deed,
Veroverde met honderd man Peroe.

Vijftig was hij, ik dertig maar: wie weet
Ontdek ik niet het zesde werelddeel,
Al ben ik nu na een paar stappen moe?

Camoes: Sonnet of Change (From Portuguese)

Omnia Mutantur
By Luís de Camões
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The times go changing. Fashions change. The ways
Of being change. Old credences grow strange. 
The world is all made up of whirls of change 
Invariably varying its face. 
Always the novel things that meet our gaze 
Are nothing like what we had hoped to see. 
Evil endures as scars in memory,
Good, if we find it, as the good old days.
Time covers earth with a green pinafore
That once was cloaked in snow, and rearranges
A dirge out of the song I once lived for. 
And yet apart from these everyday changes,
A single further change staggers me more:
Things are not changing as they changed before.

The Original:

Mudam-se os tempos, mudam-se as vontades,
Muda-se o ser, muda-se a confiança;
Todo o mundo é composto de mudança,
Tomando sempre novas qualidades.
Continuamente vemos novidades,
Diferentes em tudo da esperança;
Do mal ficam as mágoas na lembrança,
E do bem, se algum houve, as saudades.
O tempo cobre o chão de verde manto,
Que já coberto foi de neve fria,
E em mim converte em choro o doce canto.
E, afora este mudar-se cada dia,
Outra mudança faz de mor espanto:
Que não se muda já como soía.