Hafiz: Ghazal 203 "In Memoriam" (From Persian)

This poem is a lament for Abu Ishaq, the last of the Injuids, a patron whom Hafiz had loved a great deal. After barely a decade of rule in Shiraz, Abu Ishaq was toppled and executed by the Muzaffarid Mubariz al-Din Muhammad. Whereas Abu Ishaq was a sybarite who loved poetry, wine and the funner things of life, Mubariz al-Din was a pietistic killjoy who closed the wine-taverns and attempted to enforce religious orthodoxy in a way that many in Shiraz, including Hafiz, found profoundly unpleasant. 

Ghazal 203: In Memoriam
By Hafiz
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Persian

Be it remembered: I lived on
the very street that you lived on.  
   Light of my eyes it was to me
   when dust of your dear doorway shone.
A lily and a rose were you  
and I, our talks so pure and true  
   That what I uttered with my tongue
   and what lay in your heart, were one.
When our hearts joined in dialectic 
with words of ancient mystics' truth, 
   Love's commentary would shed light
   on each hapax legomenon.  
I told my heart, I told myself: 
"I'll never be without my Friend" 
   But when my self and heart have tried
   and come to naught, what's to be done? 
Last night for old time's sake I passed 
our drinking spot, and saw a cask 
   Corked in the mud, wine spilt like blood. 
   My feet turned clay could not go on. 
Much as I wandered, as I wondered 
and asked why parting's pain had come, 
   The judge of Reason found no reasons
   and lost all judgement thereupon.
Although the turquoise signet ring1 
of Bu-Ishaq the splendorous king 
   Shone brilliantly, that dynasty
   was all too swiftly felled and gone. 
Hafez, see how the partridge struts
cackling away with every cluck. 
   The falcon-claws he flouts are Laws 
   of Fate by which he'll be undone2.


1- Turquoise was highly prized by Persians as a bringer of good luck. To wear it was said to protect one against evil and bring one prosperity. However it was also said that rulers should not wear turquoise because their glory would be subsumed in that of the stone. 

2 - according to historians, Abu Ishaq's carefree indulgence and pleasure-seeking even as the Muzaffarid army was advancing on Shiraz, was the former's undoing. 

The Original:

یاد باد آن که سر کوی توام منزل بود دیده را روشنی از خاک درت حاصل بود
راست چون سوسن و گل از اثر صحبت پاک بر زبان بود مرا آن چه تو را در دل بود
دل چو از پیر خرد نقل معانی می‌کرد عشق می‌گفت به شرح آن چه بر او مشکل بود
در دلم بود که بی دوست نباشم هرگز چه توان کرد که سعی من و دل باطل بود
دوش بر یاد حریفان به خرابات شدم خم می دیدم خون در دل و پا در گل بود
بس بگشتم که بپرسم سبب درد فراق مفتی عقل در این مسله لایعقل بود
راستی خاتم فیروزۀ بواسحاقی خوش درخشید ولی دولت مستعجل بود
دیدی آن قهقهۀ کبک خرامان حافظ 
که ز سرپنجۀ شاهین قضا غافل بود

Hermann Hesse: I love women (From German)

"I love the women"
By Hermann Hesse
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I love the women singers once extolled
In verse of love through centuries of old.

I love the cities where a lost wall tells
The sorry tales of olden citadels.

I love the cities that will one day stand
When no one of today is in the land.

I love the women, beautiful, sublime
Who rest unborn yet in the womb of time.

They will someday send forth a star-pale beam
of beauty like the beauty that I dream.

The Original:

"Ich liebe Frauen..."

Ich liebe Frauen, die vor tausend Jahren
Geliebt von Dichtern und besungen waren.

Ich liebe Städte, deren leere Mauern
Königsgeschlechter alter Zeit betrauern.

Ich liebe Städte, die erstehen werden,
Wenn niemand mehr von heute lebt auf Erden.

Ich liebe Frauen—schlanke, wunderbare,
Die ungeboren ruhn im Schoss der Jahre.

Sie werden einst mit ihrer sternebleichen
Schönheit der Schönheit meiner Träume gleichen.

Du Fu: On a Moonlit Night while Imprisoned in Chang'an (From Chinese)

During the An Lushan rebellion, the Emperor had fled the capital of Chang'an which had fallen to the  rebels. Du Fu was away at the time and took his wife and children (the oldest of them maybe 5 years old) to safety at Fūzhōu, in present day Fùxiàn, about 140 miles north of Chang'an on the river Luo. Du Fu then headed for the frontier town of Lingwu to join the new court. But he was intercepted by the rebels and taken to Chang'an, and imprisoned. There, he wrote this poem.

On a Moonlit Night while Imprisoned in Chang'an
By Du Fu
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click here to hear me recite the original in Modern Chinese pronunciation
Click here to hear me recite it in my reconstruction of what Medieval Chinese sounded like

Tonight this same moon rises on Fuzhou   
  where she, alone, will watch it with me gone.   
My heart here races for our children there      
  too young to learn what she knows of Chang'an1 
In fragrant mist, her cloud-coiffed hair is dewed.   
  In the chill light, her jade-white shoulders swoon.    
When shall we lean together by one window   
  drying our tear-scarred cheeks by one bright moon?   

1: i.e. that Du Fu is being held there.

The Original, transcriptions:

Han Characters 


Middle Chinese 

ngwat3a yà3
dúo1 púo3c

kem3x yà3 phuo3c tsyou3b ngwat3a
kwei4 trung3b tsyí3b duk1b khan1
yau3 lan4 sáu3 nyi3b núo3b
3a ghèi2a ek3 drang3 an1
hang3 mùo 3c wen3a ghwan2a syep3    
tsheing3b hwi3a nguk3c pì3by ghan1
ghe1 dzyi3d í3bx huo3b ghwáng1
srong2 tsyàu3 lwì3c ghen1 kan1
Modern Chinese  

Yuè yè  
Dù Fǔ  

Jīnyè fūzhōu yuè  
Guī zhōng zhǐ dú kān  
Yáo lián xiǎo ér nǚ  
Wèi xiè1 yì cháng'ān  
Xiāng wù yún huán shī  
Qīng huī yù bì hán  
hé shí yǐ xū huǎng  
shuāng zhào lèi hén gān  
Notes on the Chinese:
1- the normal reading of this character in modern Chinese (as well as most recitations I would imagine) is jiě. A traditional literary reading of this character, when it means "understand," would be the more etymologically consistent xiè which is what I went with.

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

Poem 34: Promises, Promises
By Catullus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

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

The Original:

Nulli se dicit mulier mea nubere malle
quam mihi, non si se Iuppiter ipse petat.
Dicit; sed mulier cupido quod dicit amati,
in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua

Pontano: The Tomb of Massila, the Slave-girl (From Latin)

When I think back to the AP Latin curriculum I subjected myself to in high school, I shake my head at what a truncated, gutted impression of Latin literature it gave, as if nothing worth reading were written in Latin after 300 AD. The modern commonplace equation of Latin literature with Ancient Roman literature, and of the Latin language with Ancient Roman Latinity, to the exclusion of the overwhelming majority of things written in Latin throughout history, arbitrarily conceals from non-specialists and students what pleasure is to be had from the great poets of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many of whom wrote mostly or entirely in Latin. It is also a monument to the staggering stupidity of the assumption of, among others, George Santayana (and belied by Leah Goldberg, Samuel Beckett, William Auld and, well, the overwhelming majority of urbanized, literate, stratified societies throughout pre-modern history) that a literary artist is at their best when writing in some form of the language they speak or grew up speaking. 
So, here we have a poem by the great Latin poet Giovanni Pontano comes to us from Renaissance Italy, whose Latin literature is rarely serviced by literary translators. It is also one of the most memorable I have ever read. It functions as an allusive anti-text for Catullus' celebrated elegy for his brother ("Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus", for my translation of which click here.) 
Pontano's choice of a slave-girl as the focal point of the piece is not merely an allusive nod to antiquity. Pontano could easily be - and I think actually is - referring to a child he himself fathered with one of his own slave-women. Slavery was practiced in Pontano's romping ground of Naples during the Renaissance (as was the case in most of the Mediterranean region,) and owners could be - and frequently were - quite cruel and brutal. Pontano himself not only owned slaves, but also wrote a work in the service of the status quo titled De Obedientia in which among other things, he comments on how to keep slaves on the straight and narrow. 
However, Pontano was also acutely aware of the fact that slaves were often miserable and their humanity treated cheaply. Indeed, this very poem succeeds by making the seemingly insignificant baby slave girl immortally significant. A dead female child of the underclass, the epitome of devalued humanity, is given a dignity in verse that has endured long enough for you, whoever you are, to read it in my 21st century English translation. Pontano gives her the only honor he feels he can, adorning her death with this verse, giving an indirect acknowledgement of how wretched, how painful and how casually neglected a slave's life is - so much so that death is not necessarily overmuch cause for sorrow. There is no grief in these lines. Even the mother accepts her (likely stillborn) child's death in an almost matter of fact fashion. How cheapened life must be, when death scarce seems much of a loss. On a final note: for me, at least, Pontano gives the impression of recriminating himself indirectly by highlighting the joylessness of (his) slaves' lives. Though this may have no more to it than modern American white guilt. 

The Tomb of Massila, the Slave Girl
By Jovianus Pontanus (A.K.A Giovanni Pontano)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

  The urn itself speaks

I, urn of cremation, speak. The ash is a baby. A slave-girl
 lies in me, born in her home, her father's twin child. 
After she died, her mother entrusted her to me, and told me
 "I bore her myself for you, your daughter to be." 
Her in the dark I nourished. Night was her nurse. At the breasts of
 night she sucked. The breastmilk was sleep itself.
She does not speak. Yet bearing witness in sleep everlasting
 she teaches us how birth is worse than death. 
Not one whirled care now wracks her, she's not on the lips of her mother.
 No wool is put in her fingers to pull apart.
She leads an eternal dead of night, without light, without living
 feeling. Life's obsequies can't oppress her now. 
And while I speak myself, this little baby keeps sleeping
 untroubled. Slumber bathes her in constant rain. 
Massila was the name her master gave her. The Muses
 adorned this place through duteous love of her lord.
Here rests Massila. Sleep is the milk she sucks from the breasts of 
 night. But dark and the coffin are her cradles. 


Tumulus Massilae Vernulae
Jovianus Pontanus

  Urna ipsa loquitur

Urna loquor: cinis est infans, infantula mecum est,
 Vernula nata domi, nata gemella patri.
Hanc mater mihi commendat post funera et inquit:
 "Ipsa tibi hanc peperi, nata futura tua est."
Hanc alui in tenebris; nutrix nox; ubera suxit
 Noctis, et infanti lac fuit ipse sopor.
Nec fatur; verum somno testata perenni,
 Quam nasci satius vos docet esse mori.
Hanc nullae torquent curae, non matris in ore est,
 Non lana in digitis comminuenda datur;
Continuas ducit noctes; lux nulla, nec ulli
 Sunt vitae sensus, munera nulla premunt.
Dumque haec ipsa loquor, secura infantula dormit;
 Illam perpetuo somnus ab imbre rigat.
Nomen erat quod fecit herus Massila; Camoenae
 Ornarunt domini pro pietate locum.
Hic dormit Massila; sopor lac, ubera praebet
 Nox ipsa, at cunas et tenebrae et loculi.

Catullus: Poem 7 "How Many Kisses" (From Latin)

How Many Kisses
By Gaius Valerius Catullus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

My Lesbia, you want to know how many
kisses would be enough to satisfy me?
As many as the many grains of sand
in silphium-rich Cyrene, which lie
between the shrine of Jupiter in heat
and the most hallowed sepulchre of Battus. 
As many as the stars in still of night
watching the furtive lovemakings of men.
Only to get from you that many kisses
would satisfy your aching, mad Catullus,
a number far beyond the reckonings
of busybodies or the tongue of envy.

The Original: 

Quaeris, quot mihi basiationes
tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque.
quam magnus numerus Libyssae arenae
lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis
oraclum Iovis inter aestuosi
et Batti veteris sacrum sepulcrum;
aut quam sidera multa, cum tacet nox,
furtivos hominum vident amores:
tam te basia multa basiare
vesano satis et super Catullo est,
quae nec pernumerare curiosi
possint nec mala fascinare lingua.

Catullus: Poem 32 "Entreaty to a Call-girl" (From Latin)

Poem 32: Entreaty to a Call-Girl 
By Catullus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I beg you, be a sweetheart Ipsitilla,
my darling, my experienced beauty, call me
over to join your nap this afternoon,
and if you're willing, do me this huge favor:
Don't let some other client lock the door,
resist the urge to try and cruise the streets,
but stay at home and get yourself prepared
for nine successive screws - a fuckathon. 
If you'd have me at all, the time is now.
I'm on my back in bed, digesting lunch,
and my junk's jutting through my cloak and tunic. 

The Original:

Amabo, mea dulcis Ipsitilla,
meae deliciae, mei lepores,
iube ad te veniam meridiatum.
Et si iusseris, illud adiuvato,
ne quis liminis obseret tabellam,
neu tibi lubeat foras abire,
sed domi maneas paresque nobis
novem continuas fututiones.
Verum si quid ages, statim iubeto:
nam pransus iaceo et satur supinus
pertundo tunicamque palliumque.

Christian Pawlu: Song for the Millennium (From Latin)

Song For A New Millennium
Christian Pawlu (b. 1977)

We march and make way toward uncharted times.
We mark the past by force of memory.
Men who forget the glory of ancestral works
Who cannot even speak their father's name,
Those whose tongues each day shirk the ancestral words...
Such men do not deserve their origin.
We wade with mighty steps into a millennium,
Guided by what has been through what must be.

The Original:

Carmen Sæculare
Christianus Paulus

Præteriti simus in alia et nova tempora saecli,
Marce, memores nunc ingredientes et nos.
Nam qui facti et honoris est oblitus maiorum,
declamare patrum nomina neve potest,
qui aut cottidie repetit non verba suorum,
is non est dignus sua quidem genere.
Millennium in æquum procedimus et properamus.
Duces nobis sint tempora præterita.

Alan Van Dievoet: Epitaph of the Innocent (From Latin)

Epitaph of the Innocent
(For those slaughtered in the twin towers on 9/11)
By Alain Van Dievoet
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Latin

Travelers, pass and tell the outstretched earth
How we the innocent lie heaped beneath it,
Calm citizens, calm mothers and calm fathers.
Our hearts were empty of all rage that day
Death out of spite ripped us out of life's work:
Now we in heaven are a constellation. 

The Original:

Epitaphium Innocentium
(In Turribus Gemellis Novi Eboraci Atrociter Interfectorum)
Die 11 m. Sept. an. 2001.
Alanus Divutius

Ite viatores et mundo dicite vasto
nos hic innocuos mole iacere sub hac,
nos cives placidos, patres matresque quietos.
Cordibus in nostris nullum odium fuerat.
Nosque laborantes rapuit mors invidiosa,
nunc sumus heroes, nunc sumus astra poli.

Florindo di Monaco: Macchu Picchu (From Latin)

Machu Picchu
By Florindo di Monaco
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click here to hear me recite the poem in Latin

Clouds are wreathed in rays as they blank the stars out,
Shining. Here all time for all time is silent.
Grasping for gods lie the uprisen boulders
Muted in prayer.

Where are the sound deeds of a throned almighty?
Where did the power go beyond the people?
Menacing riddles shock away the coward
Heart of the ages.

The Original:

Cacumina Andina “Alturas de Machu Picchu” dicta

Nubium candens prohibet corona
astra mirari. Silet omne tempus.
Caelites mutis precibus sequuntur
edita saxa.

Quo facultates solii supremi,
magna quo fugit populi potestas?
Instat arcanum pavidis fugacis
cordibus aevi.

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