William Auld: Elegy In An Old Graveyard (From Esperanto)

Though styled as a denial of sanctity and divinity, this poem offers much more. It is nothing short of a nihilist critique of existentialism (especially the latter's approach to morality and meaning), executed via one of Auld's favorite themes: the smallness of humanity in time and the cosmos

Elegy In An Old Graveyard
By William Auld
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Esperanto

Here tombstones stab the hillside, dense
As tares; the birdshit streaks are quite
Symbolic on these monuments.

Some twenty generations were
This bless'd dirt's fertilizer: who
Of them composed what could endure?

Yet they believed in human worth,
They nursed, puffed, bluffed and trusted each other,
Then left no trace above the earth.

For some, these stones were placed about.
And now two centuries of rain
Have all but wiped their lapsed names out.

Thousands of times this kindling spot
Has sparked with life, had life put out.
The whole world gave it not a thought.

The whole world knows Napoleons
(One in a million) and forgets
The million miserable ones,

And outside of our race's archives,
Yes, even the Napoleons
Were likewise aimless, useless lives.

Ah, the clichés! Yes. But this sense
Is what drives random man to solace
In tombs, in prayers, in monuments,

Our egocentric species runs
And ricochets in purblind terror
Of its own insignificance,

And brings forth in the mind's blind eye
An afterlife, devoutly hoping
That it, at last, will signify.

Afterlives, tombstones, priests' amen!
Ah, unavailing and more useless
Than any useless work of men.

The Original:

Elegio En Malnova Tombejo

Monteton tomboŝtonoj lole
traspikas; birdofekoj strias ,
ĉi monumentojn tre simbole.

Dudek generacioj sterkis 

per si ĉi sanktan humon: kiu
el ili ion daŭran verkis?

Sed kredis pri la homa digno, 

sin vartis, pufis, blufis, fidis: 

kaj malaperis sen postsigno.

Por kelkaj oni metis ŝtonojn.
Jam dujarcenta pluvo preskaŭ 

forviŝis forgesitajn nomojn.

Ĉi tie milmilfoje sparkis
po homa viv', kaj estingiĝis.
La mondo ĝin eĉ ne rimarkis.

Konas la mond' Napoleonojn
(malofta tipo), sed forgesas
samtempajn mornajn milionojn.

Kaj ekster niaj rasarkivoj

eĉ la napoleonaj estis 

sencelaj senutilaj vivoj.

Aĥ, kliŝoj! Jes. Sed pro ĉi sentoj
homar' hazarda sin konsolas
per preĝoj, tomboj, monumentoj.

La egocentra homa speco 

resaltas kun teruro blinda

de sia propra malgraveco,

kaj al si kreas fantazie
transmondon, esperante pie,

ke ĝi finfine gravos tie.

Transmondoj, tomboj, preĝoj, ĉerkoj!
­Ho, vanaj kaj plej senutilaj 

el senutilaj homaj verkoj!


  1. What's a 'cemetary'?! No such word in my large English dictionary, but the etymology is rather interesting.

  2. Thanks for this. The original poem is excellently put together and the tone fits perfectly. The English translation doesn't read so elegantly, some stanzas more so than others, but I haven't studied it to offer constructive criticisms. I know that Auld's "La Infana Raso" and "Julia sur Pandatario" have been translated into English; I can't think of others. Anyway, I hope you continue your efforts.

  3. I updated it with my second draft, in which I decided that the original meter should be replicated exactly. Is that what you had in mind?

  4. oh also, I've translated Julia sur Pandaterio myself

  5. I guess I was thinking about some passages which, regardless of correct meter, read more prosaically: "Symbolic on these monuments" might be one of these examples. But given the difficulty of replicating meaning, rhyme & meter, I'm not complaining. What sounds good in different languages (and to which readers/listeners) is not a cut-and-dried matter. I think a harder thing to do is to translate original Esperanto lyrical poetry, which to the modern American ear, sounds stilted & syrupy. As for perception of the original, there's probably some reason, maybe indefinable, which made me prefer Miĥalski to many of the other classic Esperanto poets. It could be because there's more intensity and an absence of classical measured restraint.