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

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

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

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Wodwo Vergil: a version of Eclogue 1



This term I'm teaching, amongst other things, a course on pastoral poetry. I've taught it before, but not for a while, and over the last week I've been, in a more or less desultory way, getting my head back into a literary-pastoral space, re-reading Vergil's Eclogues and so on.

At the origin point of the tradition of writing we call 'pastoral' are two rather different types of poetry. On the one hand are works like Theocritus's Εἰδύλλια and Vergil's Eclogues: poems set in an idealised and beautiful natural space, in which shepherds eat good food and pursue lovely maidens and generally live free from hardship and want. In point of fact, even in these earliest works hardship is never very far away; but I'll come back to that. Say 'pastoral' to most people and that's what they'll think of: carefree shepherds in lovely natural surroundings. So that's one: on the other hand are works like Hesiod's Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι ['Works and Days'] and Vergil's Georgics: which is to say, more practically-minded almanacs or guidebooks on how actually to farm and husband the land. On the one hand poems idealising natural beauty; on the other, gardening handbooks

The former sorts of poems are sometimes called 'eclogues', sometimes 'bucolics', and they tend to articulate a more arcadian, 'fantasy' version of the natural world. Georgics, because they focus on practicalities, have to encompass nature as sometimes hard and resistant to human husbandry, since that is the way the natural world actually is. Digging and ploughing are tough in a way (obviously) that lying in the sunshine blowing a tune on your pan pipe is not. That said, and just staying with Vergil's Eclogues for now, descriptions of countryside pleasures tend to be undercut by broader anxieties. After Caesar's rise, and the wars that followed his assassination, many poorer farmers were booted off their land so that it could be given to retiring soldiers and other friends of the new regime. Indeed, it seems this very thing happened to Vergil. That's the tradition, anyway: his family farm near Mantua was seized and given to veterans, and he petitioned a family friend, C Asinius Pollio (governor of Cisalpine Gaul, no less) to get it back. Through Pollio he was introduced to the mighty Octavian/Augustus, and through his influence Vergil either got his farm back or else was given money to buy a new farm in Campania. The biographical details are uncertain (indeed, some scholars think it unlikely any of this actually happened). What can't be denied is that Vergil's first and ninth Eclogues are about this very situation: contrasting the happiness of the farmer who retains his land with the misery of the farmer evicted from it.

More broadly, it's true of most of the Vergilian Eclogues that various sorts of threat and disharmony lurk often not very far below the surface of the sunlit greensward and charming copses of woodland. This in turn makes me wonder if the longstanding tradition of translating these poems into a fluent and dignified English idiom might be the wrong way of going about it. What might Vergil's Eclogues look like if they were Englished not according to a polished eighteenth-century nature-poetry vibe, or even a modern celebration-of-Gaia mode, but with a more Ted Hughesian roughness and vitality? There's only one way to find out. So, below: first the Latin; then my stab at an English version. There are plenty of other translations available online: here, for instance; and here's a rather better one.



Meliboeus

Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui Musam meditaris avena;
nos patriae finis et dulcia linquimus arva.
nos patriam fugimus; tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.       [5]

Tityrus

O Meliboee, deus nobis haec otia fecit.
namque erit ille mihi semper deus, illius aram
saepe tener nostris ab ovilibus imbuet agnus.
ille meas errare boves, ut cernis, et ipsum
ludere quae vellem calamo permisit agresti.        [10]

Meliboeus

Non equidem invideo, miror magis; undique totis
usque adeo turbatur agris. en ipse capellas
protinus aeger ago; hanc etiam vix, Tityre, duco.
hic inter densas corylos modo namque gemellos,
spem gregis, a, silice in nuda conixa reliquit.         [15]
saepe malum hoc nobis, si mens non laeva fuisset,
de caelo tactas memini praedicere quercus.
sed tamen iste deus qui sit da, Tityre,nobis.

Tityrus

Urbem quam dicunt Romam, Meliboee, putavi
stultus ego huic nostrae similem, cui saepe solemus [20]
pastores ovium teneros depellere fetus.
sic canibus catulos similes, sic matribus haedos
noram, sic parvis componere magna solebam.
verum haec tantum alias inter caput extulit urbes
quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.             [25]

Meliboeus

Et quae tanta fuit Romam tibi causa videndi?

Tityrus

Libertas, quae sera tamen respexit inertem,
candidior postquam tondenti barba cadebat,
respexit tamen et longo post tempore venit,
postquam nos Amaryllis habet, Galatea reliquit.      [30]
namque - fatebor enim - dum me Galatea tenebat,
nec spes libertatis erat nec cura peculi.
quamvis multa meis exiret victima saeptis
pinguis et ingratae premeretur caseus urbi,
non umquam gravis aere domum mihi dextra redibat.

Meliboeus

Mirabar quid maesta deos, Amarylli, vocares,
cui pendere sua patereris in arbore poma.
Tityrus hinc aberat. ipsae te, Tityre, pinus,
ipsi te fontes, ipsa haec arbusta vocabant.

Tityrus

Quid facerem? neque servitio me exire licebat        [40]
nec tam praesentis alibi cognoscere divos.
hic illum vidi iuvenem, Meliboee, quot annis
bis senos cui nostra dies altaria fumant,
hic mihi responsum primus dedit ille petenti:
'pascite ut ante boves, pueri, submittite tauros.'      [45]

Meliboeus

Fortunate senex, ergo tua rura manebunt
et tibi magna satis, quamvis lapis omnia nudus
limosoque palus obducat pascua iunco.
non insueta gravis temptabunt pabula fetas
nec mala vicini pecoris contagia laedent.               [50]
fortunate senex, hic inter flumina nota
et fontis sacros frigus captabis opacum;
hinc tibi, quae semper, vicino ab limite saepes
Hyblaeis apibus florem depasta salicti
saepe levi somnum suadebit inire susurro;             [55]
hinc alta sub rupe canet frondator ad auras,
nec tamen interea raucae, tua cura, palumbes
nec gemere aeria cessabit turtur ab ulmo.

Tityrus

Ante leves ergo pascentur in aethere cervi
et freta destituent nudos in litore pisces,                [60]
ante pererratis amborum finibus exsul
aut Ararim Parthus bibet aut Germania Tigrim,
quam nostro illius labatur pectore vultus.

Meliboeus

At nos hinc alii sitientis ibimus Afros,
pars Scythiam et rapidum cretae veniemus Oaxen [65]
et penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos.
en umquam patrios longo post tempore finis
pauperis et tuguri congestum caespite culmen,
post aliquot, mea regna, videns mirabor aristas?
impius haec tam culta novalia miles habebit,          [70]
barbarus has segetes. en quo discordia civis
produxit miseros; his nos consevimus agros!
insere nunc, Meliboee, piros, pone ordine vites.
ite meae, felix quondam pecus, ite capellae.
non ego vos posthac viridi proiectus in antro          [75]
dumosa pendere procul de rupe videbo;
carmina nulla canam; non me pascente, capellae,
florentem cytisum et salices carpetis amaras.

Tityrus

Hic tamen hanc mecum poteras requiescere noctem
fronde super viridi. Sunt nobis mitia poma,            [80]
castaneae molles et pressi copia lactis,
et iam summa procul villarum culmina fumant
maioresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae.



Eclogue 1.


Meliboeus

Tityrus, you
corpse-recumbent, idle under beech-tree fronds
seducing forestland Muse with your stiff flute; our
fatherland shucks us off,
delinquent
ripped from sweetness, fields stone dry.
We
vomited out by our own fatherland.
You in a whorl of shade, singing to the undercurrent wooden echo
Littlelove Amaryllis.
Littlelove

Tityrus

Oh, Meliboeus.
God gave me the binding pentagram of his power.
he'll always taste in my mouth
of god
for him I'll knife silent the hard dry bleat
of a lamb, blooding the stone altar
only for him;
he is why my cows reel through these fields
he is why I touch my flute with my flat tongue
and gasp it into music.

Meliboeus

I'm not envious, but
amazed, amazingly amazed.
At every compass point the land is shredding itself into
blood and bloody
bone,
my heart pumps only woe
herding my doe goats down the narrow track, and the
one that won't be lead, Tityrus:
twin kids slithered through her noose of motherflesh
onto naked flint
a hard birthing
the hope of the flock. Oh, Oh,
Prophesy warned me, over and over,
omen and omen, when
the sparking axe of lightning
swung from the sky to slice oaks
I should have known then,
but idiocy dragged at my mind.
So, Tityrus,
Explain him to me: your god.

Tityrus

God is a city, Meliboeus, clean,
God is Rome. What a moron I was
I thought it was like our village
where we herd our mobbing lambs:
puppies are downsized bitches, kids
model doe goats, easy comparing little to big.
Won't do for Rome, though:
a Guinness Record giant
cypress looming over low willows,
a prodigy.

Meliboeus

How did Rome return you to life?

Tityrus

Latecoming Freedom
telescoped my incompetence, just
as my beard was whitening to bleached salt.
I think Freedom surveiled me for eons
but lurked, held back
until I finally got together with Amaryllis,
after Galatea left.
When Galatea squatted on my chest
like the nightmare, I had no hope
she my obsession
freedom was nothing to me, my money was nothing,
only she mattered, lust and conscience,
whimpering together under the covers,
selling my flock
I couldn't shoo them quickly enough out of their stalls
selling my smoothest cheeses to the town
none of that mattered
my hands clutching zero pounds no shillings no pence.

Meliboeus

I used to wonder why your voice
Amaryllis, wailed god god so often,
and whose were the pending apples
clogging the trees.
Tityrus had absconded, it seemed.
It was your name the pine trees creaked,
You, Tityrus,
Fountains and orchards murmured you.

Tityrus

What option did I have? None.
Slavery would not ungrip me
other gods were indifferent.
Here, Meliboeus: here comes the young one.
We jib-up altar-fires
twice six times a year, burning for that young one
a grasping ungrasping claw of flame,
bundles of smoke unloaded into the sky,
here:
he was the first to answer me, with
parcel food to the cows, lads, upraise the bullocks.

Meliboeus

You're a lucky old sod, keeping your own land,
wide as a park, though littered with bare stones
and although bogs cram sliming rushes
down the throat of your meadows. Still!
At least you won't make your breeding ewes
ill
feeding them foreign weeds, they won't
catch bluetongue or river fever from foreign herds.
Lucky old sod. Here, by this stream
familiar to you as your own morning piss,
here under fridge-cool shade;
here
you always
will remain local, horizoned by that hedge,
and Hybla bees with their probosci
deep in willow blossom
swarm a hum the sound of friction; and
wood pigeons swaddle you with cooing
and doves whine on from those skyscraper elms.

Tityrus

Oh I'll leave, when stags graze on the high sky
eating ether, and fish flee the ocean, writhing
and stripping naked on the beach;
I'll leave, but only when Parthians swig
water from the Arar, and Germans fill their
beer-bellies at the fucking Tigris. Not before.

Meliboeus

We're off, though. Shards of mankind,
some of us to dry Africa
blue-dry and thirsty,
some to Scythia, wherever that is,
some to where the cold river Oaxes
hurries through Crete,
some even so far as Britain.
Say I return, in a millennium or so,
see a few pegs of blonde corn
standing amongst the bobbling weeds
that used to be my kingdom.
Godless squaddies goosestepping
over my ploughlines
Soldiers farmers
barbarians now
war
has fractured the civilian world
we worked this rebarbative land
for them, not for ourselves.
A diagonal cut to graft your pears, Meliboeus,
a straight row to plant your vines.
Off we go, my goats, off we go now
this isn't us any more
this isn't me, in a swoon of meadowland
staring at the bright sky,
this isn't me singing
this isn't you, goats, browsing toothily
on willowleaves and alfalfa.

Tityrus

It was here, it was one single night,
plucked from the wreck,
leaves green as seaglass
pearl-red apples
chestnuts crumbling in the mouth and
pressed cheeses.
Glooms of smoke creep from the chimneys, over there,
the mountains drum down shadows
darkening around us.

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