IN THE DARK ‘Gazing at my grief-dejected face, Philosophy Deplored my chaotic mind’ DE CONS. I.I.14 Just look at him! his mind has sunk deep down, Has lost its inner light, become so dull; It reaches out towards external darkness Each time a toxic wave of worry swells Into a tsunami, launched by worldly gales. This was the man who loved the open heavens And journeyed down the trackways of the skies. He’d study rose-red suns and icy moons And calculate the planets’ sinuous paths, Subjecting them to mathematic laws. This was the man devoted to enquiring Why roaring hurricanes assault the sea What spirit turns the sphere of the fixed stars And why the sun climbs from the smouldering east Then drops beneath the waters of the west; And what ensures the gentle days of spring Become so temperate that rosebuds pop And multiply their beauty through the land; And who at harvest when the time is ripe Endows the autumn with its swollen grapes. Revealing nature’s secrets was his life. But he lies there, light of reason dead. His neck’s encumbered by such heavy chains His head is forced to loll towards the ground To contemplate the uninspiring mud.
SIMPLE SONG OF MY WIFE As she comes in, cackles burst from the door, The potted plants all stamp, shaking the floor, A blond streak, small and drowsy, in her hair Cheeps like a frightened sparrow in the straw. Clumsily whirling towards her through the air, The ageing light-flex too lets out a squawk: Everything spins – to jot it down, no chance. She has come back. She has been gone all day. She bears an enormous poppy in her hands To drive death, my adversary, away. 5 January 1940 FROM: Miklós Radnóti FORCED MARCH Translated by George Gömöri and Clive Wilmer Enitharmon Press
IN THE WOODS The woods grew deeper and deeper. The red trunks bigger and bigger. Thegreen crowns heavier and heavier. The air darker and darker. The busheslusher and lusher. The mushrooms thicker and thicker. Until there wasnothing but mushrooms to walk on. It was harder and harder for the man to walk, to force his way through without slipping. But on he went anyway repeating faster and faster and over and over the same sentence: – – The scars that mend Colours that blend. To his left and slightly behind him walked a woman. Every time the man finished his sentence, she said with great assurance and rolling her r’s vigorously: Verrry cleverrrr. FROM: KLÄNGE (SOUNDS) Translated and with an introduction by Elizabeth R. Napier Yale University Press
Martial was known for his witty, scathing and sophisticated epigrams: He’s healthy – yet he’s deathly pale; Seldom drinks wine and has a hale Digestion – but looks white and ill; Sunbathes, rouges his cheeks – and still Has a pasty face; licks all the cunts In Rome – and never blushes once. And then you are completely blindsided by: To you, my parents, I send on This little girl Erotion, The slave I loved, that by your side Her ghost need not be terrified Of the pitch darkness underground Or the great jaws of Hades’ hound. This winter she would have completed Her sixth year had she not been cheated By just six days. Lisping my name, May she continue the sweet game Of childhood happily down there In two such good, old spirits’ care. Lie lightly on her, turf and dew: She put so little weight on you. FROM: MARTIAL THE EPIGRAMS Selected and translated by James Michie Penguin Classics
Surround with tall walls whoever you dream you are.
Then, where the garden can be seen
Through the gate with its bestowing bars,
Place whatever flowers are the most smiling,
So they may know you only like that.
Where no one will see it, plant nothing.
Make flowerbeds like the ones other people have
Where glances may glimpse your garden,
Such as you are going to show it to them.
But where you are yours and it is seen by no one,
Let the flowers that come from the ground grow
And let the natural grasses flourish.
Make of yourself a two-fold guarded being;
And may no one who might see or watch
Know more of who you are than a garden –
A garden conspicuous and set-apart,
Behind which the native flower brushes
Grass so poor that not even you can see it …
The yacht you see there, friends, says that she’s been
The fastest piece of timber ever seen;
She swears that once she could have overhauled
All rival boats, whether the challenge called
For racing under canvas or with oars.
And she can cite good witnesses – the shores
Of the terrible Adriatic, the wild seas
Off famous Rhodes, the island Cyclades,
Thrace’s Propontis and the savage bays
Of Pontus, on whose heights, in the old days
When she was still a yacht-to-be, she stood
And whispered with her leaves as a green wood
And, boxtree-clothed Cytorus, so do you,
My yacht maintains, remembering that the copse
That bore and raised her was your own hill-top’s,
That in your waves she dipped her first oar-blade
And then through mobs of violent seas conveyed
Her master safely, whether the wind played
A port of starboard tune, or Jove’s fair weather
Fell square astern and stretched both sheets together;
Yet never had to make a single vow
To the shore gods all the way, to where she now
Rides the transparent lake at anchorage.
But these are memories. Now, in her old age,
Retired to this calm haven, she devotes
Her prow to the Heavenly Twins, patrons of boats.
The Poems of Catullus
Translated by James Michie
Starred sky. Calm sky.
Only the water’s luminosity
Marks the land’s end.
A light is moving down the beach.
It wavers. Comes towards the Fleet.
The hulls like upturned glasses made of jet.
Is it a God?
Now we can hear a drum.
And now we see it:
Six warriors with flaming wands,
Eight veteran bearers, and one Prince,
Patroclus, dead, crossed axes on his chest.
Upon a bier.
Gold on the wrists that bear the Prince aloft.
Tears on the cheeks of those who lead with wands.
Multiple injuries adorn the corpse.
And we, the Army, genuflect in line.
Five years ago Achilles robbed a Phrygian citadel
And kept the temple cauldron for himself.
The poet who accompanied him to Troy
Deciphered the inscriptions on its waist.
“I AM THE EARTH”
And when from zigzagged ewers his female slaves
Had filled and built a fire beneath its knees,
Achilles laved the flesh and pinned the wounds
And dressed the yellow hair and spread
Ointments from Thetis’ cave on every mark
Of what Patroclus was, and kissed its mouth,
And wet its face with tears, and kissed and kissed again,
And said: “My love, I swear you will not burn
Till Hector’s severed head is in my lap.”
An Account of Books 16 to 19
of Homer’s Illiad
Thirty Bedford Square London