ON TRANSLATION

How clumsy on the tongue, these acquired idioms,
After the innuendoes of our own. How far
We are from foreigners, what faith
We rest in one sentence, hoping a smile will follow.
On the appropriate face, always wallowing
Between what we long to say and what we can,
Trusting the phrase is suitable to the occasion,
The accent passable, the smile real,
Always asking the traveler's fearful question
- - - "What is being lost in translation~

Something to be sure. And yet, to smiling hear
The stumbling of foreign friends, how little we care
For the wreckage of word or tense. How endearing they are,
And how our speech reaches out, like a helping hand,
Or limps in sympathy, easy to understand,
Through the tangle of language, the heart behind
Groping toward us ----- to make the translation
......of Syntax into Love.




POEMS FROMF THE HELLENISTIC WORLD

[The Greek Anthology is a monstrous collection of incidental poetry, the earliest parts date from perhaps the fourth century B.C., but there is an increasing flow of verse which last almost eight centuries, and finally dies with an effete academic whimper. But there are gems in there too, and anyone who has read a little will remember the persistent theme of the stone calling to a passerby to read these last words, memorial of a man, a woman, a favorite dog, who once was as alive as you who stand before this stone. This is sombering, even as polite court poetry. One can write his own gravestone, or for friends and associates with ease and perhaps pleasure, out of this vast Hellenistic experience. ---- These are partly translations, others are new poems woven out of very ancient thread.]

I

Apollodorus went to the Dr. with a persistent cough,
Cured? Oh yes, of his cough, and his voice too.

II

Funeral of a dead friend, they praise his life....a cough....
Waiting for dinner, the family assembled, cough,
He coughs when the dentist administers novocain,
And when the waiter bring (a cough) the bubbling soup,
Again adding up the check, a feeble try
To choke down another (cough) in embarrassment.
Late on a rainy night you can hear him croaking
Going down Main St. from his usual pub.
You ask his name? (cough) you see, it's catching.
He has no name, just call him the Living Cough.

(Catullus has a similar sketch of the Continuous Smiler in Poem 39., a man who grins automatically in court, at funerals, in the street, everywhere. But he brushes his teeth... with urine.... to clean the smile up a bit.]

III

Passerby. this is the stone of Theano, a maiden fair,
Who waited for Hippokles to return year after year,
Her figure fat, her hair grey, her teeth all gone,
Finally she crawled under this protective stone
Ashamed of her waiting. If by chance you've seen
Hippokles, tell him I'm gone and he can go to Hell.

IV

Tell, passerby, the road contractors that are here
Digging a new sewer line on the road to Piraeus
To run their backhoes and crawlers delicately
In respect for another contractor, Syrias of old,
Who nightly waggoned chamberpots down to the open sea.

V

Passerby tortoise slogging along the muddy road,
Pause for a moment remembering the agile fox
Who passed in a flash, failed to see the Citroen
Coming behind him, and now in some dismay
Admits that you have fairly won the race.

VI

Stop, passerby, if you are from the American School,
Look at these garbled letters half defaced by time.
I dare you get some paper, salt and glue
And try to take a squeeze off the likes of me.

VII

Drop here, passerby, a drachma if you will,
Even half obol piece, enough to buy
In hell a crusty piece of bread, half cup of wine,
Something to ease my pain. Perhaps you think
In life I was a professional beggar. Oh no, dear sir!
I was a Professor of Classical Literature.

VIII

Pass, passerby, don't stare longer at what's here,
Squinting at ancient letters, tilting carefully
Your head, as if your could half read my name,
Your Nikon dangling from your neck, your phrasebook there
Turning our Greek into your inscrutable Japanese.
I think you find our phonetic alphabet strange.
Tell them at home that we find it serviceable.

IX

Stop, you who pass, retsina dripping on your jaw,
Your hands akimbo and your feet adrift,
Read not the legend of this solitary stone
Which marks the grave of old Cheirokoptides,
Schoolmaster who failed to teach you contracted verbs.
I know what you're thinking, knowing I am here.
But piss over there, not against this stone.

X

Passerby, I know you are from the KGB
Just by the way your hands search on my stone
Seeking a crack with a piece of microfilm.
I'm flattered, but must tell you it's not here,
But over there, third row back near the wall,
The grave of Solon.......he's the Communist.

XI

Wagging tongue, be still. Enough of your words,
Gibing and joking in this cemetery plot
Making us dead ones move uneasily under the nest
Of hornets. Recall that all the objects beneath this stone
Are what you have under that neat pressed suit,
Nothing more or less than a set of human bones.




THE SHIP OF STATE

Horace's famous poem on The Ship of State was burned into my mind from college Latin through decades of teaching it, something about that scene still applies, but indirectly, and this is the beginning. There is an ancient Greek saying that each man has a sailing into Corinth, in other words a successful voyage into the harbor, at long last. So the following with a different middle section....what might well be called the Academic Shipwreck!

Lo the seas are high, the black winds lace
Bitter black salt waters high, the good ship Academe
Founders. Strong planks spring, the mast yields,
Courses are torn to tatters, the college catalog
Gapes wide open. No hand on the helm, the rudder weaves
Now this way now that. The helmsman's gone
Overboard, the men are trying to oar a small dinghy
Capsizing, their cries unheard by Commissioner of Education.
Guide us, Commissioner, to wisdom, hear us now,
Straighten our ways and makes the mad waves straight.
Give us a destiny, a harbor safe, oil the waters raging
Glibly with the unguents of academic persuasion,
And let us sail smoothly into port, picking up
Along the way a few surviving Classical Studies Majors,
Seconded by favorable winds. At last a firm hand
Guiding our pathways over the purple sea,
At last success, and the double sweet savoring
Of harmony, better salaries, trust in tenure, TIAA
Coming at last after disaster, with a fair wind favoring,
Nothing less than sailing into Corinth's bay.




COURSE FINAL EXAMINATION

Medieval Latin 203, 1 hour, Woolyhead Hall, Room 441

Read the following passage carefully, then answer Question A:

Res sunt numquam ut vldentur
Neque veluti debentur
Non tam magna, non tam parva,
hic et illic tamquam larva,
Vivunt sed sunt semiviva
Metu mortis recidiva.
Arboris sumus nos frondes
Iam decutiendi omnes,
Cum recurrit bruma brevis
Et ero ut cinis levis
Vitae praemia relicturus
Non in caelum abiturus,
Perditus ut Palinurus,
Visam Orci regna lata
Et in in sede certa fata,
Comitantibus catervis
Linguis, mentibus protervis
Omnes qui erant amici
Omnes balatrones vici,
Casulas omnes furentes
Redivivas et virentes,
Pocula et omnes iocos,
Severis remotos locos.
Apud Ditem dites simus,
Qui afflicti hic fuimus.
Laetus nunc est qui est imus.

QUESTION A:

Give as accurately as you can the date, style, and provenance of this rhymed piece of poetry, writing your opinion out in not more than 13 Blue Book pages. 45 minutes are allowed, after which the papers will be picked up immediately. Good luck!




Memo: From Dr. Edgecomb Whitteley

To: All members of the class, Med. Lat. 203.

Sorry, you all failed the final examination miserably. It was written by Prof Dr. Wilhelm Guntwuerster, Higley Professor of Latin, my teacher and fomany years my personal Mentor, in the spring of l963. He composed it in seven minutes flat, on an ancient Royal manual typewriter which he insisted on using until the time of this decease. His aim was not to contribute to the vast body of forged literature, but to prove the somewhat academic point that Latin can still be written with wit and grace, and that hence Latin is to be considered a living language.

Your hyper-sophistic essays which placed this document somewhere in the middle of the 11th century, and are a good example of what tricks the well trained academic mind can play on itself, in the realm of scholarly over-kill.




Return to Translations index

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris