Here we look at Horace Odes Book One Carmen 5. It’s in the Fourth Asclepiadean, which runs:
– – – u u – / – u u – u x
– – – u u – / – u u – u x
– – – u u – x
– – – u u – u –
The third line pulls the movement up short, often giving it emphasis or special focus.
The Latin and word-for-word translation are:
Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa
perfusus liquidis urget odoribus
grato, Pyrrha, sub antro?
cui flauam religas comam,
simplex munditiis? Heu quotiens fidem
5 mutatosque deos flebit et aspera
nigris aequora uentis
Who much slender you boy on rose
bathing liquid squeezing with scent
pleasing, Pyrrha, under cave
who yellow tie hair,
Simple appearance? Alas how often faith
changing gods will weep and fierce
black sea surface winds
will be wondering at arrogant
What slender youth, besprinkled with perfume,
Courts you on roses in some grotto’s shade?
Fair Pyrrha, say for whom
Your yellow hair you braid,
So trim, so simple! Ah! How oft shall he
Lament that faith can change,
Viewing the rough black sea
With eyes to tempests strange.
The Conington comments on other web-pages apply to this translation, where the translation’s even shorter lines (to echo the Latin form) allow none of that ‘incommunicable grace of expression’ (to quote Conington’s own words in his Preface). Lines as short as these are difficult to handle, of course, or, to put the matter more exactly, the rhyme needs have to be met at the expense of the verse quality, something that Conington was well aware of when he noted ‘believing rhyme to be the inferior artist’s only chance of giving pleasure.’ Beyond that, the rendering is again close, though a little congested, but the tone is still appropriate.
Pyrrha, what essenced youth with ardours bold
Pursues thee now? For whom has spread
In thy delicious bower a roseleaf bed,
And wrought upon thy lovely head
That easy miracle of curling gold?
Alas, how soon the hapless youth shall rue
Thy broken faith, the kindly gods gone cold,
And with amazement wake up to view
Black sudden winds lash up the seas.
Marsh’s translation has gone back to Augustan poetry with ‘what essenced youth with ardours bold’ and then gilded the lily with ‘delicious’, ‘lovely’, ‘miracle’, ‘curling gold’, ‘haples’s, etc. It’s overwritten, in short, and lacks that precise lapidary elegance typical of Horace. Students knowing only modern poetry would probably have some difficulty in responding to its lines.
What slip of a boy, all slick with what perfumes,
is pressing on you now, o Pyrrha, in
your lapping crannies, in your rosy rooms?
Who’s caught up in your net today, your coil
of elegant coiffure? He’ll call himself
a sucker soon enough, and often, and rail
The translator here is Heather McHugh, who is the Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington, and the author of several poetry collections, essays and translations from the Greek, French and German.
The rendering has an attractive forward movement, and the diction is thoroughly up to date. Everything else is a disaster: a poem famous in the original and translation has been made in 'slick, lapping crannies, sucker'. Unnecessary clichés are added: 'rosy rooms, elegant coiffure'. The content is coarsened: 'pressing, sucker'. Of the original graceful metre (Fourth Asclepiadean) there is no trace, and Horace’s mixture of wistful envy and repentance for his own transgressions has passed the translator by.
What slender boy, Pyrrha, drowned in liquid perfume,
urges you on, there, among showers of roses,
deep down in some pleasant cave?
For whom did you tie up your hair,
with simple elegance? How often he’ll cry at
the changes of faith and of gods, ah, he’ll wonder,
surprised by roughening water,
surprised by the darkening storms,
The translation is excellent in tone, fidelity, shape and concise elegance. There is no beauty in the phrasing or deployment of verse elements, but the syllabic patterning has created a quiet and pleasing expression.
What slim youngster soaked in perfumes
is hugging now, Pyrrha, on a bed of roses
deep in your lovely cave? For whom
are you tying up your blonde hair?
You’re so elegant and simple. Many’s the time
he’ll weep at your faithlessness and the changing gods,
and be amazed at seas
roughened by black winds,
Again the rendering is prose, with prose expressions: ‘You’re so elegant and simple’. ‘Many’s the time’. The phrasing is not particularly felicitous, i.e. there are problems with the tone in such things as ‘youngster soaked’, ‘lovely cave’, but there is also a reaching out for the evocative and resonating in ‘he’ll weep at your faithlessness and the changing gods’, and the ‘and be amazed at seas’. The stanza shaping is only approximate, but the rendering does the reader a good impression of Horace’s style.
What slim, rich-scented youth, on roses lain,
now courts you, Pyrrha, in the grotto’s shade?
Why fasten each blonde skein
of hair into that modest braid?
Unless for one who learns that gods can change,
and even faith must meet adversities,
when sudden storm clouds range
across the dark, tempestuous seas.
A tightly-shaped version that here employs a 5 5 3 4 stanza and makes much use of traditional verse devices: a quietly modulated rhythm, assonance and rhyme. The wistful tone of the piece is preserved but the second stanza is made into a question, which in the Latin it is not.
1. Conington, J. The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace Translated into English Verse. Gutenberg
2. Marsh, E. The Odes of Horace. Macmillan, 1941.
3. Michie, J. Sample text for Odes : / Horace ; with the Latin text ; translated by James Michie ; introduction by Gregson Davis 1963
4. Mulroy, D. Horace’s Odes and Epodes. Translated with an Introduction and a Commentary. Michigan University Press, 1994. Google Books.
5. McClatchy, J.D. Horace The Odes: New Translations by Contemporary Poets. Princeton Univ. Press, 2002.
6. Kline, A.S. Horace. 2003. Odes: Poetry in Translation.
7. Knox. P.E. and McKeown, J.C. Oxford Anthology of Roman Literature. OUP, 2013. Google Books.
8. Holcombe, C.J. 2014 The Odes of Horace. Ocaso Press, 2014. Free ebook.
9. Horace: The Odes. New Translations by Contemporary Poets. Review.
Originally posted 18 November 2014 by Colin Holcombe on TextEtc.com blog.