31 January 2006
Had to turn in my first translation today, of a classical Greek poem. I really struggled with it, because the actual Greek words just didn't say anything to me, so translating it was more like someone giving me a topic, a few details, and telling me to write a poem. I am a person who just should not write poetry under any circumstances, as you will have realized if you read my haiku in an earlier post. The tone of the Greek poem was very much elegiac, so I finally decided to write mine in Anglo-Saxon long-line alliterative form. The Anglo-Saxons were big into elegies, so it seemed like an appropriate choice, besides which the big caesura in the middle of the line adds a visual and aural suggestion of absence. The result was not great, but it could have been a lot worse. And it was not the worst poem that was turned in, IMO. One of other students turned one in that I thought was a little careless – it was like he hadn't really put a lot of thought into his imagery. He used lines like “AK-47's don't cry,” which seemed a bit facile to me. OK, so mine wasn't that much better. Here's a fairly literal translation, not done by me, of the original Greek, followed by my effort:
Callimachus: Epigram on Heracleitus
Heracleitus, someone mentioned your death, and
brought me to tears; I remembered how often both of us
made the sun set by our talking. But you,
Halicarnasean friend, though you long, long ago became ashes,
yet your nightingales live on, upon which
Hades, plunderer of all things, shall never lay hands.
He feels so stupid, having said your name.
A grave error, indeed, but I had not forgotten.
Trying to atone, he stumbles on.
"At least we have her letters! Death can't lay a hand on those!"
I could kill some time re-reading them, I suppose,
But I can't converse with them. Their terse cantos have
Nothing new to say.