Thursday, October 01, 2009

Alas, my friend...

As a bit of fun end of year exercise for my year 12 extension students, I asked them to have a go at translating one of the poems we'd read this year into poetry.

It's a task that's been attempted by many famous writers in the past, including John Dryden, Basil Glidersleeve, Samuel Johnson, Ben Jonson, James Joyce, Alfred Tennyson, John Wesley, William Wordsworth and many others. You can find many of their versions collected at this excellent site.

To give you a taste, here are two versions of Odes II.14; the first from Samuel Johnson, the second from one of my students.

Alas, dear friend, the fleeting years
In everlasting circles run,
In vain you spend your vows and prayers,
They roll, and ever will roll on.

Should hecatombs each rising morn
On cruel Pluto's altar dye,
Should costly loads of incense burn,
Their fumes ascending to the sky:

You could not gain a moment's breath
Or move the haughty king below
Nor would inexorable death
Defer an hour the fatal blow.

In vain we shun the din of war,
And terrors of the stormy main,
In vain with anxious breasts we fear
Unwholesome Sirius' sultry reign;

We all must view the Stygian flood
That silent cuts the dreary plains,
And Cruel Danaus' bloody brood
Condemned to everduring pains.

Your shady groves, your pleasing wife,
And fruitful fields, my dearest friend,
You'll leave together with your life:
Alone the cypress
After your death, the lavish heir
Will quickly drive away his woe;
The wine you kept with so much care
Along the marble floor shall flow.
[Samuel Johnson]

Alas, my friend, the years glide by,
with impending death, a ceaseless shadow
turning a deaf ear, discounting your virtue,
it hovers to deliver the final blow

The relentless Pluto will not be placated,
confining even the wildest giants,
regardless however many prayers
with however many sacrifices

All who thrive on gifts of earth
will transverse the sluggish Cocytus
whether we be impoverished peasants
or kings alike, we’ll be but dust.

It is futile, we cannot desist
the fractured waves of the Adriatic,
the endless foes to flesh and blood
the firm south wind, coarse and erratic.

Your land, home and delightful wife
will be deserted without accord,
and none of those young kindly shrubs
will follow then, brief master ignored.

Your Caecuban wine will be depleted,
Though preserved with a hundred keys.
Should it be wasted on one less worthy
To be spilt on the path, desecrated as he please?
[NN - Horace II.14]

No comments: