Category Archives: Poetry

Love Has Finally Arrived: My Translation of Sulpicia

Euterpe, Muse of Music and Poetry

Since it is Women in Translation month, I thought that it would be interesting to write a little post and offer my own translation of the only female  poet from Ancient Rome whose work has survived.  Sulpicia, born during the Augustan period and a contemporary of Horace, Ovid and Vergil,  wrote six love elegies which were not published on their own, but instead appended to the volume of poetry penned by Tibullus.  Even nowadays her poems can only be found in the Loeb, for instance, as part of the Corpus Tibullianum.  For many years scholars have denied the fact that a woman could have written these poems but it is now widely accepted that it was the daughter of upper class Roman citizens, connected to Augustus’s inner circle, who composed these elegies.  Unfortunately, more recent studies have criticized Sulpicia’s poems and judged them as inferior to her contemporaries because they are missing the literary allusions that are prevalent in other elegiac poets.

After translating Sulpicia’s poems, however, it is evident that she was keenly aware of the elegiac forms of her fellow Roman poets.  Regardless of what one might think of their literary merit, Sulpicia’s six poems, addressed to her lover Cerinthus, are the only opportunity for us to sneak a glimpse into the mind and heart of a Roman female from her own perspective.

I offer my translation of Sulpicia Poem XIII in which she confirms that the rumors about her love are more than just rumors and she wishes to cast aside all veils and embrace her joys and affections:

Tandem venit amor, qualem texisse pudori
quam nudasse alicui sit mihi fama magis.
Exorata meis illum Cytherea Camenis
adtulit in nostrum deposuitque sinum.
Exsolvit promissa Venus: mea gaudia narret,
dicetur siquis non habuisse sua.
Non ego signatis quicquam mandare tabellis,
ne legat id nemo quam meus ante, velim,
sed peccasse iuvat, vultus conponere famae
taedet: cum digno digna fuisse ferar.

Love has finally arrived, and a rumor that I tried to conceal
this kind of love would bring me much more shame than
revealing it openly. I begged Venus with my poems and
she brought him right to me and placed him in my lap.
Venus has kept her promises.  If anyone is said to be lacking
in his own happiness, then let him speak about my joys.
I wouldn’t wish to entrust anything to wax tablets for fear
that someone else might read about my feelings before my
love. It pleases me to have engaged in this transgression;
I am tired of wearing a mask because of this rumor.
Let it be said that we have been together,
each of us equally worthy of the other.

I love the tone of this poem, that Sulpicia doesn’t care about rumors and she wants to free herself of societal expectations placed on her.  The digno and digna in the last line is my favorite part of the elegy—both she and her lover are “worthy of” and “fitting for” one another.

What is everyone else reading for #WITMonth?

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Filed under Classics, Opinion Posts, Poetry

Evening Fantasy by Hölderlin (The German Library)

Volume 39 of The German Library is an anthology of poetry from 1750 to 1900 and the table of contents promises translations of poetry from Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, Brentano, Heine, and Nietzsche, just to name a few.  Michael Hamburger, in his Foreword to this edition, writes about the impossibility of stylistically categorizing such a vast scope of literature that encompasses “the most various and contradictory developments.”   Looking through the contents of such a book is intimidating and overwhelming, especially for someone like myself who is in no way an expert on German literature and poetry.  I decided to just dive into the poems to see which ones might capture my fancy without too much analysis and I was not disappointed with the selections.

I had originally bought the volume to get a taste of the writings of Clemens Brentano who had a close relationship with Karoline von Günderrode.  Although I enjoyed Brentano’s poetry, it was actually that of Hölderlin that I found the most pleasing.  I wouldn’t dare try to analyze this author’s poetry, even the few selections in this volume, but I will share one poem that especially resonated with me:

Evening Fantasy

Before his shaded threshold the plowman sits,
Contented; smoke ascends from the warming hearth.
A welcome rings to wanderers from
Evening bells in the peaceful village

The sailors must be coming to port now, too,
In distant cities; gaily the market’s noise
Recedes, is still; in quiet arbors
Friends take their meals in convivial splendor.

And where am I to go? Other mortals live
From pay and labor, alternate work and rest,
And all is joyful; why does only
My heart not rest, with its constant stinging?

A spring-like garden blooms in the evening sky,
The countless roses bloom, and peaceful seems
The golden world; O take me with you,
Lavender clouds, and up there then may in

The light and air my bliss and my grief dissolve!—
But as if frightened off by my foolish plea,
The spell is gone; it’s dark and lonely
Under the heavens I stand, as always.

So come to me, soft slumber; my heart has wished
Too much; but someday, youth, you will lose your glow,
You restless youth, forever dreaming.
Peaceful and cheerful are the aged.

(trans. Kenneth Negus)

 

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Filed under Classics, German Literature, Poetry

The Bookshop and The Beach: My Vacation to Maine

Harding Books on Route 1 in Wells, Maine

My family and I went on our annual summer vacation this year to Kennebunk Beach in Maine. This has been our favored destination for the past few years and I thought I would say a few words about my favorite bookshop in Maine and my recent finds there. Harding’s Rare and Used Books is located one town adjacent to Kennebunk, in Wells, Maine on Route 1.  The staff is kind, friendly and very knowledgeable.  I was told by the employees that they buy books every day and their owner, a very nice gentleman named Douglas, also buys books from auctions and dealers.

One realizes this is a serious bookshop when, upon opening the front door, one encounters two gigantic piles of their newest acquisitions.  It took me a while to sift through these piles, but my patience was greatly rewarded by finding a first edition of I, Claudius by Robert Graves. I also dug out a copy of Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and William H. Gass’s Reading Rilke from these piles.

 

The rest of the store is like a maze with rooms of various shapes and sizes piled with books from floor to ceiling.  Harding’s has a wide variety of first editions as well as signed books and they also have  the largest selection of books about New England that I have ever encountered.  I found a first edition copy of Within the Harbor by Sara Ware Bassett, a New England author whose books are set in two Cape Cod villages that she created.  This is an interesting little find that makes visiting this store so much fun.

A view of part of the hard copy fiction books at Harding’s

 

I spent most of my time in the Latin and Ancient Greek, Poetry and Classic Fiction sections.  Among the classic fiction books, I found two titles to add to my ever growing collection of New York Review of Books classics and I also found five Virago Modern Classics to add to my shelves.

My haul from Harding’s

The Latin and Ancient Greek section had a nice selection of Loebs as well as ancient authors in translation.  My favorite find was a dual language edition of Oedipus by Sophocles with an introduction by Thornton Wilder.  The illustrations in this edition are also quite interesting.

I also found in the Ancient Civilization section a copy of Michael Grant’s book on Nero which is in mint condition; not only is it an excellent introduction to this enigmatic and misunderstood emperor (and my favorite), but it also contains some gorgeous color plates to go along with the text.

Among the poetry books I found a hard copy edition of the Collected Poems of W.H. Auden that was only $5.00.  I have to say that all of the books at Harding’s are very reasonably priced, including the first editions and signed books.

But I didn’t spend all of my time in the bookshop.  I also enjoyed the beach very much, worked on my tan and did a little swimming even though the water was quite chilly.  My daughter did some surfing (I only watched and took some pictures.)  My beach reads were Henry Green’s Party Going and Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva—more thoughts on those to come.

Surfing at Kennebunk Beach

Finally, we had some truly fabulous meals in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.  One of our favorites is David’s KPT in Dock Square whose selection of raw oysters is spectacular and decadent.  It is no surprise that the seafood dishes, in particular, are wonderful no matter the restaurant.  I will spare everyone pictures of my food as well as a picture of myself wearing one of those goofy lobster bibs.  The picture below is a view we had during Sunday Brunch.

Where have you spent your holidays this summer?  Have you found any interesting books or bookshops?

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, History, New York Review of Books, Nonfiction, Opinion Posts, Poetry, Travel Writing

If Only Sleep Would Come: One Night by Umberto Saba

Night and Sleep by Evelyn De Morgan, 1878

One of my favorite literary bloggers, Tom from Wuthering Expectations, did a post on Modern European Poetry with a focus on the Greek poetry contained within this wonderful volume.  If you haven’t had a chance to read Tom’s posts then please do yourself a favor and peruse his blog.  His analysis of literature is full of what the Roman poet Catullus would call facetiae (wit) and lepida (charms).

As I was reading through this collection of modern poetry, I was happy to find poems by Ingeborg Bachmann whose name I have seen many times on bloggers’ personal canons.  A few poems by the Italian author Umberto Saba also captivated me.  I thought I would share one particularly short yet moving piece (Catullus would definitely approve!)

One Night

If only sleep would come, as it has come
on other nights: already slipping through
my thoughts.

Instead now,

like an old washerwoman wringing clothes,
anguish wrings another pain from my heart.
I would cry out but cannot. As for torment—
suffered once—I suffer on in silence.

And that which I have lost, only I know

Translated by Felix Stefanile

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Filed under Classics, Italian Literature, Poetry

Everyone Forgets that Icarus also Flew: Poetry by Jack Gilbert

One of the things I like best about being part of such a great lit blogging community is the daily book recommendations I receive from like-minded readers.  Many have lamented the death of literary Twitter, but even on this crazy social media site I have managed to block out most of the nonsense and glean book suggestions from and engage in interesting literary conversations with other bloggers.  The other day as I was scrolling through my feed and reading the posts from my interesting literary friends (you know who you are) when I saw a Tweet that included a poem by Jack Gilbert entitled “Failing and Flying” that begins, “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.”  I immediately ran to my bookshelves and pulled out the volume of Jack Gilbert that I had bought a while back based on a recommendation from another reader.  What a pleasant experience it is to be involved and included in a community of people who love books and literature and talking about such things.  I was never the “cool” kid in school but being part of lit blogging makes me feel that I am a part of the “in” crowd.

Jack Gilbert often uses references and allusions to Greek and Roman myths and literature in his poems which makes reading his pieces a richer experience for me.  I thought I would share just a few of the poems that made the greatest impression, but I highly recommend reading his entire volume of Collected Poems.

Orpheus in Greenwich Village:

What if Orpheus,
confident in the hard-
found mastery,
should go down into Hell?
Out of the clean light down?
And then, surrounded
by the closing beasts
and readying his lyre,
should notice, suddenly
they had no ears?

Some days, especially at this time of the year, it feels as though I am Orpheus signing to the “beasts” who have no ears.

Many of the poems in this collection contemplate the different types of love we experience throughout the course of our lives. Gilbert talks about young love, passionate love, mature love and married love. The next poem I chose describes the enigmatic nature of love’s genesis and evolution. I thought, as I read this poem, that “we cobble love together” like a mosaic and every time we fall in love the experience is like composing a different work of art:

Painting on Plato’s Wall:

The shadows behind people walking
in the bright piazza are not merely
gaps in the sunlight. Just as goodness
is not the absence of badness.
Goodness is a triumph. And so it is
with love. Love is not the part
we are born with that flowers
a little and then wanes as we
grow up. We cobble love together
from this and those of our machinery
until there is suddenly an apparition
that never existed before. There it is,
unaccountable. The woman and our
desire are somehow turned into
brandy by Athena’s tiny owl filling
the darkness around an old villa
on the mountain with its plaintive
mewing. As a man might be
turned into someone else while
living kind of happy up there
with the lady’s gentle dying.

And one final poem worth pointing out is entitled “Trouble,” the first three lines of which I found rather striking:

That is what the Odyssey means.
Love can leave you nowhere in New Mexico
raising peacocks for the rest of your life.
The seriously happy heart is a problem.
No the easy excitement, but summer
in the Mediterranean mixed with
the rain and bitter cold of February
on the Riviera, everything on fire
in the violent winds. The pregnant heart
is drive to hopes that are the wrong
size for this world. Love is always
disturbing in the heavenly kingdom.
Eden cannot manage so much ambition.
The kids ran from all over the piazza
yelling and pointing and jeering
at the young Saint Chrysostom
standing dazed in the church doorway
with the shining around his mouth
where the Madonna had kissed him.

Who among us with “pregnant heart” hasn’t traveled a long distance, endured discomfort, various tribulations and the agony of hope all in the name of love?

Have you read this collection or any other pieces by Jack Gilbert? Or, better yet, what other poetry or literature recommendations have you gleaned from the lit blogging community recently?

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Filed under Poetry