Nov 192010

That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand upon his head.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practise a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.

That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the Pope’s chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on that scaffolding reclines
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

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Nov 192010

Before roasting a fart first you must catch it.
The deaf man applauds the hurdy-gurdy too.
If the sheep-fancier spurns your sheep
his heart is elsewhere. Where there is heart
there is pancreas. No one hates an idiot
like the village’s second stupidest man.
It is quicker to beat your husband than walk
to the next town and write him a letter. Envy
the bathing sow on the day it rains dung.
The bishop shuts his mouth then sits on it.
The gangrenous leg knows good hacksaw work
when it feels it. The rat-trap feels it ought
to apologize for the baker’s mouldy cheese.
When your pigs fly they’re not coming back.
Two can shit through the same hole as cheaply as one.
The wooden spoon does not match the shape
of your backside for nothing. The condemned man’s
vomit has a lucky escape. The hangman combs
his hair before putting his hood on. The gravedigger
will not be taking out ads. The old buffoon
has always got some proverb or other to hand.

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Nov 192010

What is the charge, young god, what have I done
Alone to be denied, in desperate straits,
Epitome of Calm, your treasure, Sleep?
Hush holds enmeshed each herd, fowl, prowling beast;
The trees, capitulating, nod to aching sleep;
The raging floods relinquish their firm roar;
The heavy sea has ceased and the oceans curl
Upon the lap of land to sink and rest.
The moon has now in seven visits seen
My wild eyes staring; seven stars of dawn
And twilight have returned to me
And sunrise, transient witness of distress,
Has in compassion sprayed dew from her whip.
Where is the strength I need?  It would defeat
The consecrated Argus, thousand-eyed
Despite the watch that one part of him keeps,
Nerves taut, on guard relentlessly.
Oh Sleep, some couple, bodies interlocked,
Must shut you from their night-long ecstasy;
So come to me.  I issue no demand
That you enfold mine eyes with your wings—
Let all the world, more fortunate, beg that.
Your wand-tip’s mere caress, your hovering form
Poised lightly on tiptoe: that is enough.

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Nov 192010

(Catullus XII)

Marrucinus Asinius, your sinister manoeuvre –
letting your left hand hover over
a fellow diner’s lap as he leans to hear
a punchline or pour wine
from a carafe – respects neither
the gods of wine nor conversation.
And what does it mean? It means I’m afraid
you’re at your old trick of stealing napkins
– an act that isn’t clever, nor even that skilful,
merely sad and graceless in my book. But why
believe me when you can go ask your brother
Pollio, a gifted, witty, really charming boy,
who’d glad fork out coffers full of hush-money
to keep your vileness unremarked? So either
steel yourself for a several-hundred-liner
of relentless, barbed hendecasyllables
or send me back that lovely piece of linen.
And don’t think I’m irked because it’s worth so much:
memory is something other than a cash till –
the whole set of Valencian serviettes
was sent from distant Spain by Fabullus
and Veranius as a gift I’m therefore
bound to care for as I care
for Veranolo mio and for Fabullus.

translated by James McKendrick

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Nov 192010

Take care the engraving’s artistically done.
Expression grave and majestic.
The diadem better rather narrow;
I don’t care for those wide ones, the Parthian kind.
The inscription, as usual, in Greek:
nothing excessive, nothing grandiose-
the proconsul mustn’t get the wrong idea,
he sniffs out everything and reports it back to Rome-
but of course it should still do me credit.
Something really choice on the other side:
some lovely discus-thrower lad.
Above all, I urge you, see to it
(Sithaspes, by the god, don’t let them forget)
that after the “King” and the “Savior”
the engraving should say, in elegant letters, “Philhellene.”
Now don’t start in on me with your quips,
Your “where are the Greeks?” and “what’s Greek
here, behind the Zágros, beyond Phráata?”
Many, many others, more oriental than ourselves,
write it, and so we’ll write it too.
And after all, don’t forget that now and then
sophists come to us from Syria,
and versifiers, and other devotees of puffery.
Hence unhellenized we are not, I rather think.

(Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn)

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