Friday, April 15, 2005



Milton translated Horace, Ode 1.5, keeping the original meter:

What slender Youth bedew'd with liquid odours
Courts thee on Roses in some pleasant Cave,
    Pyrrha? For whom bindst thou
    In wreaths thy golden Hair,

Plain in thy neatness? O how oft shall he
On Faith and changèd Gods complain: and Seas
    Rough with black winds and storms
    Unwonted shall admire:

Who now enjoyes thee credulous, all Gold,
Who alwayes vacant, alwayes amiable
    Hopes thee, of flattering gales
    Unmindfull. Hapless they

To whom thou untry'd seem'st fair. Me in my vow'd
Picture the sacred wall declares t' have hung
    My dank and dropping weeds
    To the stern God of Sea.

Here is the Latin original:

Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa
perfusus liquidis urget odoribus
    grato, Pyrrha, sub antro?
    cui flavam religas comam,

simplex munditiis? Heu quotiens fidem
mutatosque deos flebit et aspera
    nigris aequora ventis
    emirabitur insolens,

qui nunc te fruitur credulus aurea,
qui semper vacuam, semper amabilem
    sperat, nescius aurae
    fallacis. Miseri, quibus

intemptata nites. Me tabula sacer
votiva paries indicat uvida
    suspendisse potenti
    vestimenta maris deo.

Here's another version, this one by John Conington (1825-1869):

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 fail, that gods can change,
    Viewing the rough black sea
    With eyes to tempests strange,

Who now is basking in your golden smile,
And dreams of you still fancy-free, still kind,
    Poor fool, nor knows the guile
    Of the deceitful wind!

Woe to the eyes you dazzle without cloud
Untried! For me, they show in yonder fane
    My dripping garments, vow'd
    To Him who curbs the main.

In the eighteenth century, Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762) imitated Horace's ode from the female's point of view:

For whom are now your airs put on,
And what new beauty's doom'd to be undone?
That careless elegance of dress,
This essence that perfumes the wind,
Your ev'ry motion does confess
Some secret conquest is design'd.

Alas! the poor unhappy maid,
To what a train of ills betray'd!
What fears, what pangs shall rend her breast,
How will her eyes dissolve in tears!
That now with glowing joy is bless'd,
Charm'd with the faithless vows she hears.

So the young sailor on the summer sea
Gaily pursues his destin'd way:
Fearless and careless on the deck he stands,
Till sudden storms arise and thunders roll;
In vain he casts his eyes to distant lands,
Distracting terror tears his timorous soul.

For me, secure I view the raging main,
Past are my dangers, and forgot my pain:
My votive tablet in the temple shows
The monument of folly past;
I paid the bounteous god my grateful vows,
Who snatch'd from ruin, sav'd me at the last.

Anthony Hecht's modern adaptation, entitled An Old Malediction, is a tour de force:

What well-heeled knuckle-head, straight from the unisex
Hairstylist and bathed in "Russian Leather,"
Dallies with you these late summer days, Pyrrha,
In your expensive sublet? For whom do you
Slip into something simple by, say, Gucci?
The more fool he who has mapped out for himself
The saline latitudes of incontinent grief.
Dazzled though he be, poor dope, by the golden looks
Your locks fetched up out of a bottle of Clairol,
He will know that the wind changes, the smooth sailing
Is done for, when the breakers wallop him broadside,
When he's rudderless, dismasted, thoroughly swamped
In that mindless rip-tide that got the best of me
Once, when I ventured on your deeps, Piranha.

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