Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Donec Gratus Eram: Rudyard Kipling

One of Horace's most charming and appealing odes is the dramatic skit Donec gratus eram (3.9). Here is C.E. Bennett's prose translation (with my headings indicating the three "acts" of the skit), followed by the Latin original. Horace is the speaker in the odd-numbered stanzas, Lydia in the even-numbered ones.

'While I was dear to thee and no more favoured youth flung his arms about thy dazzling neck, I lived in greater bliss than Persia's king.'

'While thou wast enamoured of no other more than me, and Lydia ranked not after Chloë, in joy of my great fame I, Lydia, lived more glorious than Roman Ilia.'


'Me Thracian Chloë now doth sway, skilled in sweet measures and mistress of the lyre; for her I will not fear to die, if the Fates but spare my darling and suffer her to live.'

'Me Calais, son of Thurian Ornytus, kindles with mutual flame; for him right willingly I twice will die, if the Fates but spare the lad and suffer him to live.'


'What if the old love come back again and join those now estranged beneath her compelling yoke; if fair-haired Chloë be put aside and the door thrown open to rejected Lydia?'

'Though he is fairer than the stars, and thou less stable than the tossing cork and stormier than the wanton Adriatic, with thee I fain would live, with thee I'd gladly die.'

  'Donec gratus eram tibi
nec quisquam potior bracchia candidae
  cervici iuvenis dabat,
Persarum vigui rege beatior.'

  'Donec non alia magis
arsisti neque erat Lydia post Chloen,
  multi Lydia nominis,
Romana vigui clarior Ilia.'

  'Me nunc Thressa Chloe regit,
dulcis docta modos et citharae sciens,
  pro qua non metuam mori,
si parcent animae fata superstiti.'

  'Me torret face mutua
Thurini Calais filius Ornyti,
  pro quo bis patiar mori,
si parcent puero fata superstiti.'

  'Quid si prisca redit Venus
diductosque iugo cogit aeneo,
  si flava excutitur Chloe
reiectaeque patet ianua Lydiae?'

  'Quamquam sidere pulchrior
ille est, tu levior cortice et inprobo
  iracundior Hadria,
tecum vivere amem, tecum obeam lubens.'
At the age of about 16, Rudyard Kipling translated this poem. He is the boy described in this paragraph from An English School, in Land & Sea Tales For Scouts and Guides:
There was one boy, however, to whom every Latin quantity was an arbitrary mystery, and he wound up his crimes by suggesting that he could do better if Latin verse rhymed as decent verse should. He was given an afternoon's reflection to purge himself of his contempt; and feeling certain that he was in for something rather warm, he turned "Donec gratus eram" into pure Devonshire dialect, rhymed, and showed it up as his contribution to the study of Horace.
Here is the young Kipling's translation:
So long as 'twuz me alone
  An' there wasn't no other chaps,
I was praoud as a King on 'is throne —
  Happier tu, per'aps.

So long as 'twuz only I
  An' there wasn't no other she
Yeou cared for so much — surely
  I was glad as could be.

But now I'm in love with Jane Pritt —
  She can play the piano, she can;
An' if dyin' 'ud 'elp 'er a bit
  I'd die laike a man.

Yeou'm like me. I'm in lovv with young Frye —
  Him as lives out tu Appledore Quay;
An' if dyin' 'ud 'elp 'im I'd die —
  Twice ovver for he.

But s'posin' I threwed up Jane
  An' niver went walkin' with she —
An' come back tu yeou again —
  How 'ud that be?

Frye's sober. Yeou've allus done badly —
  An' yeou shifts like cut net-floats, yeou du:
But — I'd throw that young Frye ovver gladly
  An' lovv 'ee right thru!

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