Friday, March 28, 2008


There Was an Old Man from Verona

No, I won't inflict a limerick on you. One of Claudian's shorter poems (Carmina Minora 20) is about an old man from Verona who, like Willy Lott, stayed close to home throughout his life. Abraham Cowley (1618-1667) translated it and included the translation in his essay The Dangers of an Honest Man in Much Company:
Happy the man who his whole time doth bound
Within the enclosure of his little ground.
Happy the man whom the same humble place
(The hereditary cottage of his race)
From his first rising infancy has known,
And by degrees sees gently bending down,
With natural propension to that earth
Which both preserved his life, and gave him birth.
Him no false distant lights by fortune set,
Could ever into foolish wanderings get.
He never dangers either saw, or feared,
The dreadful storms at sea he never heard.
He never heard the shrill alarms of war,
Or the worse noises of the lawyers' bar.
No change of consuls marks to him the year,
The change of seasons is his calendar.
The cold and heat winter and summer shows,
Autumn by fruits, and spring by flowers he knows.
He measures time by landmarks, and has found
For the whole day the dial of his ground.
A neighbouring wood born with himself he sees,
And loves his old contemporary trees.
Has only heard of near Verona's name,
And knows it, like the Indies, but by fame.
Does with a like concernment notice take
Of the Red Sea, and of Benacus lake.
Thus health and strength he to a third age enjoys,
And sees a long posterity of boys.
About the spacious world let other roam,
The voyage Life is longest made at home.
Latin original by Claudian:
Felix, qui propriis aevum transegit in arvis,
  ipsa domus puerum quem videt, ipsa senem;
qui baculo nitens in qua reptavit harena
  unius numerat saecula longa casae.
illum non vario traxit fortuna tumultu,
  nec bibit ignotas mobilis hospes aquas.
non freta mercator tremuit, non classica miles,
  non rauci lites pertulit ille fori.
indocilis rerum, vicinae nescius urbis
  adspectu fruitur liberiore poli.
frugibus alternis, non consule computat annum:
  autumnum pomis, ver sibi flore notat.
idem condit ager soles idemque reducit,
  metiturque suo rusticus orbe diem,
ingentem meminit parvo qui gemine quercum
  aequaevumque videt consenuisse nemus,
proxima cui nigris Verona remotior Indis
  Benacumque putat litora Rubra lacum.
sed tamen indomitae vires firmisque lacertis
  aetas robustum tertia cernit avum.
erret et extremos alter scrutetur Hiberos:
  plus habet hic vitae, plus habet ille viae.
Finally, here is a prose translation by Maurice Platnauer:
Happy he who has passed his whole life mid his own fields, he of whose birth and old age the same house is witness; he whose stick supports his tottering steps o'er the very ground whereon he crawled as a baby and whose memory knows but of one cottage as the scene where so long a life was played out. No turns of fortune vexed him with their sudden storms; he never travelled nor drank the waters of unknown rivers. He was never a trader to fear the seas nor a soldier to dread the trumpet's call; never did he face the noisy wrangles of the courts. Unpractised in affairs, unfamiliar with the neighbouring town, he finds his delight in a freer view of the sky above him. For him the recurring seasons, not the consuls, mark the year: he knows autumn by his fruits and spring by her flowers. From the selfsame fields he watches the sun rise and set, and, at his work, measures the day with his own round of toils. He remembers yon mighty oak an acorn, and sees the plantation, set when he was born, grown old along with him. Neighbouring Verona is, for him, more distant than sun-scorched India; Benacus he accounts as the Red Sea. But his strength is unimpaired and the third generation see in him a sturdy, stout-armed grandsire. Let who will be a wanderer and explore farthest Spain: such may have more of a journey; he of Verona has more of a life.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?