Sunday, October 17, 2010


Is It True?

Seneca, Trojan Women 371-408 (tr. John G. Fitch):
Is it true, or a tale to deceive the faint-hearted,
that spirits live on after bodies are buried,
when the spouse has placed a hand over the eyes,
and the final day has blocked out future suns,
and the grim urn has confined the ashes?

Verum est an timidos fabula decipit
umbras corporibus vivere conditis,
cum coniunx oculis imposuit manum
supremusque dies solibus obstitit
et tristis cineres urna coercuit?

Is nothing gained in yielding the soul to death?
Are the wretched faced with further life?
Or do we die wholly, and does no part of us survive,
once the spirit carried on the fugitive breath
has mingled with the mist and and receded into the air,
and the kindling torch has touched the naked flesh?

non prodest animam tradere funeri,
sed restat miseris vivere longius?
an toti morimur nullaque pars manet
nostri, cum profugo spiritus halitu
immixtus nebulis cessit in aera
et nudum tetigit subdita fax latus?

All that is known to the rising or setting sun,
all that is laved by Ocean with its blue waters
twice approaching and twice fleeing,
time will seize at the pace of Pegasus.

Quicquid sol oriens, quicquid et occidens
novit, caeruleis Oceanus fretis
quicquid bis veniens et fugiens lavat,
aetas Pegaseo corripiet gradu.

As the twelve constellations fly at whirlwind speed,
as the lord of the stars hastens apace
to roll on the centuries, in the way that Hecate
hurries to run on her slanting arcs:
so we all head for death. No longer does one
who has reached the pools that bind the gods' oaths
exist at all. As smoke from burning fires
fades away, soiling the air for a brief space;
as the leaden clouds that we saw just now
are scattered by the onset of northern Boreas:
so this spirit that rules us will flow away.

quo bis sena volant sidera turbine,
quo cursu properat volvere saecula
astrorum dominus, quo properat modo
obliquis Hecate currere flexibus:
hoc omnes petimus fata, nec amplius,
iuratos superis qui tetigit lacus,
usquam est. ut calidis fumus ab ignibus
vanescit, spatium per breve sordidus;
ut nubes, gravidas quas modo vidimus,
arctoi Boreae dissicit impetus:
sic hic, quo regimur, spiritus effluet.

After death is nothing, and death itself is nothing,
the finishing line of a swiftly run circuit.
Let the greedy lay down their hopes, the anxious their fears:
greedy time and Chaos devour us.

Post mortem nihil est ipsaque mors nihil,
velocis spatii meta novissima.
spem ponant avidi, solliciti metum:
tempus nos avidum devorat et chaos.

Death is indivisible, destructive to the body
and not sparing the soul. Taenarus, and the kingdom
under its harsh lord, and Cerberus guarding
the entrance with its unyielding gate
—hollow rumours, empty words,
a tale akin to a troubled dream.

mors individua est, noxia corpori
nec parcens animae. Taenara et aspero
regnum sub domino limen et obsidens
custos non facili Cerberus ostio
rumores vacui verbaque inania
et par sollicito fabula somnio.

You ask where you lie after death?
Where unborn things lie.

quaeris quo iaceas post obitum loco?
quo non nata iacent.
The same, tr. Edward Sherburne (1616-1702):
Is it a Truth? or Fiction blinds
        Our fearful Minds?
That when to Earth we Bodies give,
        Souls yet do live?
That when the Wife hath clos'd with Cries
        The Husband's Eyes,
When the last fatal Day of Light
        Hath spoil'd our Sight,
And when to Dust and Ashes turn'd
        Our Bones are urn'd;
Souls stand yet in no need at all
        Of Funeral.
But that a longer Life with Pain
        They still retain?
Or dye we quite? Nor aught we have
        Survives the Grave?
When like to Smoak immix'd with Skies,
        The Spirit flies.
And Funeral Tapers are apply'd
        To th'naked Side.
Whate'er Sol rising does disclose,
        Or setting shows;
Whate'er the Sea with flowing Waves
        Or ebbing laves;
Old Time, that moves with winged pace,
        Doth soon deface.
With the same Swiftness the Signs rowl
        Round, round the Pole,
With the same Course Day's Ruler steers
        The fleeting Years;
With the same Speed th'oblique-pac'd Moon
        Does wheeling run:
We all are hurried to our Fates,
        Our Lives last Dates;
And when we reach the Stygian Shore,
        Are then no more.
As Smoak, which springs from Fire, is soon
        Dispers'd and gone;
Or Clouds which we but now beheld,
        By Winds dispel'd;
The Spirit, which informs this Clay,
        So fleets away.
Nothing is after Death; and this
        Too, Nothing is:
The Gaol, or the extreamest space
        Of a swift Race.
The Covetous their Hopes forbear,
        The Sad their Fear.
Ask'st thou, whene'er thou com'st to dye,
        Where thou shalt lye?
Where lye th'unborn. Away Time rakes us,
        Then Chaos takes us.
Death's Individual; like kind
        To Body or Mind.
Whate'er of Taenarus they sing,
        And Hell's fierce King,
How Cerberus still guards the Port
        O'th' Stygian Court,
All are but idle Rumours found,
        And empty Sound;
Like the vain Fears of Melancholy
        Dreams, and fabulous Folly.
Paraphrase of lines 397-408 by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680):
After death nothing is, and nothing, death,
The utmost limit of a gasp of breath.
Let the ambitious zealot lay aside
His hopes of heaven, whose faith is but his pride;
Let slavish souls lay by their fear
Nor be concerned which way nor where
After this life they shall be hurled.
Dead, we become the lumber of the world,
And to that mass of matter shall be swept
Where things destroyed with things unborn are kept.
Devouring time swallows us whole;
Impartial death confounds body and soul.
For Hell and the foul fiend that rules
God's everlasting fiery jails
(Devised by rogues, dreaded by fools),
With his grim, grisly dog that keeps the door,
Are senseless stories, idle tales,
Dreams, whimseys, and no more.
Franciscus Gysbrechts (17th century), Vanitas

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

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