Thursday, January 26, 2012


The Old Man of Verona

Thanks to Karl Maurer for drawing my attention to three more translations of Claudian's Old Man of Verona, one from the 18th century and two from the 19th century.

Samuel Boyse (1708–1749), Translations and Poems Written on Several Subjects (Edinburgh: Thomas and Walter Ruddimans, 1731), pp. 17-18:
Happy the Man who free from Noise and Strife
In his own Grounds has past his peaceful Life;
And in his solitary Cottage blest,
Counts o'er the joyful Days he has possest;
Who ne'er for Fortune's Baits exchang'd Content,
Nor knew what Av'rice or Ambition meant,
Ne'er heard the Clamours of the crowded Town,
Or the Chicane of the litigious Gown;
But freed from War, and ignorant of Trade,
Defies all Storms that may his Rest invade:
And from the World retir’d, serene enjoys
The kindly Influence of his native Skies;
While by the Marks of Nature that appear,
He knows the Seasons of the changing Year;
Who walks and sleeps beneath the neighb'ring Wood,
That with himself coeval, long has stood
The waste of Time, and as the Stripling stray'd,
Receiv'd him oft beneath its friendly Shade:
To whom Verona seems the Indian Coasts
And the Red Sea in Benacus is lost;
While firm in Health, and in his Reason sound
He daily measures his paternal Ground,
And o'er his Body, like a pleasing Sleep,
Feels his old Age with soft Advances creep,
Till blest with all a mortal Wish can crave,
Unknown, unseen, he sinks into the Grave.

Let others boast of Triumphs and of Toils,
The Pride of Riches, and the Pomp of Spoils!
Compar'd with his, how trifling are their Joys?
They only taste that Life which he enjoys.
Anonymous, in The Port Folio, New Series, by Oliver Oldschool, Esq., Vol. VI, No. 1 (Philadelphia, Saturday, July 2, 1808), p. 31:
Happy the man, who, satisfied at home,
From his own dwelling never learnt to roam,
And bending now with age, on the same floor
Of native earth, on which he crawl’d of yore,
Marks with his staff, a calculation rude,
And tells the years his rural cot hath stood.
He with no rage of rambling folly curst,
E’er toil’d at barb’rous streams to slake his thirst,
For love of gain ne’er plough’d the wintry wave,
Nor risk’ed his life among the madly brave.
The bar he ne’er frequented, for he thought
That right by wrangling was too dearly bought.
Heedless of bustling life, e’en the next town,
With all its wealth and vice, to him is still unknown.
Looks he abroad? The scenery of the sky
An unbought pleasure offers to his eye:
By crops alternate, not by calendars,
He measures time, and ascertains the years.
In mellow fruits the fall is manifest,
Gay flow’rs the spring sufficiently attest,
And even the hours he practically knows,
Assign’d to food, to labour, or repose.
To him his fields appear to occupy
Th’extent of day, and meet the bending sky.
Proportion’d to his wish, his little round
He scans with joy, nor craves a larger bound;
Of things remote incurious, and at ease,
Repos’d beneath contemporary trees,
Fondly compares their period with his own,
Together young—together aged grown.
Charles Abraham Elton (1778-1853), Specimens of the Classic Poets, Vol. III (London: Robert Baldwin, 1814), pp. 293-294:
Blest is the man who, in his father's fields,
Has past an age of quiet. The same roof
That screen'd his cradle, yields a shelter now
To his grey hairs. He leans upon a staff,
Where, as a child, he crept along the ground;
And, in one cottage, he has number'd o'er
A length of years. Him Fortune has not drawn
Into her whirl of strange vicissitudes;
Nor has he drunk, with ever-changing home,
From unknown rivers. Never on the deep,
A merchant, has he trembled at the storm;
Nor, as a soldier, started at the blare
Of trumpets; nor endured the noisy strife
Of the hoarse-clamouring bar: of the great world
Simply unconscious. To the neighbouring town
A stranger, he enjoys the free expanse
Of open heaven. The old man marks his year,
Not by the names of Consuls, but computes
Time by his various crops: by apple notes
The autumns; by the blooming flower the spring.
From the same field he sees his daily sun
Go down, and lift again its reddening orb;
And, by his own contracted universe,
The rustic measures the vast light of day.
He well remembers that broad massive oak,
An acorn; and has seen the grove grow old,
Coeval with himself. Verona seems
To him more distant than the swarthy Ind:
He deems the lake Benacus like the shores
Of the red gulph. But his a vigour hale,
And unabated: he has now outlived
Three ages: though a grandsire, green in years,
With firm and sinewy arms. The traveler
May roam to farthest Spain: he more has known
Of earthly space; the old man more of life.
Thanks also to Karl Maurer for sharing his own translation (and note):
About the old man of Verona who has never left his suburb

Happy, who passed his life in his own fields,
        whose same house sees the boy and the old man;
who with his cane on sand whereon he crawled
        counts the long ages of a single hut.
No Fortune tugged him with her varied tumult.
        No mobile guest, he drank no unknown spring;
feared no commercial seas, or soldier’s war-horn,
        nor suffered lawsuits in a raucous Forum.
Free of affairs, not knowing the near city,
        he enjoys a freer sight of stars. By changes
in crops, not consuls, he computes the year;
        knows Fall by apples, Spring by her bright blossoms.
His same field buries, then brings back the sun.
        He measures each day by his clock of tasks; *
recalls the huge oak as a small seed; sees
        that his coeval woods have aged with him;
thinks near Verona farther than black Indians;
        that Lake Benacus is the Red Sea shore.
But strong and fresh he is; in his firm muscles
        three generations see a grandsire still robust.
Let someone else ransack the farthest Spaniards;
        this man has more life; that, a longer road.

*More lit., 'Rustic, he measures each day by his circle'; but this echoes, I suspect, or even alludes to, an enchanting sentence in Vergil, Geo. 2.401 f. labor actus in orbem / atque in se sua per uestigia uoluitur annus, i.e. (the vine-grower's) labor, even when finished, returns again, as the year revolves, stepping in its own footprints. The rustic life is a kind of treadmill, never, ever finished! Yet this brings peace, because our life thus coincides with the very order of the world. It has this in common with 'verse'! Both turn, turn, turn, in the same hard but divine treadmill.

I'm indebted to Ian Jackson for sending me a copy of "Claudian's Old Man of Verona: An Anthology of English Translations with a New Poem by Edwin Morgan," Translation and Literature 2 (1993) 87-97. I won't print Edwin Morgan's Scots version, at least not yet, because it requires some glosses. But here are some more translations included in the article.

John Beaumont, Bosworth-Field, With a Taste of the Variety of Other Poems (London: Printed by Felix Kyngston for Henry Scale, 1629), p. 57:
Thrice happy he, whose age is spent vpon his owne,
The same house sees him old, which him a child hath known,
He leanes vpon his staffe in sand where once he crept,
His mem'ry long descents, of one poore cote hath kept,
He through the various strife of fortune neuer past,
Nor as a wand'ring guest would forraine waters taste,
He neuer fear'd the seas in trade, nor sound of warres,
Nor in hoarse courts of law, hath felt litigious iarres,
Vnskilfull in affaires, he knowes no City neare,
So freely he enioyes the sight of heau'n more cleare,
The yeeres by seu'rall corne, not Consuls he computes,
He notes the Spring by flowres, and Autumne by the fruits,
One space put downe the Sunne, and brings againe the rayes.
Thus by a certaine Orbe he measures out the dayes,
Remembring some great Oke from small beginning spred,
He sees the wood grow old, which with himselfe was bred.
Verona next of Townes as farre as India seemes,
And for the ruddy Sea, Benacus he esteemes:
Yet still his armes are firme, his strength vntam'd and greene;
The full third age hath him a lusty Grandsire seene.
Let others trauaile farre, and hidden coasts display,
This man hath more of life, and those haue more of way.
Elijah Fenton (1683-1730), Oxford and Cambridge Miscellany Poems (London: Printed for Bernard Lintott, 1708), pp. 18-20:
Happy the Man who all his Days does pass
In the paternal Cottage of his Race;
Where first his trembling Infant steps he try'd
Which now supports his Age, and once his Youth employ'd.
This was the Cottage his Forefathers knew,
It saw his Birth, shall see his Burial too;
Unequal Fortunes, and Ambition's Fate
Are things Experience never taught him yet.
Him to strange Lands no rambling Humour bore,
Nor breath'd he ever any Air but of his native Shore.
Free from all anxious Interests of Trade,
No storms at Sea have e'er disturb'd his Head:
He never Battel's wild Confusions saw,
Nor heard the worse Confusions of the Law.
A Stranger to the Town, and Town Employs,
Their dark and crowded Streets, their Stink and Noise;
He a more calm and brighter Sky enjoys.
Nor does the Year by change of Consuls know,
The Year his Fruit's returning Seasons show;
Quarters and Months in Nature's Face he sees,
In Flowers the Spring, and Autumn on his Trees.
The whole Day's Shadows in his Homestead drawn,
Point out the hourly Courses of the Sun.
Grown old with him, a Grove adorns his Field,
Whose tender setts his Infancy beheld.
Of distant India, Erythraean Shores,
Benacus Lake, Verona's neighb'ring Tow'rs,
(Alike unseen) from common Fame has heard,
Alike believes them, and with like Regard.
Yet firm and strong, his Grandchildren admire
The Health and Vigour of their brawny Sire.
The spacious Globe let those that will survey,
This good old Man, content at home to stay,
More happy Years shall know, more Leagues and Countries they.
Francis Fawkes (1721–1777), Original Poems and Translations (London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1761), pp. 137-138:
Blest who, content with what the country yields,
Lives in his own hereditary fields!
Who can with pleasure his past life behold!
Whose roof paternal saw him young and old:
And as he tells his long adventures o'er,
A stick supports him where he crawl'd before.
Who ne'er was tempted from his farm to fly,
And drink new streams beneath a foreign sky:
No merchant, he, solicitous of gain,
Dreads not the storms that lash the sounding main:
Nor soldier fears the summons to the war,
Nor the hoarse clamours of the noisy bar.
Unskill'd in business, to the world unknown,
He ne'er beheld the next contiguous town;
Yet nobler objects to his views are given,
Fair flowery fields, and star-embellish'd heaven.
He marks no change of consuls, but computes
Alternate seasons by alternate fruits;
Maturing autumns store of apples bring,
And flowerets are the luxury of spring.
His farm that catches first the sun's bright ray,
Sees the last lustre of his beams decay:
The passing hours erected columns show,
And are his landmarks and his dials too.
Yon spreading oak a little twig he knew,
And the whole grove in his remembrance grew.
Verona's walls remote as India seem;
Benacus is th' Arabian Gulph to him.
Yet health three ages lengthens out his span,
And grandsons hail the vigorous old man.
Let others vainly sail from shore to shore,
Their joys are fewer, and their labours more.
Helen Waddell (1889-1965):
This man has lived his life in his own fields.
The house that saw him as a little lad
Sees him an old man: leaning on his staff,
On the same earth he crawled on, he will tell you
The centuries that one low roof has seen.
Fate has not dragged him through the brawling crowds,
Nor ever, as a restless traveller,
Has he drunk at unknown springs; no greed of gain
Kept him a-quaking on the perilous seas.
No trumpet sounded for him the attack,
No lawsuit brought him to the raucous courts.
In politics unskilled, knowing naught of the neighbouring town,
His eye takes pleasure in a wider sky.
The years he'll reckon in alternate crops
And not by parliaments: spring has her flowers,
Autumn her apples: so the year goes by.
The same wide field that hides the setting sun
Sees him return again;
His light the measure of this plain man's day.
That massive oak he remembers a sapling once,
Yon grove of trees grew old along with him.
Verona further seems than India,
Lake Garda is as remote as the Red Sea.
Yet, strength indomitable and sinews firm,
The old man stands, a rock among his grandsons.
Let you go gadding, gape at furthest Spain:
You'll have seen life; but this old man has lived.
Still more translations of this splendid poem (some with the Latin text):

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