Friday, May 08, 2015


Edwin Morgan and Claudian's Old Man of Verona

"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 (at 97):
De Sene Veronesi: a Deconstruction

Auld Fergus is richt bien and croose, ye ken,
Crawin on his ain dunghill seeventy years.
His stick hirples him ower the grun he crowled on
Langsyne. Gode, he wis feart tae lea thon hoose!
His teeth ay chittert at the notion o chynge.
Aw furrin lochs were pysin! That export trock —
Nae thanks! The ermy? — na, thon's danger-money
Boather the ombudsman? Naw, keep the heid doon.
He's sic a sumph he's niver been tae toon,
He gawks up at the lift — weel, it's free, man!
He coonts the months by kail an coarn an claver,
But disna ken his MP frae his elbuck.
Same auld fields, same sun an muin — aw's wan
Tae him, he plowters through, it's breid an bu'er.
He kent that aik as an aikorn wance? — big deal!
The scrunty foggage is as grey as him.
An Bennachie's as faur aff as Benares,
And as for Udny, oh man, yon's like Omsk.
Warst thing is, he's still quite hale an stuffie,
His sons and oys are hodden doon, pair loons.
Their backpacks are stashed fidgin for Albania:
He's gote his wee warld, but they wahnt the Wey.
Eric Thomson drew this poem to my attention. He also contributed the following notes and paraphrase:
Bennachie: a punning transposition of Lake Garda (Benacus) to the Bennachie Hills in Aberdeenshire. Since Bennacchie comprises a number of 'taps', there is perhaps sly homage here too to 'Pentland's towring taps', Allan Ramsay's transposition of Horace's Soracte in 'To the Ph— An Ode'.
Benares: Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India.
Udny: Udny Station, a small village in Aberdeenshire.

Old Fergus is in fine fettle and cheerful, you know,
Crowing on his own dunghill seventy years.
His stick lets him hobble over the ground he crawled on
An age ago. God, he was scared to leave that house!
His teeth always chattered at the notion of change.
All foreign waters were poison! The export trade —
No thanks! The army? — no, that's danger-money.
Bother the ombudsman? No, keep the head down.
He's such a simpleton he's never been to town,
He stares up at the sky — well, it's free!
He counts the months by kail and oats and clover,
But doesn't know his MP from his elbow.
Same old fields, same sun and moon — all's one
To him, he potters about, it's bread and butter.
He knew that oak as an acorn once? — big deal!
The shrivelled aftermath is as grey as him.
And Bennachie's as far off as Benares,
And as for Udny there, it's like Omsk.
Worst thing is, he's still quite hale and sturdy,
His sons and grandsons are weighed down, poor lads.
Their backpacks are stowed away ready for Albania:
He's got his tiny world, but they're after the Way.
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