Monday, March 10, 2014

Stanley Lombardo Translates Vergil's Tenth Eclogue: "Love Conquers All"

Stanley Lombardo retires from the University of Kansas in May. Last month, Valentine's Day to be exact, he presented part of Vergil's tenth Eclogue as part of the celebration of his time at KU, since 1976. This is the complete Eclogue X, reprinted with his permission.
Vergil, Tenth Eclogue

One final effort: grant me, Arethusa.
one last poem for Gallus, something that
his Lycoris can read too, a few lines,
Goddess, and may your water stay sweet,
pure in the brine all the way to Sicily.

             We can start now—
our lyrics the love that twists Gallus’ guts—
while the goats crop saplings off at the root,
            a song that is heard:
 the woods will echo our every word.
                        Where were you, Naiads,
phantom swimmers in the rock pools,
when Gallus lay dying of love? Not on any
of the holy mountains, dancing on no ridge,
chanting no dirge.
Yet the laurels wept, the tamarisks.
Whole pine forests in Arcadia, Wolf Mountain’s
cold rocks shed tears for Gallus, lying
at a cliff’s foot, circled by sheep—there is no shame
in this, it is a noble tradition for poets,
even golden Adonis once tended sheep.
The cowboys came, and the swineherd, dragging,
soaked with winter acorn mash, puzzling it out:

 “What is this love, Gallus?”
                                                 Apollo came:
“Insanity. Your precious Lycoris is tramping
after somebody else up north in some army camp.”
The Forest God came, wearing a wildflower crown,
shaking huge calla lilies.
                                        Great Pan came,
Arcadia’s God stained blood-red with elderberry juice—
we saw him ourselves in broad daylight.
“Won’t you ever stop? Love doesn’t care about this,
Love never has his fill of tears, any more than grass
ever has enough water, bees clover, never enough
leaf-buds for goats, never enough.”
                                                             And Gallus:
“But you Arcadians will sing—only you
Arcadians really know how to sing—and my bones
will vibrate in tune with your mountains,
a reed-flute marking the notes, my loves.
If I could have been one of you, a shepherd,
a vine-pruner, had Leaf as a love, a passion
for Amyntas—so Amyntas is dark, violets
are black too, and hyacinths—resting
in the willows. Leaf plaiting, singing Amyntas…
Lycoris!  There are cold springs here,
soft meadows, woods,
we could spend eternity here together.
Instead, War,
insane Love traps me behind enemy lines,
and you, I don’t want to believe it,
far from home, facing Rhine winters, Alpine snows

 Don’t let the cold hurt you, your soft feet on the ice!
I’ll go,
         retune my fancy poems to an oatstraw flute
                        modulate them to Sicilian song
off to the woods
                 caves, wild animals, suffer that,
carve my love on tender trees
       and as the trees grow my love will grow.
traverse Maenalus with the forest-spirit women
            hunt wild boars
set the hounds on in any kind of cold
in virgin forests
            I can see myself now, shooting
Cretan arrows from a Parthian bow  
                                                echoing woods…

 Who am I kidding?  As if there were some cure
for this madness, as if human ills
                               could teach that God mercy.

Forget the wood-nymphs, forget poetry too,
woods dissolve, our suffering can’t change Him,
not even if we crouched all winter through storms,
drank ice-slush from the Hebrus, herded flocks
in Ethiopia, the sun high in Cancer,
bark parched on high elms, dying in heat

 Love conquers all, we too should yield to Love.”
That will be enough, Goddesses,
        for your poet to have sung
as he sits weaving a small basket
out of slender hibiscus.
make it count with Gallus,
Gallus, whose love grows in me hourly,
like an alder shooting up green in early spring.

 We can end now.
            Shade is bad for the voice
shade’s bad for the juniper,
      shade hurts the crops.

 Go home, little goats, you’re stuffed
and the Evening Star is out.
                                             Go, little goats.

©2014 Stanley Lombardo, translation
Stanley Lombardo retires in May, 2014, from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, where he is Professor of Classics. His translations include Homer’s Iliad (recipient of the Byron Caldwell Book Award) and Odyssey, Hesiod’s Works and Days and Theogeny (recipient of a National Translation Center Award), and Poems and Fragments of Sappho. He is known for performance as well as translation and has given dramatic readings from his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey on campuses throughout the United States, at the Smithsonian Institution and the Chicago Poetry Center, and on National Public Radio and C-SPAN. Recordings of the Iliad and Odyssey are available from Parmenides Publishing. He is also a Zen Master, and the guiding teacher of Zen Centers in Arkansas and Indiana. He is editor and co-editor of three of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s books (Bone of Space, Only Don't Know, and Ten Gates).