July 28, 2002
French And Indian Verse

I am curious as to whether any of my readers will like this poem at all. It's a close line-by-line translation of one of Horace's Odes (2.16), in the meter of the original, by Thomas Morris (1732-1806?), a British officer stationed in Canada. Morris keeps Achilles and Tithonus in the eighth stanza, but 'translates' all the other geographic, ethnographic, and historical references from the ancient Mediterranean to the modern British Empire. The poem, written in 1761 and published in 1796, is number 327 in the New Oxford Book of Eighteenth-Century Verse. Horace's subject is otium, which is both "leisure" and "peace of mind" (Morris' "ease"), the opposite of negotium, "business, trouble".

Sapphics: At the Mohawk-Castle, Canada. To Lieutenant Montgomery

Ease is the prayír of him who, in a whaleboat
Crossing Lake Champlain, by a stormís oíertaken;
Not struck his blanket, not a friendly island
    Near to receive him.

Ease is the wish too of the sly Canadian;
Ease the delight of bloody Caghnawagas;
Ease, Richard, ease, not to be bought with wampum,
    Nor paper money.

Not colonelís pay, nor yet a dapper sergeant,
Orderly waiting with recovered halberd,
Can chase the crowd of troubles still surrounding
    Laced regimentals.

That sub lives best who, with a sash in tatters
Worn by his grandsire at the fight of Blenheim,
To fear a stranger, and to wild ambition,
    Snores on a bearskin.

Why like fine-fellows are we ever scheming,
We short-lived mortals? Why so fond of climates
Warmed by new suns? O who, that runs from home, can
    Run from himself too?

Care climbs radeaux with four-and-twenty pounders,
Not quits our light troops, or our Indian warriors,
Swifter than moose-deer, or the fleeter east wind,
    Pushing the clouds on.

He, whose good humour can enjoy the present,
Scorns to look forward; with a smile of patience
Tempíring the bitter. Bliss uninterrupted
    None can inherit.

Death instantaneous hurried off Achilles;
Age far-extended wore away Tithonus:
Who will live longer, thou or I, Montgomíry?
    Dicky or Tommy?

Thee twenty messmates, full of noise and laughter,
Cheer with their sallies; thee the merry damsels
Please with their tittíring; whilst thou sittíst adorned with
    Boots, sash and gorget.

Me to Fort Hendrick, midst a savage nation,
Dull Connajohry, cruel fate has driven.
O think on Morris, in a lonely chamber,
    Dabbling in Sapphic.

As Morris says, his meter (and Horace's) is Sapphic: each stanza consists of three lines on the pattern / x / x / x x / x / x and a fourth of / x x / x. (The Latin actually uses long and short syllables rather than accented and unaccented, but the pattern works fairly well with English accentual rhythms.)

Notes: "sub" (13) is subaltern. Tithonus (30) was given eternal life but not eternal youth and eventually shriveled into a cicada. The second stanza is my favorite. Whether this, or any translation, can give even a hint of Horace's quality as a poet is a good question.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at July 28, 2002 10:46 PM

As a student of Latin, I'm intrigued by this translation. I'm forced to respect a man who can achieve not only a close literal translation but also an identical meter. (I've never understood why R. Fitzgerald was so popular as a translator, as he seems to achieve neither ...)

I'd still maintain, however, that Horace can only really be appreciated in the original tongue.

Posted by: Robin on July 28, 2002 11:22 PM