Translations

Selection copyright © 1997 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. This edition may not be reproduced or redistributed to third parties without permission of the editor.


[Symonds's translations of Greek poetry and of Michelangelo's sonnets are represented elsewhere in this anthology. The following selections are but a sample of his less well known work. He translated sixteen fragments of Sappho's poetry for Sappho: Memoir, Text, Selected Renderings and a Literal Translation by Henry Thornton Wharton in 1885, plus the "Hymn to Aphrodite" which was first published in the Appendix to the second edition of his Studies of the Greek Poets in 1877 and revised in 1893 for the third edition of Wharton's collection published in 1895. He immensely enjoyed translating Poliziano's Orfeo, which appeared in its entirety in Sketches and Studies in Italy (1879); I have excerpted Orpheus' final song after he has lost Eurydice to Hades, and just before he is ripped to pieces by the Maenads. The powerful translation of Bion's "Lament for Adonis", which appeared in The Century Guild Hobby Horse in October 1890, may have influenced the hypnotic cadences of Oscar Wilde's Salome.]


Sappho: To a Maiden

Peer of gods he seemeth to me, the blissful
Man who sits and gazes at thee before him,
Close beside thee sits, and in silence hears thee
Silverly speaking,
Laughing love's low laughter. Oh this, this only
Stirs the troubled heart in my breast to tremble!
For should I but see thee a little moment,
Straight is my voice hushed;
Yea, my tongue is broken, and through and through me
'Neath the flesh impalpable fire runs tingling;
Nothing see mine eyes, and a noise of roaring
Waves in my ear sounds;
Sweat runs down in rivers, a tremor seizes
All my limbs, and paler than grass in autumn,
Caught by pains of menacing death, I falter,
Lost in the love-trance.

Sappho: Hymn to Aphrodite

Glittering-throned, undying Aphrodite,
Wile-weaving daughter of high Zeus, I pray thee,
Tame not my soul with heavy woe, dread mistress,
Nay, nor with anguish!

But hither come, if ever erst of old time
Thou didst incline, and listenedst to my crying,
And from thy father's palace down descending,
Camest with golden

Chariot yoked: thee fair swift-flying sparrows
Over dark earth with multitudinous fluttering,
Pinion on pinion, through middle ether
Down from heaven hurried.

Quickly they came like light, and thou, blest lady,
Smiling with clear undying eyes didst ask me
What was the woe that troubled me, and wherefore
I had cried to thee:

What thing I longed for to appease my frantic
Soul: and Whom now must I persuade, thou askedst,
Whom must entangle to thy love, and who now,
Sappho, hath wronged thee?

Yea, for if now he shun, he soon shall chase thee;
Yea, if he take not gifts, he soon shall give them;
Yea, if he love not, soon shall he begin to
Love thee, unwilling.

Come to me now too, and from tyrannous sorrow
Free me, and all things that my soul desires to
Have done, do for me, queen, and let thyself too
Be my great ally!

Poliziano: Song of Orpheus

[See also Symonds's article on Politian]
What sorrow-laden song shall e'er be found
To match the burden of my matchless woe?
How shall I make the fount of tears abound,
To weep apace with grief's unmeasured flow?
Salt tears I'll waste upon the barren ground,
So long as life delays me here below;
And since my fate hath wrought me wrong so sore,
I swear I'll never love a woman more!
Henceforth I'll pluck the buds of opening spring,
The bloom of youth when life is loveliest,
Ere years have spoiled the beauty which they bring:
This love, I swear, is sweetest, softest, best!
Of female charms let no one speak or sing;
Since she is slain who ruled within my breast.
He who would seek my converse, let him see
That ne'er he talk of woman's love to me!
How pitiful is he who changes mind
For woman! for her love laments or grieves!
Who suffers her in chains his will to bind,
Or trusts her words lighter than withered leaves,
Her loving looks more treacherous than the wind!
A thousand times she veers; to nothing cleaves:
Follows who flies; from him who follows, flees;
And comes and goes like waves on stormy seas!
High Jove confirms the truth of what I said,
Who, caught and bound in love's delightful snare,
Enjoys in heven his own bright Ganymed:
Phoebus on earth had Hyacinth the fair:
Hercules, conqueror of the world, was led
Captive to Hylas by this love so rare. —
Advice for husbands! Seek divorce, and fly
Far, far away from female company!

Bion: Lament for Adonis

Wail, wail, Ah for Adonis! He is lost to us, lovely Adonis!
Lost is lovely Adonis! The Loves respond with lamenting.

Nay, no longer in robes of purple recline, Aphrodite:
Wake from thy sleep, sad queen, black-stoled, rain blows on thy bosom;
Cry to the listening world, He is lost to us, lovely Adonis!

Wail, wail, Ah for Adonis! The Loves repond with lamenting.

Lovely Adonis is lying, sore hurt in his thigh, on the mountains,
Hurt in his thigh with the tusk, while grief consumes Aphrodite:
Slowly he droops toward death, and the black blood drips from his fair flesh,
Down from his snow-white skin; his eyes wax dull 'neath the eyelids,
Yea and the rose hath failed his lips, and around them the kisses
Die and wither, the kisses that Kupris will not relinquish:
Still, though he lives no longer, a kiss consoles Aphrodite;
But he knows not, Adonis, she kissed him while he was dying.
Wail, wail, Ah for Adonis! The Loves respond with lamenting.

Cruel, cruel the wound in the thigh that preys on Adonis:
But in her heart Cytherea hath yet worse wounds to afflict her.
Round him his dear hounds bay, they howl in their grief to the heavens;
Nymphs of the woodlands wail: but she, the Queen Aphrodite,
Loosing her locks to the air, roams far and wide through the forest,
Drowned in grief, dishevelled, unsandalled, and as she flies onward,
Briars stab at her feet and cull the blood of the goddess.

She with shrill lamentation thro' glen and thro' glade is carried,
Calling her Syrian lord, demanding him back, and demanding.
But where he lies, dark blood wells up and encircles the navel;
Blood from the gushing thighs empurples the breast; and the snow- white
Flank that was once so fair, is now dyed red for Adonis.

Wail, wail, Ah, Cytherea! The Loves respond with lamenting.

She then hath lost her lord, and with him hath lost her celestial
Beauty; for fair was he, and fair, while he lived, Aphrodite:
Now in his death her beauty hath died. Ah, Ah, Cytherea!
All the mountains lament, and the oaks moan, Ah for Adonis!
Streams as they murmur and flow complain of thy griefs, Aphrodite:
Yea and the springs on the hills, in the woods, weep tears for Adonis:
Flowers of the field for woe flush crimson red; and Cythera,
Thorough the dells and the glens, shirlls loud the dirge of her anguish:
Woe, woe, Ah, Cytherea! He is lost to us, lovely Adonis!
Echo repeats the groan: Lost, lost, is lovely Adonis!
Kupris, who but bewailed thy pangs of a love overwhelming?

She, when she saw, when she knew the unstanchable wound of Adonis,
When she beheld the red blood on his pale thigh's withering blossom,
Spreading her arms full wide, she moaned out: "Stay, my Adonis!
Stay, ill-fated Adonis! that I once more may approach thee!
Clasp thee close to my breast, and these lips mingle with thy lips!
Rouse for a moment, Adonis, and kiss me again for the last time;
Kiss me as long as the kiss can live on the lips of a lover;
Till from thy inmost soul to my mouth and down to my marrow
Thy life-breath shall run, and I quaff the wine of thy philtre,
Draining the draught of thy love: that kiss will I treasure, Adonis,
E'en as it were thyself; since thou, ill-starred, art departing,
Fleeing me far, O Adonis, to Acheron faring, the sad realm
Ruled by a stern savage king: while I, the unhappy, the luckless,
I live; goddess am I, and I may not follow or find thee.
Persephone, take thou my lord, my lover; I know thee
Stronger far than myself: all fair things drift to thy dwelling.
I meanwhile am accursed, possessed with insatiable sorrow,
Weeping my dead, my Adonis who died, and am shaken and shattered.
Diest thou then, my desired? and desire like a dream hath escaped me.
Widowed is now Cytherea; the Loves in her hall are abandoned;
Perished with thee is my girdle. Ah, why wouldst thou hunt, over-bold one?
Being so beautiful, why wast thou mad to fight with a wild beast?"

Thus then Kupris mourned; and the Loves respond with lamenting:
Wail, wail, Ah for Adonis! He is lost to us, lovely Adonis!
Tears the Paphian shed, drop by drop for the drops of Adonis'
Blood; and on earth each drop, as it fell, grew into a blossom:
Roses sprang from the blood, and the tears gave birth to the wind-flower.

Wail, wail, Ah, Cytherea! He is lost to us, lovely Adonis!

Wail, wail, Ah for Adonis! He is lost to us, lovely Adonis!

Now in the oak-woods cease to lament for thy lord, Aphrodite.
No proper couch is this which the wild leaves strew for Adonis.
Let him thy own bed share, Cytherea, the corpse of Adonis;
E'en as a corpse he is fair, fair corpse as fallen aslumber.
Now lay him soft to sleep, sleep well in the wool of the bedclothes,
Where with thee through thenight in holy dreams he commingled,
Stretched on a couch all gold, that yearns for him stark though he now be.
Shower on him garlands, flowers: all fair things died in his dying;
Yea, as he faded away, so shrivel and wither the blossoms.
Syrian spikenard scatter, anoint him with myrrh and with unguents:
Perish perfumes all, since he, thy perfume, is perished.
Wail, wail, Ah for Adonis! The Loves respond with lamenting.

Lapped in his purple robes is the delicate form of Adonis.
Round him weeping Loves complain and moan in their anguish,
Clipping their locks for Adonis: and one of them treads on his arrows,
One of them breaks his bow, and one sets heel on the quiver;
One hath loosed for Adonis the latchet of sandals, and some bring
Water to pour in an urn; one laves the wound in his white thigh;
One from behind with his wings keeps fanning dainty Adonis.
Wail, wail, Ah for Adonis! The Loves respond with lamenting.

Wail, wail, Ah, Cytherea! The Loves respond with lamenting.

Every torch at the doors hath been quenched by thy hand, Hymenaeus;
Every bridal wreath hath been torn to shreds; and no longer,
Hymen, Hymen no more is the song, but a new song of sorrow,
Woe, woe! and Ah for Adonis! resounds in lieu of the bridesong.
This the Graces are shrilling, the son of Cinyras hymning,
Lost is lovely Adonis! in loud antiphonal accents.
Woe, woe! sharply repeat, far more than the praises of Paion,
Woe! and Ah for Adonis! the Muses who wail for Adonis,
Chaunt their charms to Adonis. — But he lists not to their singing;
Not that he wills not to hear, but the Maiden doth not release him.

Cease from moans, Cytherea, today refrain from the death- songs:
Thou must lament him again, and again shed tears in a new year.


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