London Olympic Lipograms (LOL) and Paralypograms - 2012
A Poem of Brexit – July 2016
Apparatus Criticus to ‘The Excellent Wessex Event’
There's Plenty Left To Do...
REVIEW IN PROSE in Modern Poetry in Translation, 3/5, 2006
Horace, The Odes, translated by Colin Sydenham. New verse translation with facing Latin text and notes. G. Duckworth & Co, London, 2005. ISBN 0 7516 3431. 287pp, unpriced.
‘Horace has been translated more often into more languages than any other author, [outside]…the Bible,’ says the foreword to this book. ‘Generations of schoolboys’ can be added to the tally.
Horace’s personality is better-known than most of his writings. Colin Sydenham has come to share that personality: convivial, reflective, humorous. The Horatian Society, his brainchild, dines annually in force. His book is a work of deep and lifelong love. He was fortunate to study under D.P. Simpson and others at Eton, and L.P. Wilkinson at King’s, Cambridge. (Rex Henricus, sis amicus /nobis in angustia, /cujus prece nos a nece /salvemur perpetua.) He says he is neither scholar nor poet. Housman said at Trinity: ‘Gentlemen! This college has seen Wordsworth drunk and Porson sober. I stand before you, a better scholar than Wordsworth, a better poet than Porson.’ Sydenham could say the same. His scholarship is impeccable, never too heavy. In his text there is fine poetry and exceptional craftsmanship. Here is Europa: ‘One moment she was in the fields, intent /on plaiting for the Nymphs a promised wreath, /next all she dimly saw was stars above /and waves beneath’. Almost all his Odes rhyme, in moderation, and all scan, thus matching but not mimicking Horace’s discipline. His rhymes are, as he puts it, genuine. His line-lengths reflect those of Horace, in their great variety. Nearly all his text is iambic, or trochaic; dactylic lines come in just where they are well-suited. A translator into verse may as well use familiar English metres: the task is already difficult enough.
Sydenham’s book is ‘principally designed for the inexpert’ reader. His object is ‘to produce a version which can be read with pleasure.’ He has succeeded. Likewise his exemplary Notes are not for the few real experts. Others, though, will cherish this book, especially if they have some Latin. And for newcomers to Horace, here is the way in.
Horace’s great feat was to adapt Greek lyric metres to the more ponderous Latin tongue, writing beautiful poetry. Sydenham argues that a translation into free verse would not convey what is fundamental to Horace’s lyrics, his metrical discipline. We would not discard, say, Ted Hughes’ free verse Ovid or E.V. Rieu’s prose Homer on such grounds. Ovid and Homer were equally unprecedented technical masters, and also have great sweeping narratives. But Sydenham uses rhyme and metre extremely well.
As we know from the rules of copyright, any poem, however short, is a complete work. It follows that the philosophy of the Odes need not be consistent. The speed of Horace’s thought, the many confusions and allusions, are unobtrusively clarified in the text or notes. Sydenham tells how the moralising first stanza of Integer vitae has even been sung at funerals, even though Horace soon subverts the high tone. The good man needs no darts and poisoned arrows: he has heaven’s protection, worldwide: he can go about unarmed and carefree. A wolf fled from Horace – Lalage was there. Extremes of climate can be ignored – with Lalage. She will shield him, says Sydenham, adding the word to make it clear. To what has sometimes appeared incomprehensible, he brings insight and vigour. I see Horace as not mocking, but upholding, virtue; he is also good company for the reader. He smiles about dropping his shield at Philippi, but only because he fought on the wrong side. He and Lalage were free agents: he was integer vitae scelerisque purus.
Sydenham matches diction to context. Here, the stately: ‘Of lovely mother daughter lovelier still…’ Elsewhere, ‘the verbal avuncular cosh’. A pleasing passage is quam… / verris obliquum meditantis ictum /sanguine donem: ‘I’ll gladly sacrifice /… a young boar, practising /his sidelong slice.’
All the Odes come into focus. Book Three travels from the six severe alcaic odes, the extreme honour of long-dead Regulus, to the the merriment of the wine-jar. Book Four, which looks so obsequious, now reveals its merits. Housman’s favourite is recognised, corruptible Lollius is immortalised, Caesar idolised:
‘longas o utinam, dux bone, ferias
praestes Hesperiae!’ dicimus integro
sicci mane die, dicimus uvidi,
ut sol Oceano subest.
‘Long be the carefree time that Caesar grants
to Italy.’ This prayer is on our lips
(dry in the morning, moistened later, as
the sun in Ocean dips).
Late love strikes hard; I’m no Pindar; Lyce looks old. Drusus wins battles. Virgil, a jar! ‘Now’s the time to season /prudence with folly; it’s a joy to take /a holiday from reason.’ dulce est desipere in loco.
This volume is a delight, beautifully written and presented. For light relief, the multiple versions of Franklin P. Adams can be found on the Web.
Here’s an ex-Highgate-resident’s well-researched book
On the Regency journalist, Theodore Hook.
He was songster and punster, ‘fast master’ of rhyme,
And the funniest prankster alive, in his time.
John Bull was his organ of satire and wit,
Though he scarcely admitted to editing it.
Snow was falling on Highgate: they all had to wait
When their Sage, their Panjandrum, their Coleridge came late,
From the Grove, down West Hill, to the comedy shrine,
Millfield Lane’s Ivy Cottage, to dazzle and dine:
Yes, to prattle and tipple, to guzzle and shine.
The host was Charles Mathews, celebrity mimic,
Big draw at the Garrick. Hook borrowed his gimmick:-
‘So inveterate (said he) was the wild element
(Hook was aping the Sage) in its fleecy descent,
Dr Gillman and I…’ They all laughed; then the bell
Craved silence for Coleridge (and Gillman as well).
‘So inveterate (said he) was the wild element …’
How they roared! It was perfect, one hundred per cent.
The King (George the Fourth) said ‘John Bull did more good
Than all of my Judges and Ministers could.’
For with barbed, biting comments and barely a bad jest he
Snagged and harpooned and lambasted Her Majesty.
Coleridge and Byron, and Sheridan too,
Reckoned Hook was a genius: so, reader, might you.
Hook unjustly succumbed, came unstuck: full of fun, but too
trustful, a touch unsuspicious,
When his unscrupulous underlings plundered huge sums
from the Treasury Funds in his care, on Mauritius.
P.S. Wait! This is wrong: it was Mathews, not Hook,
Who ‘pre-quoted’ the Sage, if you re-read the book.
And James Smith wasn’t there (wrote smash hits: only one’ll
Be mentioned in BUZZ, on the failed Highgate Tunnel),
When in Highgate, upstairs in a gardener’s cottage,
Old Coleridge waxed roseate in full anecdotage:
Hair floating, eyes bright, he recited and chattered,
Chucked forks at a glass, which he finally shattered…
Hook extemporised songs as if quality mattered
On Coconut Oil and on Mrs MacPherson,
The gardener’s wife, a respectable person.
Her husband and she practised husbandry (tillage),
Like crowds of BUZZ readers who live in the village.
Published in the Highgate Society Buzz, T. Ades, Ed.
A Review published in Long Poem Magazine:
A book called 1948,
made of some eighty Pushkin stanzas,
by Martin Rowson illustrate,
riots of rhyme, extravaganzas.
The cover’s ruddy bloody garish
and Rowson’s drawings quite nightmarish,
obsessive as the text, but still, full
of telling detail, very skilful.
London Olympics, shocks galore:
spies and political skulduggery,
trade unions, left-wing mags and thuggery
and Orwell’s 1984.
‘A, b, a, b, cc, dd,’
it rhymes; ‘e, f, f, e, gg.’
Alberti, Attlee, Blandish, Blunden,
Brecht, Bulldog Drummond, Helen Gahagan,
Greene, Harlow, Marlowe, Lorre, London,
Sartre, Frank Waxman, Ronald Reagan,
Thirkell, not Churchill, Harry Truman,
all rhymed! – it’s almost superhuman.
I’m bound to ask: what rhymes with Pushkin?
Stravinsky’s violinist Dushkin.
(No triple rhymes, no terza rima:
I could have added Ariane
Mnouchkine, but that must be foregone:
no flagpole on this Iwo Jima.)
Pro-Russian Proms ‘have picked The Nose
to bring the season to a close.’
So here’s my chance to rhyme Onegin,
since these are called ‘Onegin sonnets’,
with Fagin, or Menachem Begin –
a donnish jest – quiet flows the Donets! –
He won’t be pleased, so please don’t tell ‘im:
he’s miles less mild than Bassa Selim,
the liberal enlightened Turk
in Mozart’s oriental work.
Anyway, as I said before, well-
constructed pacey period thriller –
Winston and Spiller thwart the killer! –
all based on Eric Blair (George Orwell).
Drain down that draught! Hurl hats aloft!
Hail, handicraft of Andy Croft!
These jests never preceded ‘The Excellent Wessex Event’: they weren’t needed.
LE CHEF DE CET ÉVÉNEMENT.
. . . Sweeney entre les merles
(See Mr T.S.E.’s “The Seven Septets.”)
. . . Sweeney entre les merles,
les merles et merlettes,
merlettes et merlesses,
perles, merles femelles. . .
et Sweeney, pêle-mêle,
se révèle près d’elles!
Gegen entgegengesetzte Sterne
strebt der edelste Held
Entered Here . . .
by a glorious Bard
Let’s see whether he needed the letter e
XVIII Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Comparing you with a day possibly in July or August
I’ll put you up against a balmy day…
You win on looks. Not cold, and not too warm.
Winds cut up rough with darling buds of May;
A two–month contract can’t supply much balm.
Dog–days in August turn to burning hot,
Or may contrarily grow all too dim;
And all fair fowls fall foul of you–know–what,
Thrown by bad luck, or sunspots, out of trim.
But your hot days will last and last and last,
Maintaining tiptop form with full control;
Nor shall morticians brag of shadows cast
Across your path. My words shall grow your soul.
Humans may gasp and gawp, unstoppably:
I sign this gift, your immortality.
This was published in Acumen.
XXX When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
Writing Off Past Pains
Now and again I sit in soundproof thought
And summon up (Proust’s parrot–cry) things past:
I sigh for lack of many things I sought:
Updating pains, I mourn for hours I lost.
I flood my thirsty ducts, that drown forlorn,
For staunch amigos hid in mortal night,
And cry for sorrows long ago outworn,
And moan my loss of many a long–lost sight.
I’m sad at what was sad, though now it’s not,
Start listing pains untold and pains unsaid,
Accounting still for many a sold–off lot,
And pay again, as if I hadn’t paid.
But oh, mio caro, if I think of you,
All loss is null and void, all sorrow too.
I From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
With Your Good Looks, What About a Child?
Good–looking folk and animals should pup,
Immortalising rosy–blooming glory.
Maturing, I’ll pass on, I’ll go paunch–up,
And my young sprog will carry on my story;
But you contract your troth with inward look,
Nourish your glow with autophagic food,
Drying to scarcity your bounty’s brook,
Your own worst hitman, doing harm, not good.
What! You, this world’s outstanding work of art,
You, proclamation of a coming Spring,
Bury in your own bud your major part,
Wasting good stuff, soft churl, by niggarding!
For our world’s good, nor tomb nor gluttony
Should scoff this birthright of humanity.
CXXX My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red:
(1) A Gallant Comparison
My lady’s orbs can’t match two Suns at noon;
Coral, too ruddy, trumps my lady’s lip;
Snow shows my lady’s bosom slushy–brown;
Black wiry hairs top out my ladyship;
Carnations, snow or crimson, don’t abound
Around my lady’s physiognomy;
As for aromas, it was always found,
My lady’s just unsatisfactory;
Though to my lady’s larynx I’m in thrall,
It falls a long way short of musical;
Gods of Olympus probably walk tall;
My lady’s gait’s not astro–magical.
Don’t worry, though: my girl can still surpass
Any too crassly sold and broadcast lass.
(2) Perfect? Er — She’s Even Better
Her eyes resemble less the fervent sphere;
Her teeth: red–fretted? Redder the jewelled reef;
Steel nets, her tresses; stressed, her temples. Sere
December freezes: where’s the resplendent beef?
We’ve seen red setters, seen the egret’s vest,
Yet egret–sheen ne’er blenched her redless cheeks;
We scented Estée’s scent, then we regressed:
We smelled her scent, reeled senseless! Yes, she reeks!
Her speech refreshes me; nevertheless
Glees, even sennets, fetch me even better;
We’ve never seen the fleet feet *des déesses:
Well, when she steps, the pebbled weeds beset her.
Yet, yet, meseems, †mehercle! she’s the best:
The rest get bent creds: she exceeds the rest.
*French: des êtres célestes.
†See Terence, when rednecks express themselves.