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The means to attain happy life

May 7, 2010 Comments off

Viewers of The Tudors may remember that last week Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, recited his translation of one of Martial‘s epigrams (specifically X:47). By coincidence, this week I ran across the translation made by the real Henry Howard and here it is:

MARTIAL, the things that do attain
The happy life be these, I find:—
The richesse left, not got with pain;
The fruitful ground, the quiet mind;
The equal friend; no grudge, no strife;
No charge of rule, nor governance;
Without disease, the healthful life;
The household of continuance;
The mean diet, no delicate fare;
True wisdom join’d with simpleness;
The night dischargèd of all care,
Where wine the wit may not oppress.
The faithful wife, without debate;
Such sleeps as may beguile the night:
Contented with thine own estate
Ne wish for death, ne fear his might.

The Footsteps

March 22, 2010 2 comments

Eagles of coral
adorn the ebony bed
where Nero lies fast asleep—
callous, peaceful, happy,
in the prime of his body’s strength,
in the fine vigor of youth.

But in the alabaster hall that holds
the ancient shrine of the Aenobarbi
how restless the household gods—
they tremble, the little Lares,
and try to hide their insignificant bodies.
They’ve heard a terrible sound,
a deadly sound coming up the stairs,
iron footsteps that shake the staircase;
and now faint with fear, the miserable Lares
scramble to the back of the shrine,
shoving each other and stumbling,
one little god falling over another,
because they know what kind of sound that is,
know by now the footsteps of the Furies.

C.P. Cavafy

Evil

January 4, 2010 1 comment

While the red-stained mouths of machine guns ring
Across the infinite expanse of day;
While red or green, before their posturing King,
The massed battalions break and melt away;

And while a monstrous frenzy runs a course
That makes of a thousand men a smoking pile-
Poor fools! – dead, in summer, in the grass,
On Nature’s breast, who meant these men to smile;

There is a God, who smiles upon us through
The gleam of gold, the incense-laden air,
Who drowses in a cloud of murmured prayer,

And only wakes when weeping mothers bow
Themselves in anguish, wrapped in old black shawls-
And their last small coin into his coffer falls.

Arthur Rimbaud

Nero’s Deadline

December 14, 2009 Comments off

nerobust.jpg

Nero wasn’t worried at all when he heard
the utterance of the Delphic Oracle:
“Beware the age of seventy-three.”
Plenty of time to enjoy himself still.
He’s thirty. The deadline
the god has given him is quite enough
to cope with future dangers.
  
Now, a little tired, he’ll return to Rome—
but wonderfully tired from that journey
devoted entirely to pleasure:
theatres, garden-parties, stadiums…
evenings in the cities of Achaia
and, above all, the sensual delight of naked bodies…
  
So much for Nero. And in Spain Galba
secretly musters and drills his army—
Galba, the old man in his seventy-third year.

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

Thermopylae

November 25, 2009 Comments off

Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they are rich, and when they are poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.

And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that in the end Ephialtis will make his appearance,
that the Medes will break through after all.

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

The World Is A Beautiful Place

November 7, 2009 Comments off
The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don’t mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don’t sing
all the time

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind some people dying
all the time
or maybe only starving
some of the time
which isn’t half bad
if it isn’t you

Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces
or such other improprieties
as our Name Brand society
is prey to
with its men of distinction
and its men of extinction
and its priests
and other patrolmen
and its various segregations
and congressional investigations
and other constipations
that our fool flesh
is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
dancing
and going swimming in rivers
on picnics
in the middle of the summer
and just generally
‘living it up’

Yes
but then right in the middle of it
comes the smiling
mortician

Year after year their numbers get fewer

November 5, 2009 4 comments

I was listening to June Tabor‘s version of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” tonight and quoting the following seemed apt:

And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all.

The last ANZAC survivor of Gallipoli, Alec Campbell, died in 2002. He led Hobart’s ANZAC Day parade three weeks prior to his death. There ain’t that many survivors of the War to End All Wars left.

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