Friday, October 7, 2011

Housman in Translation

Here is a translation of Housman's Latin elegy for Moses Jackson. I laboriously pieced it together from snippet views of Google books - all worth it for more Housman. The verse is from Housman's critical Latin edition of Manilius' Astronomica, a 1st century text on astrology. I've been reading Housman's four slim volumes for seven years and had thought I'd read every bit of him. Finding this was like Christmas.


Those starry signs that freak with light
The frosty caverns of the night,
Sea-born and bright when daylight dies—
Together we have watched them rise,

Late wandering, where fields lay wide,
The lone and silent countryside.
So once, while still our place was blank,
The poet watched them where they sank,

Setting below the Latian sea;
And, mindful of mortality,
Earth-sprung nor spared from earth for long,
He looked aloft and launched his song

Against the everlasting stars—
Alas! to leave, with many scars,
A warning, all too plain, of odds
Which mock the man who trusts the gods.

For, though to Heaven dedicate,
With all the universe for freight,
His verses found misfortune fast,
And, washed upon our strand at last,

Shipwrecked and battered, blurred and lame,
They scarce can tell their maker's name.
 I have not plied, importunate,
The stars that harass human fate

Nor, begging guidance from above,
Besieged the gods, but, touched with love
Of mortal glory swift to fade,
Have sought a name through human aid

And, man, have chosen among men,
To stead no heaven-assailing pen,
A comrade, mortal-lived but stout,
Whose name shall bring my volume out –

'O comrade', let me say, 'whose name
May perish with my pages' fame,
Yet worthy through thine own to live:
From human hand to hand, I give —

To thee who followest away
Those rising signs, to seek the day —
This present from a western shore:
Take it: to-morrow runs before,

With those whom life no longer owns
To lay our flesh and loose our bones –
To dull with all-benumbing thrust
Our wits that wake not from the dust

Nor spare, with learning's lettered leaf,
The bonds of fellowship as brief.

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