Vintage Wine – Brief poems by Thomas Campion

Thomas Campion (1567-1620) was born in London in 1567 “upon Ash Wednesday, and christened at St. Andrews Church in Holbourne.” His father John was a clerk of the Court of Chancery and a vestryman of St. Andrew’s. He died in 1576 and the sum of £50 was spent on his funeral. The following year Thomas’s mother, Lucy, remarried. In 1580 she, too, died. Orphaned at the age of fourteen, he was sent by his stepfather to Peterhouse as a “gentleman pensioner” and at seventeen he left Cambridge University without taking a degree. A year later he entered Gray’s Inn; it is presumed to follow in his father’s profession. However, there is no evidence of his ever practising law. (His distaste for the profession is evident in his Latin epigrams.)  At Gray’s Inn he made many artistic friends and performed in plays and masques.

By 1597 Campion had associated with the chief players in the development of the English lute song. He contributed a dedicatory poem to John Dowland’s  First Book of Songs or AyresThis was Dowland’s first collection and also the first English publication in a new genre. Along with  Dowland (ca. 1563-1626), Campion was one of the most prolific composers of English lute songs, or Ayres. Unlike most composers of songs, he wrote all of the poems he set to music himself. In 1601 he was significantly involved in the publication of Philip Rosseter’s Book of Ayres. By 1604 Rosseter was the king’s lutenist and remained active in court entertainment throughout most of King James’s reign. He was Campion’s best friend. Their book was presented for publication by Rosseter, and it was he who wrote the dedication to Campion’s friend and supporter Sir Thomas Monson, but Campion contributed the first twenty-one songs and is almost certainly the author of the brief but groundbreaking treatise on song presented as an address “To the Reader.”

Further biographical details are scant. On 10 February 1605, Thomas Campion received his medical degree from the University of Caen. While in France, he may have participated in the siege of Rouen with Lord Essex in 1591. He returned to London where he began practicing as a doctor at the age of forty. The most dramatic event of his life was his involvement in the death in the Tower of London of Sir Thomas Overbury. Campion confessed to having received the sum of £1,400 as an intermediary for his patron, Sir Thomas Monson. However, it was accepted that he was unaware “for what consideration it was paid” and he was exonerated.

Campion is thought to have lived in London until his death, at the age of fifty-three, on March 1st, 1620.  He is reputed to have been treating the sick during the outbreak of the plague. He was apparently unmarried and had no children. He was buried the same day at St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street. His will, made on the day of his death, bequeathed “all that he had” to his friend, the lutenist, Philip Rosseter, with whom he had produced his first Booke Of Ayres in 1601. He “wished that his estate had bin farr more.” It amounted to £22.

 

THOMAS CAMPION ON PROSODY AND RHYME

There are constant battles among poets and critics over what is proper and poetic in matters of prosody. An intriguing recent book by James Matthew Wilson,  The Fortunes of Poetry in an Age of Unmaking, looks at such matters in contemporary American poetry. In Campion’s time the question of prosody and rhyme became pertinent. Various Elizabethan writers had addressed the problem – Ascham, Gascoigne, Harvey, Spenser, Sidney and, in 1602, Thomas Campion in his Observations in the Art of English Poesiewherein it is demonstratively prooved, and by example confirmed, that the English toong will receive eight severall kind of numbers, proper to it selfe, which are all in this booke set forth, and were never before this time by any man attempted.” While others had shown that English poetry could stand on its own feet (pardon the pun) Campion sought to revive “classical numbers” or a quantitative versification where the syllables are arranged according to their length and duration rather than according to accent or stress, as was common in the poetry of his contemporaries. The practice of writing in Latin, as well as his musical interests, had, no doubt, coloured his views of how to arrange his words metrically.

His views on rhyme were also controversial at the time, although John Milton, at a later time, would endorse them in his own fashion, and they would meet with much greater agreement today. Campion believed rhyme to be a rhetorical figure which ought “sparingly to be used, lest it should offend the ear with tedious affectation.” He argued that the search for rhyming words “enforceth a man oftentimes to abjure his matter and extend a short conceit beyond all bounds of art.” These views, allied to his attempts to blend English poetry with classical metrics, led Samuel Daniel, in 1603, to compose his reply, A Defence of Rhyme.

I side with Daniel.

 

THE LATIN EPIGRAMS OF THOMAS CAMPION

In common wth many poets of his age, (see my post on the brief poems of John Owen) Campion wrote Latin epigrams. These enjoyed an enormous vogue in Elizabethan times. He wrote almost 500 of the brief poems. His 1595 collection, Poemata,  contained 129 epigrams. A second edition of his poetry in 1619 consisted of two books of epigrams: the first book consisted of 225 new epigrams; the second book consisted of 228 epigrams of which almost a hundred were reprinted, some with revision, from the earlier book. (The 1595 edition was printed by Richard Field of Stratford-on-Avon, who also printed Shakespeare’s Lucrece and Venus and Adonis, the 1619 one by E. Griffin.)

Campion defined the epigram in the preface to his A Book of Ayres (1601): What Epigrams are in Poetrie, the same are Ayres in musicke, then in their chiefe perfection when they are short and well seasoned.  The seasoning he mentions in one epigram (see Epigram 1.34 below) is pepper. The influence of Catullus and Martial is acknowledged. Their subject matter includes lusus…mollis…iocos…levis (pleasant mockery, lighthearted joking). Campion’s approach is light-hearted as he explains, I haur written diuers light Poemes in this kinde which, for the better satisfaction of the reader I thought conuenient here in way of example to publish. They were popular in his day. In 1598 Francis Meres placed him among those who have attained good report and honourable advancement in the Latin empyre.  His friend, Charles Fitzgeffrey, considered him second only to Sir Thomas More as an English writer of Latin epigrams. However, in 1595, William Covell, while praising the epigrams, disliked their extreme licentiousness.

They are still worth reading today.

 

TRANSLATING THE EPIGRAMS OF THOMAS CAMPION

I have not been able to discover many translations of the epigrams so I took the liberty of translating them myself. I took other liberties too. These translations differ in three major respects from the originals.

Metrics: While Campion used classical metrics in his Latin poems, I have confined myself to the classic English couplet using iambic pentameters.

Rhyme: While Campion disdained rhyme, as mentioned above, I have used it throughout these translations.

Proper nouns: While Campion uses common Roman names, I have used contemporary Christian names.

Forgive me.

Brief Poems by Thomas Campion

TRANSLATIONS BY CONOR KELLY

From The First Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams

8  IN VILLUM 

Discursus cur te bibulum iam musaque fallit?
Humectas mentis lampada, Ville, nimis.

To Vincent

Good talk, good verse elude you when you’re pissed.
And why? It is your lightning mind you’ve dissed.

***

10. IN MATHONEM

Ebrius uxorem duxit Matho, sobrius horret,
Eui nunc in sola est ebrietate salus.

About Matthew

When he was drunk, Matthew married with speed.
Sober, he saw his wife; now drink’s his need.

***

40. DE HENRICO 4 FRANCORUM REGE 

Henricum gladio qui non occidere posset,
Cultello potuit: parva timere bonum est.

On Henry IV, King of France

He who could not kill the king with a sword
Used a dagger. Small things have their own reward.

(Ravaillac assassinated Henri IV in 1610. Campion writes about this event at greater length at de Pulverea Coniuratione.)

***

51. IN TABACCAM 

Cum cerebro inducat fumo hausta tabacca stuporem,
Nonne putem stupidos quos vapor iste capit?

On Marijuana

Since dope induces stupor in the brain
Can I not call these dopeheads dumb, insane?

***

63. AD LAURAM 

Egregie canis, in solis sed, Laura, tenebris;
Nil bene fortassis non facis in tenebris.

To Laura

You sing with beauty, Laura, in the dark.
You have another aura in the dark.

***

74. DE SENECTUTE 

Est instar vini generosi docta senectus;
Quo magis annosa est, acrior esse solet.

On Old Age

Old age is like those famous vintage wines
that turn to Vinegar. Age has its signs.

***

113. AD PONTICUM 

Suspecto quid fure canes cum, Pontice, latrent
Dixissent melius, si potuere loqui?

To Pat

Dogs bark, Pat, when they think someone’s a thief.
What could they say of you, if they could speak?

***

139. IN POETASTROS 

Sulphure vicenda est prurigo poetica nullo;
Sed neque Mercurio, quem fugat illa deum.

On an Amateur Poet

Neither sulphur nor mercury can cure
Your wild poetic itch. It is impure.

(Mercury was already employed as a supposed remedy for syphilis, especially by Paracelsus and his followers.)

***

149. AD ARETHUSAM

Cernitur in nivea cito, si fit, sindone labes;
Formosis eadem lex, Arethusa, datur.

To Arianna

A stain on fine white linen is quite plain.
The same is true of women. Be not vain.

***

159. AD EURUM

Qui compotorem sibimet proponit amicum,
Compos propositi non erit, Eure, sui.

To Eugene

To think the man you drink with is a friend,
Eugene, is folly you should apprehend.

***

183. IN GAURUM

Perpetuo loqueris, nec desinis; idque molestum
Omnibus est, et scis; sed tibi, Gaure, places.

To Gar

You’re always talking, Gar, you never stop.
It bothers others, but it is your prop.

***

206. IN HEBRAM

Difficilis non est, nec amantem respuit unum;
Unum vero unum vix amat Hebra diem.

About Hermione

She never turns a single man away.
She loves them all, but hardly for a day.

***

209. AD PHILOCHERMUM

Quaeris tu quare tibi musica nulla placeret;
Quaero ego, cur nulli tu, Philocherme, places?

To Phil

You wonder why no music pleases you.
Do you please someone, Phil? I wonder who.

***

221. AD MARIANUM 

Prudens pharmacopola saepe vendit
Quid pro quo, Mariane, quod reprendis. 
Hoc tu sed facis, oenopola, semper.

To a Patient

A careful chemist sometimes cures your ills,
But a wine-merchant’s produce beats all pills.

 

From The Second Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams

65A. IN COTTUS

Ille miser Cottus quid agit nisi cassa canendo
Ut placeat nulli dum placet ipse sibi?

About Conor

What can poor Conor do but sing in vain.
Who is there, but himself, to entertain?

***

82. AD CASPIAM

Nescio quid aure dum susurras, Caspia,
Latus sinistrum intabuit totum mihi.

To Cameron

What you whisper in my ear is so dumb
the left side of my body has grown numb.

***

129. IN GELLAM

Tactam te ad vivum sed nunquam, Galla, fateris,
Vah, quota pars carnis mortua, Galla, tuae est!

About Julie

Julie, you claim that you’ve never been laid.
Part of your body has thereby decayed.

***

180. IN MARCELLINAM

Larvas Marcellina horret, lemuresque, sed illa
Nil timet in tenebris si comitata viro est.

About Marcella

Marcella fears ghosts, goblins and the night;
but when she’s with a man, she’s not uptight.

***

208. IN LIBRARIOS

Impressionum plurium librum laudat
Librarius; scortum nec non minus leno.

On Booksellers

Booksellers praise books for new editions
as pimps praise whores for new positions.

***

220. IN LIGONEM

Funerea vix conspicimus sine veste Ligonem:
An quia tam crebri funeris author erat?

About Lawrence

Lawrence, the doctor, often wears black clothes.
Is it because his patients now repose?

 

OTHER TRANSLATIONS BY STEPHEN RATCLIFFE

From The First Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams

34. DE EPIGRAMMATE

Sicut ex acre piper mordax epigramma palato
Non omni gratum est: utile nemo negat.

Concerning the epigram

Like sharp pepper, the epigram refuses
To please all palates: none deny its uses.

***

58. IN NERVAM

Dissecto Nervae capite, haud (chirurge) cerebrum
Conspicis; eia, alibi quaere; ubi? Ventriculo.

On Nerve

Nerve’s head dissected (Surgeon) seems to lack
A brain; so look again; where? his stomach.

***

95. IN MORACHUM

Mors nox perpetua est; mori proinde
Non suadet sibi nyctalops Morachus,
In solis titubans ne eat tenebris.

On Morachus

Death is perpetual night; half blind
Morachus is thus disinclined
To die, in lonely shadows twined.

(The first words of this epigram of course echo Catullus v.6, nox est perpetua una dormienda. The first song in A Booke of Ayres (1601) is an expanded translation of this poem.)

***
97. DE FRANISCO DRACO

Nomine Dracus erat signatus ut incolat undas;
Dracum namque anatem lingua Britanna vocat.

Concerning Francis Drake

By name inhabitant of oceans, Drake:
Because a duck in English is a drake.

***

131. AD CHLOEN

Mortales tua forma quod misellos
Multos illaqueet, Chloe, superbis:
Hoc sed nomine carnifex triumphet.

To Chloe

Chloe, for your beauty’s pride
Many wretched men have died;
Hangman be now satisfied.

***

From The Second Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams

18. TO MELLEA

Anxia dum natura nimis tibi, Mellea, formam
Finxit, fidem oblita est dare.

On Mella

While nature – anxious – made Mella too
Beautiful, She forgot to make her true.

***

(These translations – first published in Poetry magazine May 1977)

 

ANOTHER TRANSLATION BY RAYMOND OLIVER

From The Second Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams

93. IN BRETONEM

Carmine defunctum, Breto, caute inducis Amorem;
Nam numeris nunquam viveret ille tuis.

On (Nicholas) Breton

You truly write of Love “killed by a song”.
(Love, in your verse, could not have lived for long.)

 

 

LINKS

Thomas Campion’s Latin Poetry.

The First Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams (Latin).

The First Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams (English Translations).

The Second Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams (Latin).

The Second Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams (English Translations).

A large selection of Thomas Campion’s poems, masques and criticism.

Extracts from The Latin Poetry of English Poets by J. W. Binns.

The Poetry Foundation page on Thomas Campion.

 

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Bedside Lamps – Brief Poems by Martial

martial

Marcus Valerius Martialis  (c. 38 and 41 AD – c. 102 and 104 AD) who was known in English as Martial, was a Roman poet from the Spanish town of Bilbilis, famous then for its iron mines and for the manufacture of steel, and a center of Roman culture. He journeyed to Rome at the age of 26 during the reign of the emperor Domitian. He is best known for his 15 books of poems, primarily epigrams  In these short, witty poems he cheerfully satirises city life and the scandalous activities of his acquaintances, and romanticises his provincial upbringing. He wrote a total of 1,561 poems, of which 1,235 are in elegiac couplets. The longest poem is a mere forty-two lines; most are shorter than a dozen, and many consist of a solitary couplet. He is considered to be the creator of the modern epigram, a short poem where the main point is revealed in its conclusion. His influence continues to be pervasive after twenty centuries. Perhaps U2 had him on their reading list when they translated a line from XII.46, Nec tecum possum vivere nec sine te, as I can’t live with or without you. In fact, Bono has endorsed Brendan Kennelly’s translations, collected in Martial Art, in a blurb, This is poetry as base as heavy metal, as high as the Holy Spirit flies, comic and tragic, from litany to rant, roaring at times, soaring at other times.

According to Steve Coates in his New York Times review of Garry Wills selection of Martial’s Epigrams:  While first-century Rome was hardly the decadent city it would become some centuries later, it must have had a sizable population of prurient readers who made Martial the rough equivalent of a best seller. His subjects were sex, money, dining, the baths, the emperor, the Circus Maximus, weekend retreats—all the venues Romans frequented and all their foibles, including envy, gluttony, laziness and its counterpart, excessive ambition, and that old staple of the satirist, vanity. Brendan Kennelly, in the introduction to his translations, Martial Art, provides an even more extensive list: He writes of money, food, wine, furniture, style, power, sex, corruption, love, hatred, streets, darkness, families, poverty, snobbery, poets, polished deceit, aesthetic back-stabbers, High Art, low artists, metropolitan egotism and arrogance, politics, escape to the countryside, property, law, education, greed, manipulative men and women, cliques, loners, talkers and chatterboxes of every shade and motive, patrons, misery, the happy life, clothes, enemies, gossip, friends, flattery and the old constant problem of personal survival and hope of self-renewal. These subjects continue to attract readers today.

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MARTIAL AND OBSCENITY

Martial knew what he was doing: Lasciva est nobis pagina, vita proba. (My poems are filthy, but my life is pure.) Some of the epigrams are notorious. As Garry Wills puts it, …for all his softer or more lyrical epigrams, Martial will always be best known for his insult poems, the dirtier the better.  Martial recognised as much himself:  I write, I must confess, for dirtier readers, / My verse does not attract the nation’s leaders. If modern translators are drawn to these “dirty” poems or, at the very least, don’t shirk from including them, this has not always been the case.  The Elizabethans recognised the problem Martial posed, and still poses.  Timothe Kendall, in his 1577 anthology, Flowers of Epigrammes, addressed that problem: Martial is touche mislikt and lothde / of modest mynded men: / For leude, lascivious wanton woorkes / and woords whiche he doeth pen. Many earlier translators of Martial into English have declined to translate the sexually explicit epigrams, either leaving those particular epigrams in Latin or else giving them  an Italian translation. Henry G. Boehn in his 1897 edition of the epigrams had this to say on his omission of some of the epigrams: I do not believe that most people who read Martial will feel any sorrow at these omissions.  To read Martial is to walk with him along the streets of ancient Rome; but few of us need accompany him when he bathes in the sewers.

The moral landscape is constantly changing. The sycophancy and grubbing for patronage, which was so much a part of Martial’s age and of his English translators during  the Renaissance, is viewed with disdain today as a form of brown-nosing or lickspittling.  The proclivities which saw Oscar Wilde jailed in Victorian times were as normal in Martial’s era as they are nowadays. But the paedophilia and the interest in underage sex would be viewed as reprehensible at a  time when child abuse by celebrated film directors is the subject of scandal and speculation; it was not so to Martial. His poems express a classic misogyny and his railing against lesbianism would not find favour in a liberal state. Consequently, even in our age, many of his epigrams are grotesquely obscene and sleazy. They are also witty in the classical sense of that often abused word. You can make your own moral judgement on the poems printed below, bearing in mind the comment  of the late Charles Tomlinson, Some of the obscene poems are downright funny, others—despite their metrical expertise—of a schoolboy crudity. 

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TRANSLATING MARTIAL

Finding an English equivalent for Martial’s Latin is not an easy task. While there are many prose versions of the epigrams, the more interesting translations derive from those who have attempted to find a formal, traditional English metrical and rhyming form to convey the verbal architectonics of Latin poetry. The most common form applied is that of the traditional iambic rhyming couplet. At times the brevity of the Latin proves too constricting. Colley Cibber turns a one line epigram (VIII.19) into a couplet. Gary Schmidgall translates a Martial couplet (I.110) into a triplet with an Ogden Nash style multisyllabic rhyme. Joseph Addison, writing in the Augustan era, turned a poignant couplet (XII.46) into  quatrain. Rolfe Humphries, whose quirky sense of humour saw him barred from contributing to Poetry magazine, used that most traditional comic verse form, the limerick, to translate, successfully in my opinion, a ribald couplet (IX.33).  Tony Harrison, an English poet visiting New York, animates the traditional English couplet with an American idiom when he comes to translate  (III.71), a poem he calls “Twosum”. In Martialed Arguments in his collection Sleaze & Slander, the American poet A. M. Juster translates seventy-one epigrams by the Roman poet, utilising the “bile and bluster”  that is common to both poets but giving it distinctly English rhythms and rhymes. Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly, takes a looser, more colloquial approach in the translations he  has collected in the aptly named Martial Art. In some instances below I have used multiple translations of the same Martial poem to show how the approach to translation differs from poet to poet. Enjoy.

 

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Brief Poems by Martial

from BOOK ONE

16

Sunt bona, sunt quaedam mediocria, sunt mala plura 
     quae legis hic: aliter non fit, Auite, liber.

Good work you’ll find, some poor, and much that’s worse;
It takes all sorts to make a book of verse.

J. A. Pott

——

Some good things here, and some not worth a look.
For this is that anomaly, a book.

Garry Wills

***

How it is

Some of my poems are good, some
not up to scratch, some
bad.

That’s how it is with most books,
if the truth were told.

Who tells the truth about truth, my dear?
Make way for the judge and the jester.

Brendan Kennelly

***

30

Chirurgus fuerat, nunc est uispillo Diaulus:
     coepit quo poterat clinicus esse modo.

Once a surgeon, Dr. Baker
Then became an undertaker,
Not so much his trade reversing
Since for him it’s just re-hearsing.

T. W. Melluish

***

Wasisdoesdid

He was a doctor. Now he’s an undertaker.
He does as an undertaker what he did as a doctor.

Brendan Kennelly

***

32

Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare:
     hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te.

I do not love thee, Dr Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not love thee, Dr Fell.

Tom Brown 

—–

The Truth at Last

I do not love thee, Dr Fell;
The reason why I’m going to tell
Although your lawyers threaten suit.
For I’m too sick to give a hoot.

Fred Chappell

—–

I don’t love you, Sabidius, no, I can’t say why:
All I can say is this, that I don’t love you.

A. S. Kline

—–

Mister Sabidius you pain me.
I wonder (some) why that should be
And cannot tell—a mystery.
You inexplicably pain me.

Garry Wills

***

38

Quem recitas meus est, o Fidentine, libellus: 
     sed male cum recitas, incipit esse tuus.

To an ill reader

The verses, Sextus, thou doost read, are mine;
But with bad reading thou wilt make them thine.

Sir John Harington

***

That verse is mine, you know, which you’re
Reciting, But you quote it
So execrably, that I believe
I’ll let you say you wrote it

Dorothea Wender

——

Poetry Reading

The poems thou are reading, friend, are mine;
But such bad reading starts to make them thine.

Raymond Oliver

***

63

Ut recitem tibi nostra rogas epigrammata. Nolo:
non audire, Celer, sed recitare cupis.

Read you my epigrams? No I decline!
You want me to read yours, not hear mine.

Hubert Dynes Ellis

***

64

Bella es, nouimus, et puella, uerum est, 
et diues, quis enim potest negare?
Sed cum te nimium, Fabulla, laudas,
nec diues neque bella nec puella es.

You’re beautiful, oh yes and young, and rich;
But since you tell us so, you’re just a bitch.

Rolfe Humphries

***

67

‘Liber homo es nimium’ dicis mihi, Ceryle, semper.
     In te quis dicit, Ceryle:’Liber homo es?’

You often say my work is coarse. It’s true,
But then it must be so – it deals with you.

J. A. Pott

***

83

Os et labra tibi lingit, Manneia, catellus:
     non miror, merdas si libet esse cani.

I muse not that your Dog turds oft doth eat;
To a tongue that licks your lips, a turd’s sweet meat.

Francis Davison

—–

Your little dog licks you from head to foot
Am I surprised, Manneia?
Not a bit.
I’m not surprised that dogs like shit.

Richard O’Connell

—–

Your little puppy licks your mouth and lips—
Manneia, I no longer find it strange
That dogs are tempted by the smell of turds.

Joseph S. Salemi

___

Dear Manneia:

Your lapdog’s licking your lips and chin:
no wonder with that shit-eating grin.

A. M. Juster

***

91

Cum tua non edas, carpis mea carmina, Laeli.
     Carpere uel noli nostra uel ede tua.

The critic

You don’t write poems, Laelius, you criticise
mine. Stop criticising me or write your own.

A. S. Kline

___

Dear Laelius:

You won’t reveal your verse,
but whine that mine is worse.
Just leave me alone
or publish your own.

A. M. Juster

***’

110

Scribere me quereris, Velox, epigrammata longa.
     Ipse nihil scribis: tu breuiora facis.

My epigrams are wordy, you’ve complained;
But you write nothing. Yours are more restrained.

Raymond Oliver

—–

“Write shorter epigrams,” is your advice.
Yet you write nothing, Velox. How concise!

Susan McLean

—–

“Much too long” you say, Velox, censorious,
Of my epigrams—that’s quite uproarious.
You write none. Your brevity is glorious.
Gary Schmidgall
—–
Nothing
You say my epigrams are too long.
Yours are shorter.
You write nothing.
Brendan Kennelly
___

Short Enough?

You call my epigrams verbose and lacking in concision
while you yourself write nothing. Wise decision.

Brooke Clark

 

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from BOOK TWO

3

Sexte, nihil debes, nil debes, Sexte, fatemur:
debet enim, si quis soluere, Sexte, potest.

Sextus, you keep on saying
You’re not in debt. I know.
Without the means of paying
One can’t be said to owe.

James Michie

_____

Sextus, you have no debts – no debts I say
for one cannot have debts who cannot pay.

Susan McLean

***

38

Quid mihi reddat ager quaeris, Line, Nomentanus?
Hoc mihi reddit ager: te, Line, non uideo.

You wonder if my farm pays me its share?
It pays me this: I do not see you there.

Raymond Oliver

—–

The Reason

You ask me why I like the country air.
I never meet you there.

Brendan Kennelly

—-

What, Linus, can my farm be minus,
When it successfully lacks Linus?

Garry Wills

***

42

Zoile, quid solium subluto podice perdis?
Spurcius ut fiat, Zoile, merge caput.

Zoilus, if you want to pollute the public bathing place,
Don’t stick in your ass first; stick in your face.

Richard O’Connell

—–

Zoilus, why do you pollute the bath
By plunging your ass into it? A tip—
Want to make it filthier? Do this:
Submerge your head within the bath as well.

Joseph S. Salemi

___

Dear Zoilus:

Your ass in the sink
is making it stink.
For a fouler smell,
dear Zoilus,
dunk your head as well.

A. M. Juster

***

49

Uxorem nolo Telesinam ducere: quare?
Moecha est. Sed pueris dat Telesina: uolo.

“I won’t marry Betty; she’s too fond of men.”
“Well, boys find her charming.” I’ll marry her then.

F. A. Wright

***

88

Nil recitas et uis, Mamerce, poeta uideri:
quidquid uis esto, dummodo nil recites.

Arthur, they say, has wit. “For what?
For writing?” No – for writing not.

Jonathan Swift

old-fashioned-oil-lamps-for-a-new-home-fragrance-classic-interior

from BOOK THREE

9

Versiculos in me narratur scribere Cinna:
Non scribit, cuius carmina nemo legit.

Cinna attacks me, calls me dirt?
Let him. Who isn’t read can’t hurt.

Richard O’Connell

—–

A silent critic

They say Cinna writes little poems about me.
He’s no writer, whose verse nobody reads.

A. S. Kline

—–

His verse was meant to strike me low
But, since he wrote it—who will know?

Garry Wills

____

I Hear

I hear Cinna has written some verses against me.

A man is no writer
if his poems have no reader.

Brendan Kennelly

—-

They say that Cinna slams
me in his epigrams.
A poem no one has heard
has really not occurred.

A. M. Juster

***

37

Irasci tantum felices nostis amici.
Non belle facitis, sed iuuat hoc: facite.

The rich feign wrath – a profitable plan;
’Tis cheaper far to hate than help a man.

J. A. Pott

***

‘How explain why the conspicuously rich
are so easy to offend? Ask their accountant.
He probably won’t tell you but he’ll know.’

Alan Halsey

***

49

Veientana mihi misces, ubi Massica potas:
olfacere haec malo pocula quam bibere.

You serve me plonk, and you drink reservé.
My taste-buds back away from mine’s bouquet.

Tony Harrison

—–

You pour me Blue Nun, while you drink Brunello wine.
I’d rather smell your glass, than take a sip from mine.

Mark Ynys-Mon

***

71

Mentula cum doleat puero, tibi, Naeuole, culus,
non sum diuinus, sed scio quid facias.

Your lad is sore in front
And you itch at the rear;
I’m no clairvoyant, but
I see things crystal-clear!

Brian Hill

—–

Twosum

Add one and one together and make TWO:
that boy’s sore ass + your cock killing you.

Tony Harrison

—–

Reasons

Your penis is withered
your arse is itchy,
two good reasons
you’re such a bitchy
bastard night and day.
Be like your penis. Wither away.

Brendan Kennelly

—-

He has a sore cock, you have a sore arse.
I’m no psychic, but I can also put these two things together.

Mark Ynys-Mon

—–

The boy has got the active penis
And you an ass as smooth as Venus
I need therefore no hidden clue
To figure out just what you do.

Garry Wills

***

98

Sit culus tibi quam macer, requiris?
Pedicare potes, Sabelle, culo.

You know how thin your ass-hole’s gone?
You could stuff it, Sabellus, up another one.

J. P Sullivan

—–

You want to know how bony your arse is?
So bony, Sabellus, you could bone someone with it.

Mark Ynys-Mon

old-fashioned-oil-lamps-for-a-new-home-fragrance-classic-interior

from BOOK FOUR

12

Nulli, Thai, negas; sed si te non pudet istud,
hoc saltem pudeat, Thai, negare nihi.

To everyone, Thais, you say Yes –
Where’s the blame?
But never a No to anything
Have you no shame?

J. P. Sullivan

___

Dear Thais:

There’s nobody who you won’t screw,
but if that can’t embarrass you,
feel shame at least for what is true:
Thais, there’s nothing you won’t do.

A. M. Juster

***

21

Nullos esse deos, inane caesium
adfirmat Segius: probatque, quod se
factum, dum negat haec, uidet beatum.

That in the Heavens no gods there be
Selius affirms, and proves ‘cause he
Still thinking so lives happily.

Thomas May

—–

“The skies are empty,
and the gods are dead”,
says Segius, the proof of which
is that he sees himself made rich.

Peter Porter

—-

Proof

Segius says there are no gods, no heaven.
The proof he offers? He’s a rich man.

Brendan Kennelly

***

38

Galla, nega: satiatur amor nisi gaudia torquent:
sed noli nimium, Galla, negare diu.

Galla, say No, for Love will cloy
Without some torments mixed with joy.
But, Galla, do not get me wrong –
Please don’t say No to me too long.

Mollie Barger

___

Galla, Refuse me!
Without a wait
or some hard trial,
love won’t amuse me.
So hesitate
(just for a while…)

A. M. Juster

***

84

Non est in populo nec urbe tota
a se Thaida qui probet fututam,
cum multi cupiant rogentque multi.
Tam casta est, rogo, Thais? Immo fellat.

Men seek Thais
From North and South,
And she’s a virgin—
All but her mouth.

Garry Wills

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from BOOK FIVE

36

Laudatus nostro quidam, Faustine, libello
 dissimulat, quasi nil debeat: inposuit.

A man I published in a little book
Acts like he owes me nothing.
He’s a crook.

Richard O’Connell

***

43

Thais habet nigros, niueos Laecania dentes.
Quae ratio est? Emptos haec habet, illa suos.

Thais has black teeth, Laecania’s are white because
she bought ‘em last night.

Ezra Pound

—–

Black and White

Molly’s teeth are white, Dolly’s black. How come?
Molly bought hers. Dolly’s are her own.

Brendan Kennelly

—-

Her teeth look whiter than they ought.
Of course they should — the teeth were bought.

Garry Wills

***

73

Non donem tibi cur meos libellos
oranti totiens et exigenti
miraris, Theodore? Magna causa est:
dones tu mihi ne tuos libellos.

You ask for my verse, so here. This even scores:
I had kept mine in hopes you would keep yours.

James M. Young

—–

A Good Reason

You wonder why I never ask you if you’ve read my book?
I’m not one of those narcissistic bores
who fishes around for praise with such a thinly baited hook.
Besides, I’m worried you’ll ask if I’ve read yours.

Brooke Clark

***

83

Insequeris, fugio; fugis, insequor. Haec mihi mens est:
uelle tuum nolo, Dindyme, nolle uolo.

I run, you chase; you chase, I run.
I love what’s cold: what’s hot I shun.

Peter Whigham

—–

Contrary

You chase, I flee; you flee, I chase; it’s how I am:
what you wish I don’t, Dindymus, what you don’t I wish.

A. S. Kline

old-fashioned-oil-lamps-for-a-new-home-fragrance-classic-interior

from BOOK SIX

12

Iurat capillos esse, quos emit, suos
Fabulla: numquid illa, Paule, peierat?

The golden hair that Galla wears
Is hers: who would have thought it?
She swears ’tis hers, and true she swears,
For I know where she bought it.

Sir John Harrington

***

23

Stare iubes semper nostrum tibi, Lesbia, penem:
crede mihi, non est mentula quod digitus.
Tu licet et manibus blandis et uocibus instes,
cte contra facies imperiosa tua est.

You want my cock at full attention
If sex you casually mention?
No matter how you coax men’s tools,
Hand “makes a motion” face overrules.

Garry Wills

***

36

Mentula tam magna est quantus tibi, Papyle, nasus,
ut possis, quotiens arrigis, olfacere.

His tool was large and so was his nose,
Papylus could smell it whenever it rose.

Fiona Pitt-Kethley

—–

With your giant nose and cock
I bet you can with ease
When you get excited
check the end for cheese.

Mark Ynys-Mon

—–

Papylus, your nose and your dong are both so long
that when your dong grows,
your nose knows.

Elizabeth Duke

___

A bent huge nose, a monstrous cock to match—
Curved, each into the other, what a snatch!

Garry Wills

***

67

Cur tantum eunuchos habeat tua Caelia, quaeris,
Pannyche? Volt futui Caelia nec parere.

Your Celia keeps company with eunuchs:
Pannychus, do you find this odd?
It’s the child she hopes to be spared,
Pannychus, not the rod.

William Matthews

***

79

Tristis es et felix. Sciat hoc Fortuna caueto:
ingratum dicet te, Lupe, si scierit.

Lucky yet sad? My friend, should Fortune find
You lacking gratitude, she’ll change her mind.

Brian Hill

***

from BOOK SEVEN

3

Cur non mitto meos tibi, Pontiliane, libellos?
ne mihi tu mittas, Pontiliane, tuos.

No thanks

Why don’t I send you my little books?
Pontilianus, lest you send me yours.

A. S. Kline

—–

TO PONTILIANUS

You ask me why I have no verses sent?
For fear you should return the compliment.

William Hay

___

Why don’t I send my books to you?
For fear you’d send me your books, too.

Susan McLean

___

Reply

I never send my books, it’s true.
Know why? You’d send me your books too.

Robert West

___

Dear Pontilianus

You wonder why my little book is overdue,
dear Pontilianus?
It’s just that I don’t want to look at one from you.

A. M. Juster

 

old-fashioned-oil-lamps-for-a-new-home-fragrance-classic-interior

from BOOK EIGHT

19

Pauper videri Cinna vult; et est pauper.

When humble Cinna cries, I’m poor and low,
You may believe him – he is really so.

Colley Cibber

_____

Cinna, who makes a show of poverty,
is just as poor as he pretends to be.

Susan McLean

_____

He claims rich status, bur with straitened means
The last point is more honest than it seems

Gary Willis

***

27

Munera qui tibi dat locupleti, Gaure, senique,
si sapis et sentis, hoc tibi ait “Morere.”

If you were wise as well as rich and sickly,
You’d see that every gift  means, “Please die quickly.”

James Michie

—–

Gaurus, you’re old and rich. Those who stop by
with gifts (could you but know) are saying, “Die.”

Susan McLean

—–

With wheedling gifts, with hoverings-by
your heirs all say, in dumb show, “Die!”

Gary Willis

***

62

Scribit in auersa Picens epigrammata charta,
et dolet auerso quod facit illa deo.

Because the muses turn their backsides on Aper
He writes his poems on toilet paper.

Richard O’Connell

***

69

Miraris ueteres, Vacerra, solos
nec laudas nisi mortuos poetas.
Ignoscas petimus, Vacerra: tanti
non est, ut placeam tibi, perire.

You puff the poets of other days,
The living you deplore.
Spare me the accolade: your praise
Is not worth dying for.

Dudley Fitts

___

Vacerra, you admire the ancients only
and praise no poets but those here no more.
I beg that you will pardon me, Vacerra,
but pleasing you is not worth dying for.

Susan McLean

___

You praise long-dead authors rapturously;
the living ones you savage or ignore,
but since your praise can’t grant immortality
I really don’t think it’s worth dying for.

Brooke Clark

___

Dear Vacerra:

You pine for bards of old
and poets safely cold.
Excuse me for ignoring your advice,
but good reviews from you aren’t worth the price.

A. M. Juster

***

from BOOK NINE

33

Audieris in quo, Flacce, balneo plausum,
Maronis illic esse mentulam scito.

If you’re passing the baths and you hear,
From within, an uproarious cheer,
You may safely conclude
Maron’s there, in the nude,
With that tool which has nowhere a peer.

Rolfe Humphries

—–

If from the baths you hear a round of applause,
The giant prick of Maron is surely the cause.

James Michie

___

When the bathhouse breaks into loud applause,
you will know that well-hung Mario is the cause.

A. M. Juster

***

63

Ad cenam invitant omnes te, Phoebe, cinaedi.
mentula quem pascit, non, puto, purus homo est.

You’re asked to dinner, Phoebus, by every queen.
I’d say one fed by a cock is none too clean.

Susan McLean

—–

Perfection

Lecherous hosts yearn
for your presence at dinner.

Are you the perfect dish, done to a turn?

Brendan Kennelly

—-

Phoebus, all faggots ask you home to dine—
Who feeds on dick is dirty, I opine.

Joseph S. Salemi

80

Duxerat esuriens locupletem pauper anumque:
uxorem pascit Gellius et futuit.

Feignlove, half-starved, a rich old hag has wed –
Poor Feignlove, doom’d to earn his board in bed.

Nathaniel Brassey Halhed

—–

A starving pauper wed a wealthy crone.
Gellius feed his wife and gives her the bone.

Susan McLean

***

from BOOK TEN

8

Nubere Paula cupit nobis, ego ducere Paulam
Nolo: anus est. Vellem, si magis esset anus.

Paula would wed: I pray to be exempted.
She’s old. Were she but older I’d be exempted.

Peter Whigham

—–

Paula wants to wed me;
I don’t want to wed her.
She is old. But if she
were older, I’d agree.

George Held

—–

I might

Phil wants to marry me but I won’t marry Phil.
She’s such an old stinker, a bitter old pill.
I might marry her, though, if she were older still.
If we both reach a hundred, I certainly will.

Brendan Kennelly

—-

Paula would marry me, I’m disinclined.
She’s old. If she were older, I’d change my mind.

Susan McLean

***

16

Dotatae uxori cor harundine fixit acuta,
Sed dum ludit Aper: ludere novit Aper.

Aper the expert archer accidentally shot
His rich wife in the heart.
He was lucky. She was not.

Richard O’Connell

—–

Aper shot his wealthy wife – an arrow through the heart
during a game of archery. At gamesmanship, he’s smart.

Susan McLean

***

95

Infantem tibi vir, tibi, Galla, remisit adulter.
Hi, puto, non dubie se futuisse negant.

Your husband rejected your child; your lover has too:
Galla, they clearly deny laying a finger on you.

J. P. Sullivan

 

old-fashioned-oil-lamps-for-a-new-home-fragrance-classic-interior

 

from BOOK ELEVEN

19

Quaeris cur nolim te ducere, Galla? Diserta es
saepe soloecismum mentula nostra facit.

Why don’t I marry you, Galla?
Because you’re a prude,
and my cock’s uppity, ill-bred
and shockingly rude.

William Matthews

***

62

Lesbia se jurat gratis numquam esse fututam.
Verum’st. Cum futui vult, numerare solet.

On the nail

Lesbia swears she’s never been fucked for free.
True. When she wants to be fucked, she has to pay.

A. S. Kline

***

89

Intactas quare mittis mihi, Polla, coronas?
A te vexatas malo tenere rosas.

Dearest, send no fresh flowers! I love best
The roses that have died upon your breast.

Hubert Dynes Ellis

—–

Why send me pristine wreaths? I’d rather wear
the rumpled roses, Polla, from your hair.

Susan McLean

***

from BOOK TWELVE

20

Quare non habeat, Fabulle, quaeris
Uxorem Themison? habet sororem.

Of course we know he’ll never wed.
What? Put his sister out of bed?

Garry Wills

—-

Enough

He doesn’t need a wife.
His sister is enough.

Brendan Kennelly

***

33

Ut pueros emeret Labienus vendidit hortos.
Nil nisi ficetum nunc Labienus habet.

Labienus sold an orchard
to buy some slave boys:
he traded fruit trees
for real live fruits.

Donald Goertz

***

46

Difficilis facilis, iucundus acerbus es idem:
nec tecum possum vivere nec sine te.

In all thy humours, whether grave or mellow
Thou’rt such a touchy, testy, pleasant fellow;
Hast as much wit, and mirth, and spleen about thee,
There is no living with thee, nor without thee.

Joseph Addison

—–
You are difficult and easy. you are pleasant and harsh;
I can’t live with you and I can’t live without you.

Tau Apiryon

***

from BOOK THIRTEEN

81

Rhombi.

Quamvis lata gerat patella rhombum,
rhombus latior est tamen patella.

Turbots

However wide the plate that holds the fish
The flat-fish is still wider than the dish.

Fiona Pitt-Kethley

***

82

Ostrea.

Ebria Baiano veni modo concha Lucrino:
nobile nunc sitio luxuriosa garum.

Oysters

Tipsy from Baiae’s stream but lately sent,
This wanton bi-valve thirsts for condiment.

Peter Whigham

***

from BOOK FOURTEEN

39

Lucerna cubicularis.

Dulcis conscia lectuli lucerna,
Quidquid vis facias licet, tacebo.

A lamp am I, aware of your joy in bed:
Do what you will, not one word will be said.

Palmer Bovie

—–

A Bedside Light

I show but do not countenance what you do.
Douse me. The only record is in you.

Peter Porter

***

A Bedside Lamp

To me are bedroom joys revealed,
Enjoy at will, my lips are sealed.

Peter Whigham

***

40

Cicindela

Ancillam tibi sors dedit lucernae,
Totas quae vigil exigit tenebras.

A Candle

A lantern’s handmaid, I who stay
Awake to keep the dark at bay.

Peter Whigham

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SOURCES

Many of the poems chosen above, along with the original Latin text, are culled from a book I was given recently as a Christmasbooks present, Epigrams of Martial Englished by Divers Hands, Edited by J. P. Sullivan and Peter Whigham. (See cover image on right.) This substantial collection of epigrams, mainly from writers of the twentieth century, is supplemented 411SmZxdeTL._AC_US160_by an appendix of older versions. The introduction is particularly illuminating. I first came across a selection of Martial’s verse in English when, many years ago, for the modest sum of one pound, I purchased a copy of Tony Harrison’s pamphlet of poems called US Martialwhich wapublished by Bloodaxe Books in 1981. (See image on left.) Living in New York at the time, Harrison deftly translated some of the epigrams into a jazzy American idiom. I also came across more Martial in the concluding section of the Oxford University Press edition of Peter Porter’s Collected Poems, although most of his fascinating selection is longer than the tweet size necessary for inclusion in this post.

If I have infringed anyone’s copyright in printing any of the above epigrams, please let me know in the comment box below and I will remove the translation. If, on the other hand, you would like a translation included, fill in the same comment box.

LINKS

The Wikipedia page on Martial

The Latin text of the epigrams at Bibliotheca Augustana.

The Latin text of the epigrams at the Latin Library.

A selection of the epigrams compiled by Michael R. Burch.

Selected Epigrams of Martial translated by SusanMcLean.

Gideon Nisbet’s Martial blog.

Gary Wills writes about translating Martial.

A review in The Guardian of Brendan Kennelly’s Martial Art.

 10 Reasons You Should Be Reading Martial by Brooke Clark.

David Barber’s Parnassus Review essay on the epigram in English contains a review of two books of Martial in translation.

martial

Rivers to Sea – Brief Poems by John Owen

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John Owen (c.1564 – c.1622/1628) was a Welsh epigrammatist, best known for his Latin epigrams, collected in his Epigrammata. He was born at Plas Du, Llanarmon,  a member of the Welsh gentry, and he was educated at Winchester College  and later at New College, Oxford, from where he graduated as Bachelor of Civil Law in 1590. All that he ultimately derived from that degree was an abiding dislike of law and lawyers, which colors a large number of his epigrams. He was a fellow of his college from 1584 to 1591. He supported himself as a schoolmaster, first at Trelleck, near Monmouth, until he was appointed headmaster of Henry VIII’s school at Warwick around 1595. His salary was doubled to £20 per year in 1614. After ceasing to be master at Warwick, he seems to have been in financial difficulties, and, in the latter part of his life, he owed his support to the kindness of his countryman and relative, Bishop Williams of Lincoln. He made no secret of his eagerness to be patronised and was outspoken in his desire to receive pecuniary help, a weakness which he shared with the Latin master of the epigram, Martial. On his death in 1622, Owen was buried in the old St Paul’s Cathedral, London, memorialised with a Latin epitaph.

 

The Latin Epigrams

Owen became distinguished for his perfect mastery of the Latin language, and for the humour, felicity and point of his epigrams. These Latin epigrams, which have both sense and wit in a high degree, gained him much applause, and were translated into English, French, German, and Spanish. He had started writing epigrams while at Winchester – indeed, education there was largely devoted to the production of them – and his were good enough by the time he reached 16 years of age to be used in a ceremony held when Queen Elizabeth I paid a state visit to Sir Francis Drake on his ship at Deptford, on his return from sailing around the world. In 1606 he published the first of a series of volumes of Latin epigrams, which earned him an enduring reputation as “England’s Martial” both at home and abroad.

Owen’s Epigrammata are divided into twelve books, of which the first three were published in 1606, and the rest at four different times (1607, 1612, c. 1613, 1620). These epigrams were repeatedly reprinted in England: in 1618, 1622, 1633, 1634, 1653 (twice), 1659, 1668, and 1671. European editions also appeared rapidly and frequently. His epigrams proved popular for centuries after his death, appearing in numerous reprints, editions and translations.

The epigrams were not universally popular. Ben Jonson called him a pure Pedantique Schoolmaster sweeping his living from the Posteriors of little children, having no thinge good in him, his epigrames being bare narrations. As a former schoolmaster, I detect a note of snobbish condescenstion in that remark.

According to Dana F. Sutton in his Hypertext Critical Edition of the epigramsHis variety of subject-matter is in fact so great that it may seem problematic to a modern reader. Poems that are moralizing or pietistic do not only coexist with ones that are pert and playful. Some, although admittedly not a large number, are spectacularly obscene. This stretch of subject may strike a modern reader as somehow “schizophrenic,” although it may not be entirely clear whether such evident contradictions are to be credited to the man or to the age in which he lived… Less ambiguous, however, and much less explicable by reference to classical precedent, is Owen’s outspoken misogyny. Often pitched in biblical terms, with reference to Eve being seduced by the serpent, women are frequently portrayed as innately vicious and therefore as dangerous. Even in an age where cuckoldry and its consequences provided a standard source of humor, the number of Owen’s epigrams about dysfunctional marriages (involving adultery, supposititious children, shrewish wives, and so forth) is remarkable. Others frankly praise batchelorhood, and Owen often congratulates himself and others on escaping the pitfalls of married life. In all this, he sounds like an Elizabethan version of Philip Larkin.

 

Translations of the Epigrams

Owen’s popularity as an epigrammaticist is not solely measured by the number of editions of his epigrams in Latin. He has found a number of English translators: there are partial ones by John Vicars (1619), Henry Harflete (1653), Thomas Pecke (1659), and even a modern translation of sixty epigrams by the contemporary American poet David R. Slavitt (1997).  J. V. Cunningham has also translated one of the epigrams. (See below.) Owen’s epigrams have also been translated into French by Lebrun (Brussels, 1709), De Pommereul (Ixelles, 1818), and De Kérivalent (Lyons, 1819), into German by Löber (Hamburg, 1653, reprinted Jena, 1661), and Castilian by F. de la Torre (Madrid, 1674 – 82, reprinted 1721). There is only one English translation of the complete epigrams, or at least those of Books I – X, John Owen’s Latine epigrams Englished by Tho. Harvey, Gent.  (London, 1677). According to Dana F. Sutton Harvey’s versions are usually clear and serviceable and on occasion the translator displays flashes of wit that match Owen’s own. These are the versions I have used below.

 

8574681_orig

Brief Poems by John Owen

IN QUANDAM

Forma tibi famam peperit: sed filia matrem
Occidit, formam non bona fama bonam.

Of a certain Woman.

Thy Form brought forth thy Fame: But O the Child
Did kill the Mother: fair Form; Fame defil’d.

***

PROPHETAE, POETAE

Illi de rebus praedicere vera futuris;
Hi de praeteritis dicere falsa solent.

Prophets, Poets.

Prophets of Things to come the Truth predict:
But Poets of Things past write false and fict.

***

MARITUS ET MOECHUS 

Maritus

Hanc ego mi uxorem duxi; tulit alter amorem;
Sic vos, non vobis, mellificatis apes.

Moechus

Hos ego filiolos feci, tulit alter honores.
Sic vos, non vobis, nidificatis aves.

An Husband, and an Adulterer.

The Husband.

I have A wife, others her Love: so rather
For Others not Themselves Bees Honey gather.

The Adulterer.

This Seed I rais’d, but in Anothers Field:
So Birds for Others, not Themselves do build.

***

DE VITA ET MORTE

Ad mortem sic vita fluit, velut ad mare flumen.
Vivere nam res est dulcis, amara mori.

 Of Life and Death.

Life tends to Death, as Rivers to the Seas:
For Life is sweet, Death bitter, doth displease.

***

Life flows to death as rivers to the sea,
And life is fresh and death is salt to me.

J. V. Cunningham

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AD CALVUM

Arboribus redeunt crines, et gramina campis,
At capiti frondes non rediere tuo.

To one Bald.

Leaves to the Trees, and Grass returns to Ground:
But not one hair on thy bald pate is found.

***

MORS

Restituunt furtum fures, vi rapta, latrones.
Omnia mors aufert, restituitque nihil.

Of Death.

Thieves shall restore their Theft, Robbers their Prey,
But Nothing Death; For Death takes All away.

***

IN FUTILEM FLORAM

Cum quocunque cois, rem factam, Flora, fateris,
Plusque fatendo mali quam faciendo facis.

Of Flitting Flora.

In thy Coition thou didst boast thine Act,
Thy boasting was more sinful than thy Fact.

***

ADULTERIUM ET FORNICATO

Ignavus moecho tandum distare videtur
Scortator, quantum comicus a tragico.

Adultery and Fornication.

What differs base Adulterers from vile
Fornicators? Tragick as from Comick stile.

***

HOROLOGIUM VITAE. AD D. IOANNEM WEST, AMICUM SUUM

Latus ad occasum, unquam rediturus ad ortum,
Vivo hodie, moriar cras, here natus eram.

Lifes Dyal.

From East to West without return am I,
Born yesterday, live this day, next day die.

***

DE AUTUMNO. AD AMICUM SUUM D. RICARDUM CONOK

Aufert arboribus frondes Autumnus, et idem
Fert secum fructus: nos faciamus idem.

Of Autumn.

Autumn shakes off the Leaves, and for man’s use
Produceth fruit: let us the like produce.

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CONIUGES

Discordes nos tota domus non continet ambos.
Concordes lectus nos tamen unus habet.

Man and Wife.

The total House us holds not, when we chide,
But one Bed serves us both when pacifi’d.

***

AD UXORIUM 

Saepe quiescit ager, non semper arandus. At uxor
Est ager, assidue vult tamen illa coli.

To One Uxorious.

The Field’s not always plough’d: Thy Wife’s a Field,
Yet she loves dayly to be duly till’d.

***

AD COELIBEM G. R.

Est bona res uxor, melior bona, optima nulla.
Contigat nobis optima, nulla tibi.

To G. R., A Batchelour.

A wife is good, a good Wife better; best
No Wife; I wish thee this; me that, at least.

***

SAPIENTA SOCRATICA

Omnia me, dum iunior essem scire putabam.
Quo scio plus, hoc me nunc scio scire minus.

Socratical Wisdome.

All things I thought I knew; But now confess
The more I know, I know, I know the less.

***

CYGNUS

Cum me fata vocat, ad amoeni fluminis oram
Me moriens moesto carmine solor olor.

The Swan.

When Fates me call, the Rivers Bank close by,
I sweetly sing my Requiem, and die.

***

FRIGUS, CALIDUM

Est mare frigidior mulier, tamen urit amantem.
Sic calx in gelidam iacta calescit aquam.

Hot Cold.

Women, though cold, their lovers yet inflame;
So Lime in water cast, doth heat the flame.

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AXUNGIA

Ne siccus volvente rota crepet, unguitur axis.
Causidicum mos est ungere, ne taceat.

Wheel-Grease.

Men grease their Axle-trees lest Wheels should creak:
But Lawyers must be greas’d to make them speak.

***

AD AMICUM COELIBEM

Ureris? Uxorem ducas, non expedit uri.
Coniugis in gremio mortificanda caro.

To His Friend, A Batchelor.

Dost burn with lust? ’Tis sin: Espouse a Bride:
The flesh will be the better moritifi’d.

***

SCRIPTORES HUIUS SECULI

Carpimus extremas voces et verba priorum.
Priscorum, qui nunc scribimus, echo sumus.

Modern Writers.

We carp at former Works, and Words; yet we
Now writers but the formers Echoes be.

 

All poems in Latin are by John Owen.

The translations are by Thomas Harvey from John Owen’s Latine epigrams Englished by Tho. Harvey, Gent. ; dedicated by the author Mr. John Owen unto the Lady Mary Nevil, daughter of the Earl of Dorset.

 

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LINKS

A Hypertext Critical Edition of the Epigrams of John Owen, edited by Dana F. Sutton.

The complete text of John Owen’s Latine epigrams Englished by Tho. Harvey, Gent.

John Owen poems with vocabulary explained and Thomas Harvey translations included on the Bestiary Latina: Brevissima site.

The Wikipedia entry for John Owen.

The Bartleby.com page on John Owen’s Epigrams.

Seven Poems from the Latin of John Owen translated by Charles Martin.

The Wit of a Wykehemist Welshman: Stephen Coombs on the Latin epigrams of John Owen.

 

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