POETRY

Propertius 1.1 & 1.6

By

1.1
      Cynthia—it was those eyes—captured me first,
poor kid, as yet untouched by lust, uncursed.
Then Love toppled my pride, my stubborn ways;
his feet drove my head down and dropped my gaze,
until the hellion taught me to reject
good girls, and live in excess and neglect.
A year now, and this madness still subdues me;
I’m forced to supplicate gods who refuse me.
      Tullus, Milanion spared no drudgery
to wear down Atalanta’s savagery:
he roamed the Virgin Mountain, low and high,
unhinged, and looked the wild beasts in the eye,
and, when the centaur’s club knocked him a wound,
he sprawled on the rocks of Arcady and groaned.
That’s how he tamed his lady’s lightning speed;
so in love faith and effort should succeed.
      My limping Love won’t use his former art
and can’t recall his old map to the heart.
But you who con the moon down, so you claim,
and tend the dark gods by your magic flame,
now change my mistress’ mind and heart, go on,
and make her face turn paler than my own!
Then I’d grant your Thessalian witchcraft might
reverse rivers, and siphon the stars’ light.
      And you who call me back too late, my friends,
find some cure for this heart that sickness rends.
Surgeons could carve me up and I’d be brave,
if free to shout what pain and fury crave.
Take me through far-flung tribes, to the edge of Dawn,
somewhere no woman knows where I have gone.
      But you, whom the god blesses, stay behind;
enjoy your safe love, always of one mind.
On me, Venus drives bitter nights and black;
Love’s never gone, and never gives me slack.
I warn you, flee this suffering! Cling to
long love; don’t trade a known bed for a new.
Whoever hears too late these words of warning,
what pain he’ll suffer yet, and ah, what mourning!

1.6
Tullus, I’m not afraid to sail with you
the Adriatic or Aegean blue;
with you, I’d trek those peaks of Scythia’s,
or farther south than Memnon’s palaces;
but my girl hugs my neck, and blocks my path,
and begs, and blanches, and turns red with wrath.
All night she blurts her feelings, bares her heart,
and says there are no gods, if I depart;
she cries she’s mine no more, and starts to shrill
threats at my thanklessness, as women will.
Minutes of these complaints, and I give in—
shame on the man who loves with thicker skin!
            Is it worth it to see the golden thrones
of ancient Asia, or Athens’ learned stones,
if raving Cynthia will shriek at me
and shred her cheeks as I put out to sea,
crying she owes my kisses to the breeze,
that nothing’s worse than a man’s treacheries?
            Go on, outdo your uncle’s offices,
bring law back to forgetful provinces;
though young, you’ve had no time for passion’s charms:
your whole concern’s our country under arms.
May Cupid never thrust these lover’s woes
on you or teach you what my sorrow knows!
            Let me, whom Lady Luck debarred from action,
breathe my last breath in slothful stupefaction.
Many long lovers delightedly have died;
count me with them, and I’ll die satisfied.
I’m not cut out for glory or for war:
my destiny’s to march in Cupid’s corps!
            Whether in decadent Ionia,
or where Pactolus waters Lydia,
whether you row the waves, or walk on land,
you’ll be a welcome cog in the command;
then, if some thought of me should come to you,
you’ll know what savage star I’m subject to.

Chris Childers teaches Latin and Greek, and coaches squash and tennis, at St. Andrew's School in Delaware, USA (appropriately, film-site of the movie Dead Poets' Society). As translator, he is hard at work on a book of Latin and Greek Lyric Poetry from Archilochus to Martial, under contract with Penguin Classics, and has translations forthcoming from PN Review, Parnassus, Arion, and others. In 2013 he was a finalist for the Ruth Lilly fellowship from the Poetry Foundation.

Tullus, I’m not afraid to sail with you
the Adriatic or Aegean blue;
with you, I’d trek those peaks of Scythia’s,
or farther south than Memnon’s palaces;
but my girl hugs my neck, and blocks my path,
and begs, and blanches, and turns red with wrath.