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Kenneth Rexroth:
Translations from Greek and Latin


Greek Poets
Sappho (3)
Anyte (3)

Latin Poets
Petronius (4)
Martial (2)
Anonymous (Carmina Burana)



Translations from Greek



Will, lost in a sea of trouble,
Rise, save yourself from the whirlpool
Of the enemies of willing.
Courage exposes ambushes.
Steadfastness destroys enemies.
Keep your victories hidden.
Do not sulk over defeat.
Accept good. Bend before evil.
Learn the rhythm which binds all men.

ARCHILOCHOS (7th century BC)


. . . about the cool water
the wind sounds through sprays
of apple, and from the quivering leaves
slumber pours down. . . .

SAPPHO (6th century BC)


The moon has set,
And the Pleiades. It is
Midnight. Time passes.
I sleep alone.


This is the dust of Timias
Who went unmarried to the dark
Bedroom of Persephone. And
For her death all her girl friends cut
Their lovely hair with bright sharp bronze.



I, Hermes, have been set up
Where three roads cross, by the windy
Orchard above the grey beach.
Here tired men may rest from travel,
By my cold, clean, whispering spring.

ANYTE (3rd century BC)


Kypris keeps this spot.
She loves to be here,
Always looking out
From the land over
The brilliant sea. She
Brings the sailors good
Voyage, and the sea
Quivers in awe of
Her gleaming image.



The children have put purple
Reins on you, he goat, and a
Bridle in your bearded mouth.
And they play at horse races
Round a temple where a god
Gazes on their childish joy.



Hello. Hello. What’s your name?
What’s yours? You’re too curious.
So are you. Have you got a date?
With anybody who likes me.
Do you want to go to dinner?
If you like. OK, how much?
You don’t have to pay in advance.
That’s odd. After you’ve slept with
Me, you can pay what you think
It’s worth. Nothing wrong with that.
Where do you live, I’ll call you.
Take it down. What time will you
Come? Whenever you say. Let’s
Do it now. OK, walk ahead of me.



This is all the life there is.
It is good enough for me.
Worry won’t make another,
Or make this one last longer.
The flesh of man wastes in time.
Today there’s wine and dancing.
Today there’s flowers and women.
We might as well enjoy them.
Tomorrow — nobody knows.



Time’s fingers bend us slowly
With dubious craftsmanship,
That at last spoils all it forms.



Pass me the sweet earthenware jug,
Made of the earth that bore me,
The earth that someday I shall bear.



Translations from Latin


Fornication is a filthy business,
The briefest form of lechery,
And the most boring, once you’re satisfied.
So let’s not rush blindly upon it,
Like cows in rut.
That’s the way passion wilts
And the fire goes out.
But so and so, feasting without end,
Lie together kissing each other.
It’s a lazy shameless thing,
Delights, has delighted, always will delight,
And never ends, but constantly begins again.

PETRONIUS (1st century AD)


Good God, what a night that was,
The bed was so soft, and how we clung,
Burning together, lying this way and that,
Our uncontrollable passions
Flowing through our mouths.
If I could only die that way,
I’d say goodbye to the business of living.



I had just gone to bed
And begun to enjoy the first
Stillness of the night,
And sleep was slowly
Overcoming my eyes,
When savage Love
Jerked me up by the hair,
And threw me about,
And commanded me to stay up all night.
He said, “You are my slave,
The lover of a thousand girls.
Have you become so tough that you can lie here,
All alone and lonely?”
I jumped up barefoot and half dressed,
And ran off in all directions,
And got nowhere by any of them.
First I ran, and then I lingered,
And at last I was ashamed
To be wandering the empty streets.
The voices of men,
The roar of traffic,
The songs of birds,
Even the barking of dogs,
Everything was still.
And me alone,
Afraid of my bed and sleep,
Ruled by a mighty lust.



Why do you frown on me, you puritans,
And condemn the honesty of my latest poems?
Be thankful for fine writing
That makes you laugh instead of weep.
What people do, an honest tongue can talk about.
Do you know anybody who doesn’t enjoy
Feasting and venery?
Who forbad my member to grow hot in a warm bed?
Father Epicurus himself commanded us
To become really sophisticated in this art.
Furthermore, he said this was the life of the gods.



You are a stool pigeon and
A slanderer, a pimp and
A cheat, a pederast and
A troublemaker. I can’t
Understand, Vacerra, why
You don’t have more money.

MARTIAL (1st century AD)


You are the most beautiful
Girl there ever was or will be.
And you are the vilest girl
There ever was or will be.
O Catulla, how I wish
You had less beauty or more shame.



I used to tell you, “Frances, we grow old.
The years fly away. Don’t be so private
With those parts. A chaste maid is an old maid.”
Unnoticed by your disdain, old age crept
Close to us. Those days are gone past recall.
And now you come, penitent and crying
Over your old lack of courage, over
Your present lack of beauty. It’s all right.
Closed in your arms, we’ll share our smashed delights.
It’s give and take now. It’s what I wanted,
If not what I want.

AUSONIUS (4th century AD)


I am constantly wounded
By the deadly gossip that adds
Insult to injury, that
Punishes me mercilessly
With the news of your latest
Scandal in my ears. Wherever
I go the smirking fame of each
Fresh despicable infamy
Has run on ahead of me.
Can’t you learn to be cautious
About your lecheries?
Hide your practices in darkness;
Keep away from raised eyebrows.
If you must murder love, do it
Covertly, with your candied
Prurience and murmured lewdness.

You were never the heroine
Of dirty stories in the days
When love bound us together.
Now those links are broken, desire
Is frozen, and you are free
To indulge every morbid lust,
And filthy jokes about your
Latest amour are the delight
Of every cocktail party.
Your boudoir is a brothel;
Your salon is a saloon;
Even your sensibilities
And your depraved innocence
Are only special premiums,
Rewards of a shameful commerce.

O the heart breaking memory
Of days like flowers, and your
Eyes that shone like Venus the star
In our brief nights, and the soft bird
Flight of your love about me;
And now your eyes are as bitter
As a rattlesnake’s dead eyes,
And your disdain as malignant.
Those who give off the smell of coin
You warm in bed; I who have
Love to bring am not even
Allowed to speak to you now.
You receive charlatans and fools;
I have only the swindling
Memory of poisoned honey.

From the Carmina Burana (anonymous, late Middle Ages)

These translations are from Poems from the Greek Anthology (Ann Arbor, 1962). Copyright 1962 Kenneth Rexroth. Reproduced by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.

See also Rexroth’s essays on Sappho and Petronius.

[Other Rexroth Translations]





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