Carmina Burana

(Eight Translations of “Dum Diana vitrea . . .”)



The original Latin:

Dum Diana vitrea
sero lampas oritur,
et a fratris rosea
luce dum succenditur,
dulcis aura Zephiri
spirans omnes etheri
nubes tollit,
sic emollit
vi[s] chordarum pectora,
et immutat
cor, quod nutat
ad amoris pignora.

Letum iubar Hesperi
dat humorem
roris soporiferi
mortalium generi.

O quam felix est
antidotum soporis,
quot curarum tempestates
sedat et doloris!
Dum surrepit clausis
oculorum poris,
ipsum gaudio equiperat
dulcedini amoris.

Orpheus [Morpheus] in mentem
trahit impellentem
ventum lenem,
segetes maturas,
murmura rivorum
per harenas puras,
circulares ambitus molendinorum,
qui furantur somno lumen oculorum.

Post blanda Veneris conmercia
lassatur cerebri substantia;
hinc caligant
mira novitate
oculi nantes
in palpebrarum rate.
Hei quam felix transitus
amoris ad soporem,
sed suavior
regressus ad amorem!

Ex alvo leta
fumus evaporat,
qui capitis tres
cellulas irrorat;
hic infumat oculos
ad soporem pendulos,
et palpabras
sua fumositate
replet, ne visus
exspacietur late;
unde ligant oculos
virtutes animales,
que sunt magis
vise ministeriales.

Fronde sub arboris amena,
dum querens canit Philomena,
suave est quiescere,
suavius ludere
in gramine
cum virgine
Si variarum
odor herbarum
si dederit
thorum rosa,
dulciter soporis alimonia
post Veneris defessa commercia
dum lassis instillatur.

O in quantis
animus amantis
Ut vaga
ratis per equora,
dum caret anchora,
fluctuat inter spem
metumque dubia,
sic Veneris milicia.

(Carmina Burana manuscript, ca. 12th century)


When the lamp of Cynthia late
Rises in her silver state,
Through her brother’s roseate light,
Blushing on the brows of night;
Then the pure ethereal air
Breathes with zephyr blowing fair;
Clouds and vapours disappear.
As with chords of lute and lyre,
Soothed the spirits now respire,
And the heart revives again
Which once more for love is fain.
But the orient evening star
Sheds with influence kindlier far
Dews of sweet sleep on the eye
Of o’er-tired mortality.

Oh, how blessed to take and keep
Is the antidote of sleep!
Sleep that lulls the storms of care
And of sorrow unaware,
Creeping through the clos├Ęd doors
Of the eyes, and through the pores
Breathing bliss so pure and rare
That with love it may compare.

Then the god of dreams doth bring
To the mind some restful thing,
Breezes soft that rippling blow
O’er ripe cornfields row by row,
Murmuring rivers round whose brim
Silvery sands the swallows skim,
Or the drowsy circling sound
Of old mill-wheels going round,
Which with music steal the mind
And the eyes in slumber bind.

When the deeds of love are done
Which bland Venus had begun,
Languor steals with pleasant strain
Through the chambers of the brain,
Eyes ’neath eyelids gently tired
Swim and seek the rest desired.
How deliciously at last
Into slumber love hath passed!
But how sweeter yet the way
Which leads love again to play!

From the soothed limbs upward spread
Glides a mist divinely shed,
Which invades the heart and head:
Drowsily it veils the eyes,
Bending toward sleep’s paradise,
And with curling vapour round
Fills the lids, the senses swound,
Till the visual ray is bound
By those ministers which make
Life renewed in man awake.

Underneath the leafy shade
Of a tree in quiet laid,
While the nightingale complains
Singing of her ancient pains,
Sweet it is still hours to pass,
But far sweeter on the grass
With a buxom maid to play
All a summer’s holiday.
When the scent of herb and flower
Breathes upon the silent hour,
When the rose with leaf and bloom
Spreads a couch of pure perfume,
Then the grateful boon of sleep
Falls with satisfaction deep,
Showering dews our eyes above,
Tired with honeyed strife of love.

In how many moods the mind
Of poor lovers, weak and blind,
Wavers like the wavering wind!
As a ship in darkness lost,
Without anchor tempest-tossed,
So with hope and fear imbued
It roams in great incertitude
Love’s tempestuous ocean-flood.

Translated by John Addington Symonds (Wine, Women and Song, 1884)


When Diana lighteth
Late her crystal lamp,
Her pale glory kindleth
From her brother’s fire,
Little straying west winds
Wander over heaven,
Moonlight falleth,
And recalleth
With a sound of lute-strings shaken,
Hearts that have denied his reign
To love again.
Hesperus, the evening star,
To all things that mortal are,
Grants the dew of sleep.

Thrice happy sleep!
The antidote to care,
Thou dost allay the storm
Of grief and sore despair;
Through the fast-closed gates
Thou stealest light;
Thy coming gracious is
As Love’s delight.

Sleep through the wearied brain
Breathes a soft wind
From fields of ripening grain,
The sound
Of running water over clearest sand,
A millwheel turning, turning slowly round,
These steal the light
From eyes weary of sight.

Love’s sweet exchange and barter, then the brain
Sinks to repose;
Swimming in strangeness of a new delight
The eyelids close;
Oh sweet the passing o’er from love to sleep.
But sweeter the awakening to love.

Under the kind branching trees
Where Philomel complains and sings
Most sweet to lie at ease,
Sweeter to take delight
Of beauty and the night
On the fresh springing grass,
With smell of mint and thyme,
And for Love’s bed, the rose.
Sleep’s dew doth ever bless,
But most distilled on lovers’ weariness.

Translated by Helen Waddell (Medieval Latin Lyrics, 1929)


When Diana’s gleaming lamp
Upward gliding, rises late,
Kindled while her brother’s light,
Fading, still is roseate,
Sweet airs blowing from the west
Lift the mists that congregate
Far aloft:
Like music soft
Twilight soothes the breast,
And after long repelling
The heart gives love a dwelling.
Welcome then
To mortal men,
Hesperus, shining bright,
Brings cool and damp
The sleep-compelling dews of night.

O what bliss it is!
Sleep, the antidote,
From storms of care and grief
How sheltered, how remote:
Sleep that slyly enters
The portals of the eyes,
Bringing joys that equal
Sweet love’s paradise.

When Morpheus has passed
To drowsy fancy sending
A light wind blowing,
Ripe corn bending,
Rippling waters flowing
Over pure sands,
Millwheels turning
While still the mill stands, —
Then robbed of all discerning
The eyes close at last.

After the subtle interchange of love
The nerves, late overtaxed,
Are now relaxed;
A wondrous newness we are conscious of,
While eyes afloat
With darkness brimming
Glide like a boat
On eyelids skimming.
Height, ’tis joy to disencumber
Thought from coils of love in slumber,
But sweeter far the reawaking
Out of sleep to new love-making.

From glad satiety such fumes arise
As cloud the three-celled brain;
These vapors then incline the heavy eyes
To sleep again,
Filling the eyelids with a drowsy smoke
That holds in check the power of sight;
The animal spirits, ministering, wrap tight
The eyes as with a cloak.

Then under pleasant boughs,
While grieving Philomel descants,
Sweet it is to drowse,
Or still more sweet perchance
To woo some pretty creature on the lawn:
Spicy garden odors breathing,
Roses round our couch enwreathing,
To snatch delight in slumber’s sustenance,
Love’s fainting joys a while forgone
In languor deep withdrawn.

But O, how many are the changes
Through which a lover’s spirit ranges!
No ship that drifts
With anchor lost
Can match the shifts
Of hope and fear
Wherewith he’s crossed:
The folk of Venus buy her service dear.

Translated by George F. Whicher (The Goliard Poets, 1949)


When Diana, late at night,
for her crystal lamp reclaims
pink and paler light
kindled from her brother’s flames,
western winds soft and fair
fill the air,
clear the sky,
and as by
music falling from above
cast their spell
and compel
hearts once hard to yield to love,
as the evening star again
bright and new,
fresh with dew,
charms to sleep mortal men.

O felicity
of sleep careless
that comes to set us free
from all distress,
and through the eyes’ entry
making sweet ingress
prepares us for sorcery
of love’s progress.

Morpheus, shaper in the mind,
brings us for dreams
soft blowing wind,
murmuring of streams
over clear sand running,
mill wheel sound
all night long turning
slowly round and round
softly to mesmerize
day-weary eyes.

After love’s blandishing
and soft exchanges,
sleep comes languishing;
new strength outranges
all past sweet experience
and swims in new ecstasies of sense.
Lovely to sleep after love’s strain,
but lovelier to wake from sleep to love again.

Under green trellises
where Philomela sings the lay
of her sad jealousies,
sweet to sleep the night away,
but sweeter still to play
with a girl in the grass,
and with such beauty pass
all the time away.

Smell of thyme and roses
and all things growing
gently disposes
of all our hearts’ undoing,
and the heart in weariness
after love’s commerces
softly reposes.

Translated by Richmond Lattimore (1966; reprinted in Poems from Three Decades, 1972)


As Zephyr’s sweet breath takes every cloud from the sky when Diana’s crystal lamp rises at dusk, kindled by her brother’s rose light, so the power of music lightens the minds of men, and transforms the heart, that it inclines to the vows of love.

Hesperos’ joyful beam sheds a sweet rain of slumbrous dew upon mankind.

Oh how happy is the remedy of sleep, calming the storms of cares and grief! When it steals under the closed eyelids, it is equal in joy to the sweetness of love.

Orpheus draws into the beating mind a gentle wind, ripe cornfields, murmurs of streams across pure sands, mill-wheels turning, which steal away the light of the eyes in sleep.

After the tender interchanges of love, the matter of the brain is languorous. Thus in a new and wondrous wise the eyes grow dark, swimming on a float of eyelids with its smokiness, lest sight should range afar. So the animal spirits, which specially in this show themselves our servants, bind the eyes.

Under the gracious boughs of a tree, while Philomena sings lamenting, it is sweet to rest, sweeter still to play in the grass with a lovely girl. If the scent of many herbs perfumes the air, if the rose offers a bed, the nourishment of sleep is sweetly won, showered upon the languorous after love’s play has faded.

Oh in how many ways a lover’s spirit is filled with uncertainties! Like an anchorless raft drifting across the ocean, those in Love’s company fluctuate, wavering between hope and fear.

Translated by Peter Dronke (Medieval Latin and the Rise of the European Love-Lyric, 1966)


When Diana’s crystalline
lantern rises late at night,
shimmering with undershine
from her brother’s rosy light:
when the gentle Zephyr’s breeze
whiffles little clouds with ease
     up and away . . .
     so then the lay
of lutenists and ligatures
     lures returning
     hearts from yearning
after lovers’ overtures.

Hesperus with starlight beams
     drawing dewdrops,
     soothing dewdrops,
dulls with soporific dreams
mortal creatures and regimes.

O how welcome, slumber! — sleep, the antidote
to all our inmost storms of hurt and doubt
instills between the lids of eyes half shut
such ecstasy as ever love gave out.

Morpheus unminds us:
weaving dreams, unwinds us
gentle winds from fields of ripening corn:
trickling steamlets over sandbeds borne:
an endless round and round of millwheels turning
robs our sleep-dimmed eyes of all discerning.

After exquisite toil at love’s behest
the wearied brain seeks welcomely to rest:
eyes rediscover peace in growing dim,
yield in their raft of lids to sink or swim.
To pass from love to languor — yes, this is a sweet remove! —
but sweeter still the swift return to love.

From flesh fulfilled, contented perfumes spread
through all three layers of the lover’s head,
     enveloping those selfsame eyes
     sleep strives to mesmerize:
over the eyelids draw their swirling shield
to hold the gaze from wandering far afield . . .
so do Nature’s ministers soothe eyes into submission,
serving as the faithful guardians of our power of vision.

Under the shady greenwood tree
where the nightingale sings plaintively
     sweet to be lying there . . .
     sweeter, be trying there
          the playful whirl
          of a lovely girl
          in the grass:
     and where the vagrant
     scents of fragrant
          herbs have strayed
          and roses made
          a couching place . . .
     there then the soft sustenance of sleep,
when lovers’ toils are done, is happily relinquished
to those by labour vanquished.

Oh what commotions
and variable devotions
agitate the heart’s emotions!
how like an unanchored boat
on seas we float, we
fluctuate between hope and misgiving —
who champion Venus for a living.

Translated by David Parlett (Selections from the Carmina Burana, 1986)


When the glistening torch of Diana rises late in the day and is ignited by the rosy light of her brother, the sweet breath of the West Wind with its exhalation removes all clouds from the sky. In the same way that wind by the power of his strings relieves men’s breasts and transforms the heart that is wilting in the face of love’s pledges.

The joyful radiance of the evening star brings to the race of mortals the more welcome moisture of sleep-inducing dew.

How blessed is the antidote of sleep! What storms of cares and griefs it assuages! As it creeps along the closed passages of the eyes, it equals with its joy the sweetness of love.

Morpheus draws into the mind a gentle wind inclining the ripe harvest, the murmur of rills along glistening courses of sand, the circling movement of the beasts of the mill, which in sleep steal the sight from our eyes.

After the pleasurable interchange of love, the brain matter is fatigued. By reason of this the eyes, swimming in the barque of the lids, darken in a strange and novel way. Oh, how blessed is the passage from love to sleep, but sweeter the return to love!

Steam wells forth from the exultant belly and bedews the three cells of the brain. Here it wreathes the eyes as they droop in sleep and fills the lids with its fumes, so that the sight may not journey far. So the physical powers, which appear stronger in their service, bind the eyes.

It is sweet to relax under the lovely foliage of a tree to the plaintive song of the nightingale. But it is sweeter to sport on the grass with a beautiful maiden. If the scent of mingled plants breathes forth, if rose petals provide a couch, once the wearying intercourse of love is over it is sweet to win the nurture of sleep as it seeps into our languid bodies.

In what depths does the mind of the unstable lover shift! Love’s army is like a ship without an anchor, wandering over the sea, wavering hesitant between hope and fear.

Translated by P.G. Walsh (Love Poems from the Carmina Burana, 1993)


When Diane rises and lights
Her crystalline lamp,
She is kindled
By the shine of her rosy brothers.
A delightful Western breeze lifts
Away the gray clouds from all couples —
Loosening the chords of the heart;
Inclining it
Toward the vow of love.

Once the star of the night
Loses its radiance,
Joy is transformed
Into passion’s sleepy dew.

Oh! How sleep is the fertile
Antidote to storms and cares!
When sleep opens itself
To the gates of the eyes,
It brings ecstasy equal to love.

Morpheus draws the dreams of the mind
Into the wind’s lightness —
From fields of ripe corn,
The river murmurs
With its sand,
While the mill wheel turns.
Then he steals
The sleep from
The light in our eyes.

After the seductive interlude of love,
Fatigue sweeps the mind’s essence.
In this place
Our eyes swim and grow dark.
Oh! How good is the passage
From love to slumber,
But sweeter still is love’s return.

Beneath the foliage of trees,
Resting to the song
Of the nightingale is sweet.
Even sweeter is
Playing in the grass
With your love.
If the diverse scents
Of plants and herbs
Drift in the air,
And there is a bed of roses
To nourish a delightful sleep,
It is grasped
By the weary
When the interchange
Of love is exhausted.

Oh! How the great diversity
Of love’s spirit
Sways to and fro.
As we journey
On a raft
Without an anchor,
We fluctuate
Between the vacillating
Hopes and fears
Of love.

Translated by Anthony Leskov (Communicating Vessels #27, 2015)


Eight translations of an anonymous Latin song from the Carmina Burana. The quality of this poem (in the original Latin) is such that some scholars have speculated that it, along with a few others in the Carmina Burana manuscript, may have been written by Peter Abelard (who was reputed to have written superlative love poems in his youth, though none are known to have survived).

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