Friday, September 23, 2011

Christopher Marlowe, The Complete Poems and Translations

Christopher Marlowe, The Complete Poems and Translations, Ed. Stephen Orgel, Penguin Books, New York, 2007.

After his death Thomas Kyd, who had shared lodgings with Marlowe, testified to his “rashness in attempting sudden privy injuries to men”—Marlowe had in fact been charged in connection with a street brawl in 1589 in which a man was killed. Kyd also pursued the theme of atheism, recalling his companion’s “vile heretical conceits denying the divinity of Jesus.” (vii-viii)

…first translation of the Amores not only into English but into any modern language. The Amores was the least well known of Ovid’s works in the Renaissance, untouched by the allegorizing and moralizing commentaries that had safely contextualized Ovid’s other work for Christian readers. (ix)

In a sense, this is Marlow’s sonnet sequence, the psychic drama of a poet-lover whose love is both his creation and his ultimate monomania, frustration, and despair. (ix)

Nevertheless, All Ovid’s Elegies is a strange book. It reads like a promising first draft, occasionally felicitous but often routine, with moments of real brilliance and also moments of striking ineptitude. Time after time, the only way to understand Marlowe’s English is to use the Latin as a crib. (x)

Nevertheless, the translation is an impressive achievement, especially if, as appears to be the case, it is the work of Marlowe’s undergraduate years; (x-xi)

The undercurrent of tragedy is always there, but Marlowe handles the moral issues in a characteristically subversive way. The tragedy we that Hero and Leander ought not to be behaving this way. Quite the contrary: the point is that our world is simply not good enough for its heroes. Marlowe deals with the necessary tragic conclusion by omitting it, not finishing the poem. This is a work designed to be a fragment—another thing about it that is “classical.” (xvii)

Marlowe’s translation of Lucan is the first in English; it was published in only a single edition, in 1600—clearly it represented the bottom of the Marlowe barrel, the last bit of unpublished work of the most successful classicist of the age. The work is undeniably less engaging than All Ovid’s Elegies or Hero and Leander. The project, however, would not have been a mere academic exercise. Ben Jonson said of Lucan’s Pharsalia, or Civil War, that it was “written with an admirable height,” and that he was “never weary to transcribe” its “admirable verses.” Modern opinion had been less enthusiastic. The general critical attitude is expressed by the Oxford Classical Dictionary: “Lucan shows an excessive fondness for the purple patch. There is much exaggeration, often absurd; bizarre effects and far-fetched paradoxes abound.” … Lucan was regarded as a classic model for the treatment of recent events (evident, for example, in Drayton’s Barons’ Wars and Daniel’s Civil Wars), not merely as a literary monument to be domesticated through translation. (xx)

Of Hellespont, guilty of true love’s blood, (1st line, Hero and Leander)

…Hero the fair,
Whom young Apollo courted for her hair, (page 5)

Many would praise the sweet smell as she passed,
When ‘twas the odor which her breath forth cast;
And there for honey bees have sought in vain,
And beat from thence, have lighted there again. (6)

As he imagined Hero was his mother;
And oftentimes into her bosom flew,
About her naked neck his bare arms threw;
And laid his childish head upon her breast,
And with still panting rocked, there took his rest. (6)

…I could tell ye
How smooth his breast was, and how white his belly,
And whose immortal fingers did imprint
That heavenly path with many a curious dint
That runs along his back, … (7)

His presence made the rudest peasant melt,
That in the vast uplandish country dwelt;
The barbarous Thracian solider, moved with nought,
Was moved with him, and for his favor sought.
Some swore he was a maid in a man’s attire,
For in his looks were all that men desire, (7)

So ran the people forth to gaze upon her,
And all that viewed her were enamored on her.

Await the sentence of her scornful eyes:
He whom she favors lives, the other dies. (8)

So fair a church as this had Venus none:

And in the midst a silver altar stood;
There Hero sacrificing turtles’ blood,
Vailed to the ground, vailing her eyelids close,
And modestly they opened as she rose: (9)

Stone still he stood, and evermore he gazed,
Till with the fire that from his count’nance blazed
Relenting Hero’s gentle heart was strook:
Such force and virtue hath an amorous look. (9)

Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?
He kneeled, but unto her devoutly prayed;
Chaste Hero to herself thus softly said:
“Were I the saint he worships, I would hear him,” (10)

And I in duty will excel all other,
As thou in beauty dost exceed Love’s mother. (11)

A stately builded ship, well-rigged and tall,
The ocean maketh more majestical:
Why vowest thou then to live in Sestos here,
Who on Love’s seas more glorious wouldst appear? (11)

Like untuned golden strings all women are,
Which long time lie untouched will harshly jar. (11)

Who builds a palace and rams up the gate,
Shall see it ruinous and desolate.
Ah simple Hero, learn thyself to cherish;
Lone women like to empty houses perish. (11)

One is no number; maids are nothing then,
Without the sweet society of men. (12)

This idol which you term virginity
Is neither essence subject to the eye,

Or capable of any form at all.
Of that which hath no being, do not boast;
Things that are not at all, are never lost.
Men foolishly do call it virtuous:
What virtue is it that is born with us?
Much less can honor be ascribed thereto,
Honor is purchased by the deeds we do. (12)

Tell me, to whom mad’st thou that heedless oath?”
“To Venus,” answered she, and as she spake,
Forth from those two tralucent cistern brake
A stream of liquid pearl, which down her face
Made milk-white paths, whereon the gods might trace
To Jove’s high court. He thus replied: “The rites
In which love’s beauteous empress most delights,
Are banquets, Doric music, midnight revel,
Plays, masques, and all that stern age counteth evil.
The as a holy idiot doth she scorn, (13)

Abandon fruitless cold virginity,
The gentle queen of love’s sole enemy.
Then shall you most resemble Venus’ nun,
When Venus’ sweet rites are performed and done. (14)

“Who taught thee rhetoric to deceive a maid?
Aye me, such words as these should I abhor,
And yet I like them for the orator.” (14)

Laden with languishment and grief he flies,
And to those stern nymphs humbly made request
Both [H&L] might enjoy each other, and be blest.
But with a ghastly dreadful countenance,
Threat’ning a thousand deaths at every glance,
They answered Love, nor would vouchsafe so much
As one poor word, their hate to him was such.
Hearken awhile, and I will tell you why. (15)

And, knowing Hermes courted her, was glad
That she such loveliness and beauty had
As could provoke his liking, yet was mute,
And neither would deny nor grant his suit. (16)

Imposed upon her lover such a task
As he ought not perform, nor yet she ask.
A draught of flowing nectar she requested,
Wherewith the king of gods and men is feasted.
He ready to accomplish what she willed,
Stole some from Hebe (Hebe Jove’s cup filled)
And gave it to his simple rustic love;
Which being known (as what is hid from Jove?) (17)

But long this blessed time continued not:
As soon as he his wished purpose got,
He… (17)

And few great lords in virtuous deeds shall joy,
But be surprised with every garish toy,
And still enrich the lofty servile clown, (18)

Yet as she went, full often looked behind,
And many poor excuses did she find
To linger by the way, …

So on she goes, and in her idle flight, (19)

As if her name and honor had been wronged
By being possessed of him for whom she longed; (19)

And, seeming lavish, saved her maidenhead.
Ne’er king more sought to keep his diadem,
Than Hero this inestimable gem.
Above our life we love a steadfast friend,
Yet when a token of great worth we send,
We often kiss it, often look thereon,
And stay the messenger that would be gone:
No marvel, then, though Hero would not yield
So soon to part from that she dearly held.
Jewels being lost are found again, this never;
‘Tis lost but once, and once lost, lost forever. (21)

For as a hot proud horse highly disdains
To have his head controlled, but breaks the reins,
Spits forth the ringled bit, and with his hooves
Checks the submissive ground: (22)

Imagining that Ganymede, displeased,
Had left the heavens; therefore on him he seized.
Leander strived, the waves about him wound,
And pulled him to the bottom, where the ground
Was strewed with pearl, and in low coral groves
Sweet singing mermaids sported with their loves (23)

And swore the sea should never do him harm.
He clapped him plump cheeks, with his tresses played,
And smiling wantonly, his love bewrayed. (23)

…at which celestial noise
The longing heart of Hero much more joys
Than nymphs and shepherds when the timbrel rings, (25)

And drunk with gladness to the door she goes,
Where seeing a naked man, she screeched for fear;
Such sights as this to tender maids are rare;
And ran into the dark herself to hide.
Rich jewels in the dark are soonest spied. (25)

Leander now, like Theban Hercules,
Entered the orchard of th’Hesperides,
Whose fruit none rightly can describe but he
That pulls or shakes it from the golden tree. (26)

Again she knew not how to frame her look,
Or speak to him who in a moment took
That which so long so charily she kept,

But as her naked feet were whipping out,
He on the sudden clinged her so about
That mermaid-like unto the floor she slid;
One half appeared, the other half was hid.
Thus near the bed she blushing stood upright,

So Hero’s ruddy cheek Hero betrayed,
And her all naked to his sight displayed,
Whence his admiring eyes more pleasure took
Than Dis on heaps of gold fixing his look. (27)

Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle,
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.

A belt of straw and ivy-buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs,
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning.
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

(The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, Complete, 207)


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