Propertius in Translation

So far I have translated only the first three Elegies of Propertius, but I intend to at least do his self-contained Book 1.

Why Propertius? It's hard to explain. Many consider him to be the greatest love poet of all time, but for me he is the most brilliant deadpan comic poet of all time. His poetic persona is basically a spoof of himself as lover, sustained by the most exquisite craftsmanship, which sustains him through his tribulations.

One feature of that craftsmanship is the end-stopped nature of Propertius' elegiac couplets, which contrasts with Juvenal's epic enjambment. Feeling that something would thus be lost if either the call-and-response couplet structure or their end-stopped nature were discarded in translation, I have tried to reproduce Propertius on a line-by-line basis. This technical challenge is very rewarding personally, and I think looks good beside the original.

Elegy 1.1

Twas Cynthia, a lass, who with her eyes
   Took me, whom no desire otherwise
Had touched; my stubborn pride by Love was stooped,
   And soon my head between my ankles drooped.
From Love I learned to hate the lady chaste,
   From wily Love my days I learned to waste:
Though now a year is gone, the fever gains,
   For still the gods take pleasure at my pains.
Tullus, that drudge, Milanion, did not tire
   In overcoming Atalanta’s ire:
He wandered witless through the Parthene cave,
   Among the savage animals would rave,
And though the Centaur’s club might clean his clock
   He would yet groan upon th’ Arcadian rock,
Until he could the fleetfoot maid enthral:
   For deeds and pretty pleases conquer all.
Latecomer love thus prompts a certain art,
   And bids me on untrodden paths to start.
But come, all ye who swindle down the moon,
   Whose magic lips can drone the séance tune,
Come shift my lady’s fancy to romance,
   Come make her blush and stammer at my glance;
And in exchange I’ll swear your far-out schemes
   Can charm the stars, and stop the river’s streams;
My friends, who would your sympathy impart,
   Invent a balm that heals the sickly heart:
The cauter’s flame I’ll bear, the surgeon’s steel -
   Just leave me free speak what lovers feel;
Or ship me overseas, to foreign folk,
   From women’s eyes my destination cloak;
Though you may stay, whose prayers are heard above,
   And never change your lot and happy love;
Venus alone enjoys my bitter night,
   Each hour spent in longing for delight;
Remember my sad case, and never switch
   Your girlfriend, your habituated niche:
Whoever little heeds my earnest warning
   Soon enough rereads my verses, mourning.
Cynthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis,
   contactum nullis ante cupidinibus;
tum mihi constantis deiecit lumina fastus
   et caput impositis pressit Amor pedibus;
donec me docuit Castas odisse puellas
   improbus, et nullo vivere consilio.
et mihi iam toto furor hic non deficit anno,
   cum tamen adversos cogor habere deos.
Milanion nullos fugiendo, Tulle, labores
   saevitiam durae contudit Iasidos:
nam modo Partheniis amens errabat in antris,
   ibat et hirsutas ille videre feras;
ille etiam Hylaei percussus vulnere rami
   saucius Arcadiis rupibus ingemuit.
ergo velocem potuit domuisse puellam:
   tantum in amore preces et bene facta valent.
in me tardus Amor non ullas cogitat artis,
   nec meminit notas, ut prius, ire vias.
at vos, deductae quibus est fallacia lunae
   et labor in magicis sacra piare focis,
en agedum dominae mentem convertite nostrae,
   et facite illa meo palleat ore magis:
tunc ego crediderim vobis et sidera et amnis
   posse Cytaeines ducere carminibus.
et vos, qui sero lapsum revocatis, amici,
   quaerite non sani pectoris auxilia;
fortiter et ferrum saevos patiemur et ignis,
   sit modo libertas quae velit ira loqui.
ferte per extremas gentis et ferte per undas,
   qua non ulla meum femina norit iter:
vos remanete, quibus facili deus annuit aure,
   sitis et in tuto semper amore pares.
in me nostra Venus noctes exercet amaras,
   et nullo vacuus tempore defit Amor.
hoc, moneo, vitate malum: sua quemque moretur
   cura, neque assueto mutet amore locum;
quod si quis monitis tardas adverterit auris,
   heu referet quanto verba dolore mea.

Elegy 1.2

Why fuss, my life, why cut your tresses cute
   And strut your slimness in a Coan suit?
Why soak your hair with myrrh from Eastern hills,
   Exchange yourself for evanescent thrills,
Trade inborn worth for what the stalls bestow,
   And block the body from its proper glow?
Trust me, your shape cannot be shaped to please,
   For naked Love no figured figure sees.
Consider how the unturned soil flowers,
   And how the untaught ivy taller towers,
How tastier the fruit the more recessed,
   And how the brook pursues its inborn quest:
Mere local boulders deck the shining strand,
   And songbirds sweet no cleverness command.
Not thus did Castor Phoebe’s flame assess,
   Nor Pollux marvel at her sister’s dress;
Not thus, when Idas fought with Phoebus’ lust,
   Evenus’ shorebound girl did place her trust,
A Phrygian mate no fake complexion sealed
   When overseas was Hippodamia wheeled:
No gems disgraced their faces’ healthy flush
   Which glowed as if touched by Apelles’ brush;
Not coarsely would they long to conquer lovers:
   Modesty no carnal scheme discovers.
Must I dread comparison with fashion?
   Aren’t you chic enough with one man’s passion?
Phoebus furnishes what you may sing,
   Calliope provides th’ Aonian string,
And harmony is simple when you speak:
   It’s all that Venus and Minerva seek.
And thus you’ll be my sweetheart evermore
   As soon as abject luxury’s a bore.
Quid iuvat ornato procedere, vita, capillo
   et tenuis Coa veste movere sinus,
aut quid Orontea crinis perfundere murra,
   teque peregrinis vendere muneribus,
naturaeque decus mercato perdere cultu,
   nec sinere in propriis membra nitere bonis?
crede mihi, non ulla tuae est medicina figurae:
   nudus Amor formae non amat artificem.
aspice quos summittat humus formosa colores,
   ut veniant hederae sponte sua melius,
surgat et in solis formosius arbutus antris,
   et sciat indocilis currere lympha vias.
litora nativis praefulgent picta lapillis,
   et volucres nulla dulcius arte canunt.
non sic Leucippis succendit Castora Phoebe,
   Pollucem cultu non Hilaira soror;
non, Idae et cupido quondam discordia Phoebo,
   Eveni patriis filia litoribus;
nec Phrygium falso traxit candore maritum
   avecta externis Hippodamia rotis:
sed facies aderat nullis obnoxia gemmis,
   qualis Apelleis est color in tabulis.
non illis studium vulgo conquirere amantis:
   illis ampla satis forma pudicitia.
non ego nunc vereor ne sim tibi vilior istis:
   uni si qua placet, culta puella sat est;
cum tibi praesertim Phoebus sua carmina donet
   Aoniamque libens Calliopea lyram,
unica nec desit iucundis gratia verbis,
   omnia quaeque Venus, quaeque Minerva probat.
his tu semper eris nostrae gratissima vitae,
   taedia dum miserae sint tibi luxuriae.

Elegy 1.2

I thought of how, when Theseus sailed away,
   On shore the Cretan maiden fainting lay;
I thought of how, free from the precipice,
   Andromede slept first in fearlessness;
Of how, I thought, in Thracian dance fatigued
   The Maenad rests beside th’ Apidian reed;
Just so, I thought, she seemed an ease to breathe,
   Cynthia mine, whose hands her head did wreathe,
While I, still dazed, my drunken footsteps dragged,
   And in my servants’ grip the spent torch sagged;
So then I sought, as yet unvanquishèd,
   To join her with the utmost care in bed:
By double lust inflamed, I felt the call
   Of Love and Bacchus, brutal gods withal,
To stroke her sweetly, let my hand explore,
   Declaring love and thus declaring war;
But I was loath indeed her ease to break
   And thereby risk a wrath I could not slake;
And there I stuck, by indecision torn,
   Like Argus, sentinel of Io’s horn.
So now I pluck the garland from my head
   And tuck it, Cynthia, round your own instead;
And now I braid your hair with pleasure bold,
   And furtively I give you fruit to hold;
I laden you with presents without number,
   Presents which tumble as you stretch in slumber;
While as often as you moaned or sighed,
   I feared the omen could not be denied,
Either that visions spooked your sleeping sense
   Or that you suffered some man’s violence;
Until the moon, now passing into view,
   Which ever would its falling light renew,
With gentle beams her eyelids’ closure broke;
   Then rising on her elbow thus she spoke:
“You've come to bed to groan of your defeat -
   The other girl has left you in the street?
Or where exactly did you waste my time
   In limply watching constellations climb?
Liar, I wish you had to spend your night
   As I do, thanks to you, my lasting plight:
First with my needle I kept sleep at bay
   And then, more tired, played an Orphic lay,
While in my lonesome mind the thought would grate
   How often in relationships you wait
Til slumber bore me to the sleepy spheres;
   And that was how I shut my eyes, in tears."
Qualis Thesea iacuit cedente carina
   languida desertis Cnosia litoribus;
qualis et accubuit primo Cepheia somno
   libera iam duris cotibus Andromede;
nec minus assiduis Edonis fessa choreis
   qualis in herboso concidit Apidano:
talis visa mihi mollem spirare quietem
   Cynthia non certis nixa caput manibus,
ebria cum multo traherem vestigia Baccho,
   et quaterent sera nocte facem pueri.
hanc ego, nondum etiam sensus deperditus omnis,
   molliter impresso conor adire toro;
et quamvis duplici correptum ardore iuberent
   hac Amor hac Liber, durus uterque deus,
subiecto leviter positam temptare lacerto
   osculaque admota sumere et arma manu,
non tamen ausus eram dominae turbare quietem,
   expertae metuens iurgia saevitiae;
sed sic intentis haerebam fixus ocellis,
   Argus ut ignotis cornibus Inachidos.
et modo solvebam nostra de fronte corollas
   ponebamque tuis, Cynthia, temporibus;
et modo gaudebam lapsos formare capillos;
   nunc furtiva cavis poma dabam manibus;
omniaque ingrato largibar munera somno,
   munera de prono saepe voluta sinu;
et quotiens raro duxti suspiria motu,
   obstupui vano credulus auspicio,
ne qua tibi insolitos portarent visa timores,
   neve quis invitam cogeret esse suam:
donec diversas praecurrens luna fenestras,
   luna moraturis sedula luminibus,
compositos levibus radiis patefecit ocellos.
   sic ait in molli fixa toro cubitum:
‘tandem te nostro referens iniuria lecto
   alterius clausis expulit e foribus?
namque ubi longa meae consumpsti tempora noctis,
   languidus exactis, ei mihi, sideribus?
o utinam talis perducas, improbe, noctes,
   me miseram qualis semper habere iubes!
nam modo purpureo fallebam stamine somnum,
   rursus et Orpheae carmine, fessa, lyrae;
interdum leviter mecum deserta querebar
   externo longas saepe in amore moras:
dum me iucundis lapsam sopor impulit alis.
   illa fuit lacrimis ultima cura meis.’