Springfall

  

How did he get there?  He simply went

through the weightless throng

of ghostsjust brushed his way through

the way you might brush through a dream

except then you’d wake up, and he

if he woke up woke up far

from the waking world.

This is no dream, is what he said, I am

not here to grapple with monsters, I am here

to reverse the death of my wife

if even here, surely, love

has some dominion, here being where

we all, sooner or later, ready or not, will

arrive home. 

And perhaps it was that word home

or perhaps it was the way he sang the word

that eased the suffering of all

the bloodless throngbloodless yet

not without tears, without thirst

for a spell but not without sorrow, for

a spellin a pause

that was not the pause you might think

death would be, but was more

like love itself.

And so Orpheus was allowed

to lead Eurydice on the upwards path

in the silence and the stillness,

in the darkness in which

fog made shadows that were darker

still than the dark, until he surely

could have seen nothing

if he looked backwards whether

Eurydice were there or

already nothing but the receding air

that Orpheus was clutching at

and would yearn forif not

forever, for three years

of the life he carried on living

as a kind of afterlife.

And then, after three years

were up, with all that turning of the earth

in and out of the spring-time, all

those blossoms forming, fruit

falling, the forgiving snow covering

and uncovering the dirty earth,

the Milky Way a shimmering ditch

in the light of each returning

moon, he transferred his love,

Ovid tells us, to young boys in

their brief springtime, their

early flowering, as if this

could be counted a kind of fidelity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunlit

 

Not so much the moment of reaching out and grasping

an already dissolving shadow, but the time of bewildering

sunshine, afterwards

 

not so much the moment when, overcast

in doubt, he turned around to look back, but the time

afterwards, when he found himself, dazzled

 

thrown back, gasping

on time’s banks

 

not so much the moment when he held death

spell-bound, but the time, afterwards, of sunshine

without shade, when only his singing

 

brought shade to the sunshine, the way time

will bring trees to an unshaded bank, and in every tree

he saw someone trapped, not gasping

 

but grasped now deep

within time’s stilled growth-rings

 

but not so much the moment when a boy

or is he a girlhardens within the trunk of a pine tree

but the moment before, the moment of disbelieving despair

 

not so much the moment when a boy’s blood turns to tears

and he dissolves into mourning as a cypress, but

the shock when he found his own loved stag brought down

 

by his own spear, the flowers he’d picked still

wilting on the antlers

 

not so much the moment when a boyor he who was once

a boyrises as a hyacinth in spring, but the moment

when his life was so suddenly cut away from under him

 

not so much the moment when the soil grew up over

the shins of a girl wracked with guilt, her toes lengthening

into roots, her bones strengthening into branches

 

but the time of stumbling into sin, three times

tripping over her own feet

 

not so much the rolling apples as the first stirring of desire

 

not so much the tame lions as the frenzied boar

 

not so much the singing

 

not so much the poetry

 

not so much the wild animals venturing closer

and then thronging around him, not so much the trees

becoming forest, the stones rolling into a new elevation

 

but the women, drawn to him not by his poetry but by

each other’s indignation, each feeling spurned by him not

on her own account but on account of her sisters

 

like birds who spy an owl awake

in the daylight

 

but not so much this moment and not even the moment 

when, like birds caught in a snare, the women found themselves

rooted into the story, and not the moment when the head

 

of Orpheus, separated from his strewn limbs, floated off

downstream, still singing, unless that was the strings of the lyre

with the river running through it, or the river itself....

 

but this moment, already slipping away

 

and now, this...

 

and now, this...



Original ↓

Met. 10.1-85

 

Inde per inmensum croceo velatus amictu
aethera digreditur Ciconumque Hymenaeus ad oras
tendit et Orphea nequiquam voce vocatur.
adfuit ille quidem, sed nec sollemnia verba
nec laetos vultus nec felix attulit omen.               
fax quoque, quam tenuit, lacrimoso stridula fumo
usque fuit nullosque invenit motibus ignes.
exitus auspicio gravior: nam nupta per herbas
dum nova Naiadum turba comitata vagatur,
occidit in talum serpentis dente recepto.               
quam satis ad superas postquam Rhodopeius auras
deflevit vates, ne non temptaret et umbras,
ad Styga Taenaria est ausus descendere porta
perque leves populos simulacraque functa sepulcro
Persephonen adiit inamoenaque regna tenentem               
umbrarum dominum pulsisque ad carmina nervis
sic ait: 'o positi sub terra numina mundi,
in quem reccidimus, quicquid mortale creamur,
si licet et falsi positis ambagibus oris
vera loqui sinitis, non huc, ut opaca viderem               
Tartara, descendi, nec uti villosa colubris
terna Medusaei vincirem guttura monstri:
causa viae est coniunx, in quam calcata venenum
vipera diffudit crescentesque abstulit annos.
posse pati volui nec me temptasse negabo:               
vicit Amor. supera deus hic bene notus in ora est;
an sit et hic, dubito: sed et hic tamen auguror esse,
famaque si veteris non est mentita rapinae,
vos quoque iunxit Amor. per ego haec loca plena timoris,
per Chaos hoc ingens vastique silentia regni,               
Eurydices, oro, properata retexite fata.
omnia debemur vobis, paulumque morati
serius aut citius sedem properamus ad unam.
tendimus huc omnes, haec est domus ultima, vosque
humani generis longissima regna tenetis.               
haec quoque, cum iustos matura peregerit annos,
iuris erit vestri: pro munere poscimus usum;
quodsi fata negant veniam pro coniuge, certum est
nolle redire mihi: leto gaudete duorum.'
     Talia dicentem nervosque ad verba moventem               
exsangues flebant animae; nec Tantalus undam
captavit refugam, stupuitque Ixionis orbis,
nec carpsere iecur volucres, urnisque vacarunt
Belides, inque tuo sedisti, Sisyphe, saxo.
tunc primum lacrimis victarum carmine fama est               
Eumenidum maduisse genas, nec regia coniunx
sustinet oranti nec, qui regit ima, negare,
Eurydicenque vocant: umbras erat illa recentes
inter et incessit passu de vulnere tardo.
hanc simul et legem Rhodopeius accipit heros,                
ne flectat retro sua lumina, donec Avernas
exierit valles; aut inrita dona futura.
carpitur adclivis per muta silentia trames,
arduus, obscurus, caligine densus opaca,
nec procul afuerunt telluris margine summae:               
hic, ne deficeret, metuens avidusque videndi
flexit amans oculos, et protinus illa relapsa est,
bracchiaque intendens prendique et prendere certans
nil nisi cedentes infelix arripit auras.
iamque iterum moriens non est de coniuge quicquam               
questa suo (quid enim nisi se quereretur amatam?)
supremumque 'vale,' quod iam vix auribus ille
acciperet, dixit revolutaque rursus eodem est.
     Non aliter stupuit gemina nece coniugis Orpheus,
quam tria qui timidus, medio portante catenas,               
colla canis vidit, quem non pavor ante reliquit,
quam natura prior saxo per corpus oborto,
quique in se crimen traxit voluitque videri
Olenos esse nocens, tuque, o confisa figurae,
infelix Lethaea, tuae, iunctissima quondam               
pectora, nunc lapides, quos umida sustinet Ide.
orantem frustraque iterum transire volentem
portitor arcuerat: septem tamen ille diebus
squalidus in ripa Cereris sine munere sedit;
cura dolorque animi lacrimaeque alimenta fuere.                
esse deos Erebi crudeles questus, in altam
se recipit Rhodopen pulsumque aquilonibus Haemum.
     Tertius aequoreis inclusum Piscibus annum
finierat Titan, omnemque refugerat Orpheus
femineam Venerem, seu quod male cesserat illi,               
sive fidem dederat; multas tamen ardor habebat
iungere se vati, multae doluere repulsae.
ille etiam Thracum populis fuit auctor amorem
in teneros transferre mares citraque iuventam
aetatis breve ver et primos carpere flores. 

 

Met. 11.1-84

 

Carmine dum tali silvas animosque ferarum
Threicius vates et saxa sequentia ducit,
ecce nurus Ciconum tectae lymphata ferinis
pectora velleribus tumuli de vertice cernunt
Orphea percussis sociantem carmina nervis.               
e quibus una leves iactato crine per auras,
'en,' ait 'en, hic est nostri contemptor!' et hastam
vatis Apollinei vocalia misit in ora,
quae foliis praesuta notam sine vulnere fecit;
alterius telum lapis est, qui missus in ipso              
aere concentu victus vocisque lyraeque est
ac veluti supplex pro tam furialibus ausis
ante pedes iacuit. sed enim temeraria crescunt
bella modusque abiit insanaque regnat Erinys;
cunctaque tela forent cantu mollita, sed ingens               
clamor et infracto Berecyntia tibia cornu
tympanaque et plausus et Bacchei ululatus
obstrepuere sono citharae, tum denique saxa
non exauditi rubuerunt sanguine vatis.
ac primum attonitas etiamnum voce canentis               
innumeras volucres anguesque agmenque ferarum
maenades Orphei titulum rapuere triumphi;
inde cruentatis vertuntur in Orphea dextris
et coeunt ut aves, si quando luce vagantem
noctis avem cernunt, structoque utrimque theatro               
ceu matutina cervus periturus harena
praeda canum est, vatemque petunt et fronde virentes
coniciunt thyrsos non haec in munera factos.
hae glaebas, illae direptos arbore ramos,
pars torquent silices; neu desint tela furori,               
forte boves presso subigebant vomere terram,
nec procul hinc multo fructum sudore parantes
dura lacertosi fodiebant arva coloni,
agmine qui viso fugiunt operisque relinquunt
arma sui, vacuosque iacent dispersa per agros               
sarculaque rastrique graves longique ligones;
quae postquam rapuere ferae cornuque minaces
divulsere boves, ad vatis fata recurrunt
tendentemque manus et in illo tempore primum
inrita dicentem nec quicquam voce moventem               
sacrilegae perimunt, perque os, pro Iuppiter! illud
auditum saxis intellectumque ferarum
sensibus in ventos anima exhalata recessit.
     Te maestae volucres, Orpheu, te turba ferarum,
te rigidi silices, te carmina saepe secutae               
fleverunt silvae, positis te frondibus arbor
tonsa comas luxit; lacrimis quoque flumina dicunt
increvisse suis, obstrusaque carbasa pullo
naides et dryades passosque habuere capillos.
membra iacent diversa locis, caput, Hebre, lyramque               
excipis: et (mirum!) medio dum labitur amne,
flebile nescio quid queritur lyra, flebile lingua
murmurat exanimis, respondent flebile ripae.
iamque mare invectae flumen populare relinquunt
et Methymnaeae potiuntur litore Lesbi:               
hic ferus expositum peregrinis anguis harenis
os petit et sparsos stillanti rore capillos.
tandem Phoebus adest morsusque inferre parantem
arcet et in lapidem rictus serpentis apertos
congelat et patulos, ut erant, indurat hiatus.               
[...]
     Non inpune tamen scelus hoc sinit esse Lyaeus
amissoque dolens sacrorum vate suorum
protinus in silvis matres Edonidas omnes,
quae videre nefas, torta radice ligavit;               
quippe pedum digitos via, quam tum est quaeque secuta,
traxit et in solidam detrusit acumina terram,
utque suum laqueis, quos callidus abdidit auceps,
crus ubi commisit volucris sensitque teneri,
plangitur ac trepidans adstringit vincula motu:               
sic, ut quaeque solo defixa cohaeserat harum,
exsternata fugam frustra temptabat, at illam
lenta tenet radix exsultantemque coercet,
dumque ubi sint digiti, dum pes ubi, quaerit, et ungues,
aspicit in teretes lignum succedere suras                
et conata femur maerenti plangere dextra
robora percussit, pectus quoque robora fiunt,
robora sunt umeri; nodosaque bracchia veros
esse putes ramos, et non fallare putando. 

Translator's Note

I began working on a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book 10, to fully grasp the context of the phrase serius aut citius sedem properamus ad unam ("we all, sooner or later, ready or not, will / arrive home"), which I had borrowed for a work of fiction including a classics-loving student and a family very much aware of mortality while also hurrying, seriously and hastily, towards one drama after another.[1] The poem “Springfall” which was the result of this translation work is itself, perhaps, not so much a translation as an improvisation or a retelling, picking out a few highlighted detailsthe idea that Orpheus would be expected to travel into death to grapple with monsters, rather than search for his lost love; the idea of his pleaor songlifting, for a moment, the tortures of the damned; the shadowy fog on the path Eurydice is on before Orpheus turns to look for her in a darkness in which he surely couldn’t have seen her. 

The same words in English"shades" or "shadows"could be used for both the shadows and the ghosts, suggesting Eurydice is herself already a shadow inside shadows. Ian Johnston, for instance, has Orpheus seek the sympathy of “the shades below” though he uses “spirit” for Eurydice herself; Henry Riley has Eurydice emerge from amongst the recent “shades”; the Wikisource version describes her as a “shadow” amongst “shadows.” I also looked at A.S. Kline's translations.[2] Since Ovid uses different words for the different forms of shadowumbra for the ghosts themselves (lines 12 and 48), but obscurus, caligine densus, opaca (line 54) to describe the shadowiness of the densely fog-shadowed path Orpheus travels with Eurydice out of the underworld, I too left that suggestive idea out of this particular version. Instead, I was interested in particular in the lines 83 -85 attributing to Orpheus the origins of the Thracian practice of older men turning to younger boys for love. Stopping the translation short, at this point, emphasizes a detail that can too easily be passed over, and, in any case, does take us to one kind of ending to the story of Orpheus’s famous fidelity to his wife, even after her death. 

“Sunlit” returns to the story of Orpheus as Ovid continues it in Book 10 of the Metamorphoses and into Book 11, by way of the stories Orpheus himself is said to be telling, or singing, after his return to the sunlight (and here it is the same word umbra that he uses for ghosts, including the ghost Eurydice, that Ovid uses to describe the lack of shade, or shadows, on the sunlit bank where Orpheus finds himself when he leaves the underworld, or the world of death). This poemthis translation, or condensation, or version of the originallooks explicitly at the way all translations, and particularly all condensations or retellings, make choices about which details to emphasize, which to suppress. 

These are stories of transformation that are full of incidental detail, the details leading up to a transformation which both is the story, and cuts the story short. Narrative time is so vivid and pressing as events lead up to the transformation, then stops as the transformation turns a character into a symbol, a life into a tableau. Picking out those contrasting elements gave me a pattern to the poem that in itself felt beautiful, like a song, and significant in the way it spoke to a sense of time and our relation to time. It speaks too, I hope, to the relation between time and interpretation. Texts are both fixed and historical, interesting because of the way they offer a strange window onto an earlier time, and, at the same time, always belong also to the moment in which they are read, with every interpretation arising out of a cultural moment as specific as the moment in which they were written. The Maenads, in the poem, who attack Orpheus for spurning them, lend themselves very readily to an interpretation of them as symbolic of interpretation, just as the head of Orpheus, when it continues to sing after it is severed from his body, seems an obvious symbol for the persistence of the song after the death of the author. The song is never still but always on the move, as time is always on the move, so that even this moment of writing, this moment of reading, is already slipping away.


[1] It is a story about love and a story about home, and I was interested in the way Ovid places both love and homecoming within the realm of death. The work of fiction remains a work in progress. A draft of the first chapter can be read here.

[2] References are to these translations: Ian Johnston (2013), Henry Riley (1893), A.S. Kline (2000), and the Wikisource translation.


Anna Jackson

×

In the Classroom

×