Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

About the fields and flowery meads,
And all inferior beauteous things,

Like the laborious bee,

For little drops of honey fly, And there with humble sweets contents her industry.' That verse so harmonious, and poetry so splendid, picturesque, and noble as Pindar's, should have been laid so completely on the shelf as it has been in modern times, affords a very remarkable instance of the effect of popular prejudice founded on erroneous criticism. And truly, if to write poems in lines of every diversity of length, without metre or rhythm, without connexion or sense, were to write like Pindar, we think it would be much better to leave the old bard · alone with his glory,' such as it still is, than, by venturing a word in his favour, run the hazard of quickening into increased activity the swarms of poetasters who now annually vent their petty insults upon the English muse :-rhymesters at best, but who cannot rhyme truly, and who, confident in the gifts of nature, care not, or know not, that poetry is an artma most subtle, complicated and difficult art, requiring an ear for, or a sense of, musical harmony, an appreciation of the effect of rhythm upon metre, and an insight into the meaning of the words and power of construction of their native language. But it is the case with the little poets as with the little painters of the day; they are both alike impatient of study, and sacrifice the enduring beauty which results from just proportion, to the momentary effect produced by unnatural contrasts of light and shade. Every season, in the exhibition rooms of London, we see subjects, at which Michael Angelo would have paused, attempted by young men who have positively not learned to draw with ordinary correctness ; while our tiniest rhymesters trip, with unblushing audacity, from the namby-pamby canzonet of your silken · Annual,' or the boyish doggrel of a Magazine Satire, upon themes for the contemplation of which Milton, in the plenitude of his strength, would have girt up his loins with prayer and fasting.

We have been partly led to the consideration of this subject by the appearance of an entire translation of Pindar by Mr. Cary, and the completion of that by the late Mr. Abraham Moore. Both of these versions, differing widely from each other, are valuable additions to the library of English translation. The first is more the work of a poet, the second that of a scholar. Both may be read with advantage by the student, and with pleasure by those unacquainted with Greek; but Cary's is by much the best substitute for Pindar himself. We regret that a few notes, explanatory of the genealogies and local allusions, were not given in this latter version ; at least the date and occasion of each ode, and the name of the person whose victory is commemorated,

ought

ought in all reason to have been prefixed by the translator. These omissions may be supplied upon some future occasion, which, small as the encouragement in the present day is for works of this sort, we hope will not be wanting; and if the few remarks which have occurred to us in resuming our acquaintance with Pindar shall in any degree be found useful in making the true character of his poetry, and the probable principles upon which his odes are constructed, better known, we shall feel gratified with our labour.

That the successful translator of Dante should become a successful translator of Pindar, though a fortune worthy of high congratulation, is not to us either unexpected or unaccountable. For, though it be true that Dante and Pindar were men of very diverse tempers, and the poetry of each exhibits traits of thought and feeling unknown to that of the other, there is, nevertheless, one characteristic by which, as poets, they are in common preeminently distinguished. We mean to say that Dante and Pindar are, in a strict sense of the word, the two most picturesque of the great poets of the world—that they display this power in so remarkably high a degree, that, in spite of all minor discrepancies, both of them must be ranked by the philosophic critic in the same class. In order to guard against mistake, we must add, that by picturesqueness we do not mean a frequency or prominence of mere picturable matter, such as may be found in every ode of Horace, and in almost every song in Metastasio ; for this abundance of matter for painting is often conspicuous in the works of poets in whom the power of painting is signally deficient. We rather intend to mark the natural faculty—which is not acquireable by art—of producing by words a distinct image of outward form or compound action, visible to the mind's eye, and so clearly visible, that the pencil cannot make its outline clearer. As for a single example, take the well-known passage :

· Ella non ci diceva alcuna cosa,
Ma lasciavane gir, solo guardando

A guisa di leon quando si posa.'-Purgatorio, c. vi. v. 64. Or Guidi's image of Rome,

• tacita nel seno
L'orme del ferro e dell'età sofferse;
E talora mirô le sue sventure,
Come leon che con terribil faccia
Guarda le sue ferite, e altrui minaccia.'-

Mathias Comp. Liv. iii. p. 29. Or those few lines

"Αγχι δ'ελθων πολιάς αλός οίος εν όρωνα, άπυεν βαρύκουπον

Ευστρίαιναν

Ευτρίαιναν · δ δ' αυτώ

reg mooi oxsdòv pávn.-Olymp. I. v. 114.
• He came; and by hoar Ocean's flood
Alone in darkness stood;
Then callid, amid the sullen roar,
On him whose trident shook the shore.

Straight at his feet the god appear'd.' --Cary.
Or the picture of Pallas appearing to Bellerophon by night :-

κυαναιγίς εν όρφνα κνώσσονεί οι
παρθένος τόσα είπείν
έδοξεν. ανα δίπαλτορθώ ποδί.

παρκείμενον δε συλλαβών τέρας.-κ. τ. λ. --Olymp. ΧΙΙΙ. ν. 94. • As he in darkness slept,

Thus, to his sight reveal'd,
Waving her azure shield,
The Virgin seem'd to say.
Straight on his feet he leapt;

The wonder seized that near him lay.'-Cary. Or, if we may be excused a further and longer illustration, take the account of Evadne's labour and the birth of Iamus :

A δε φοινικόκροκον

Gávav xarabnxeepéva.—. T. 2.-Olymp. VI. v. 66.
· Her crimson'd girdle down was flung,

The silver ewer beside her laid,
Amid a tangled thicket hung
With canopy of brownest shade;
When forth the glorious babe she brought,
His soul instinct with heavenly thought.
Sent by the golden-tressed god,
Near her the Fates indulgent stood
With Ilithyia mild.
One short sweet pang releas’d the child;
And Iamus sprang forth to light.
A wail she utter'd ; left him then
Where on the ground he lay ;
When straight two dragons came
With
eyes

of azure flame,
By will divine awaked out of their den;
And with the bees' unharmful venom they
Fed him, and nursled thro' the day and night.*
The king meanwhile had come,
From stony Pytho driving; and at home
Did of them all, after the boy, inquire,
Born of Evadne ; .“ for,” he said, “ the sire
Was Phæbus, and that he
Should of earth's prophets wisest be,

And that his generation should not fail.” * Surely • unharmful venom’ is a misleading version of a puslepsã in peshootãy, which means the blameless or pure dew or juice of the bees-honey,

Not

Not to have seen or heard him they avouch'd,
Now five days born. But he, on rushes couch'd,
Was cover'd up in that wide brambly maze,-
His delicate body wet
With yellow and empurpled rays
From many a violet.
And hence his mother bade him claim

For ever this, undying name.'-Cary. The sympathetic sense of the picturesque in poetry, and the power of preserving it in another language, which gave Mr. Cary so much advantage in translating Dante, have insured to him a proportionate success with Pindar. We do not say that his success, taken absolutely, is equal in this his later attempt; and it is not surprising that such should not be the case, the difficulties of adequately rendering Pindar being so much greater. Add to the mere talent or knack of translation which many possess, the generally pure and racy diction, and the strong sense of the picturesque which cannot be denied to Mr. Cary, and you have provided the main qualities of a good translator of Dante. The moral tone and manner of narrative of the Divine Comedy are very easily imitable, as may be inferred by the uniformity, in this one respect, of versions by Hayley, Cary, Byron, and Wright; but the difficulty of executing the terza rima in English is, we think, insurmountable. Perhaps (as we lately had occasion to express our opinion) Mr. Cary showed the soundest judgment in adopting the Miltonic measure—not as like, but as a satisfactory substitute for, the original. Certainly Mr. Wright's double triplets without the third rhyme, which so subtly links together the total rhythmic flow of the Italian, sound to our ears as little like the Dantescan harmony as Cary's blank verse, and not so easy and noble. But, considerable as the difficulty of the terza rima is in the way of a translator of Dante, it is little in comparison with the task of rendering into English the various and complicated movements of Pindar's Odes. The great Florentine marches through the nether, middle, and upper worlds with an even step; learn his pace once, and you may keep up with him always. But it is not so with Pindar; the speed with which he sets out is often enough doubled or trebled before he gets to the end of his course ; eagle of song as he was, and dared to call himself—not the swan, as Horace and Cowley call him-he has all the movements of that imperial bird, now towering right upwards to heaven's gate, now precipitating himself to the earthnow floating with spread wings in the middle ether, and now couching with the setting sun on the gilded battlements of a temple. No poet is so slow-none so rapid; a master of sentences, a

preacher

preacher of piety, an offerer of prayers, he drops word after word
as if he feared the escape of a light phrase in the presence of God;
and with a thought, the string of his tongue is loosened, the fire is
kindled within him, and the verse bursts forth like the gushes of
a virgin fountain, swelling, heaving, falling, but ever increasing ;
the melodies converge, interlace, twist, and unite, till a sound of
many waters arises-a unison of many voices inextricably blended,
yet distinctly perceptible--and the accumulated harmony subdues
the inner and the outer sense, as with the chorus of a distant organ,
or the gentle roar of a dying storm at sea.

" Tres imbris torti radios, tres nubis aquosæ
Addiderat, rutili tres ignis, et alitis Austri.
Fulgores nunc horrificos, sonitumque, metumque

Miscebat operi, flammisque sequacibus iras.'
The metre and rhythm of Dante in the Divine Comedy being
so elaborately opposite to the prevailing movement in Pindar-as
the incessus of Jupiter might be to the impetus of his eagle—it is
obvious that in the mechanism of the verse the translator of Pindar
has to satisfy a very peculiar and very trying demand upon bis
skill. Our English lyric poetry will afford him no adequate
model by which to express any of the longer odes of Pindar in all
the varieties of their movements; the language itself presents no
natural facilities, although we are far from from saying that in the
hands of a master it might not be wrought into the ductility and
continuousness required for the purpose. In the choruses of the
Samson Agonistes, Milton has shown that the lyric manner, which
chiefly prevails in the Greek drama, can be competently preserved
in English. Take for example that solemn and affecting com-
plaint,

• God of our fathers! what is Man,
That Thou towards him with hand so various,
Or might I say contrarious,
Temperest thy providence thro' his short course, -
Not evenly, as Thou rulest
The angelic orders, and inferior creatures mute,

Irrational and brute!' &c. -passing off into this variety of rhythm,

• But who is this, what thing of sea or land-
Female of sex it seems-
That so bedeck'd, ornate, and gay,
Comes this way sailing,
Like a stately ship
Of Tarsus, bound for the isles
Of Javan or Gadire,
With all her bravery on, and tackle trim,
Sails fill'd, and streamers waving,

Courted

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »