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Translation Samples

In time’s illimitable universe
Nothing is kept forever hidden.  All things
Are drawn from utter darkness, described
With light, then concealed again.  Everything
Is possible – the most fervent oath may
Be broken, the most inflexible will bent.
Even I, who a short time ago was
So tempered with the best steel, so determined,
Have lost my edge because of this woman
And her soft words.  I hesitate to leave
A widow and an orphan son to the mercy
Of my enemies.
                               But now I will go
To the bathing-places and the meadows
By the beach and wash until I have
Cleansed these stains which soil me that I may appease
The anger of the goddess.  Then I will find
Some secluded spot and hide this sword,
Most accursed of all weapons, where no one
Will see it, buried in the earth.  May death
And darkness keep it there forever.  Since
I took this gift from Hector, the greatest
Of my enemies, I have received no good
From the Argives.  How true the old proverb:
An enemy’s gift is not a gift, it brings
With it only grief.
                                If anything,
I have learned to obey the commands
Of our gods and to respect the authority
Of the Atridae.  They are our leaders,
And we, mere subordinates, should submit.
What other way is there?  Neither the dread
Nor the mighty powers are exempt
From this rule.  Thus Winter with her snowy feet
Defers to the warmth of Summer’s roots, and Night,
Tired from his lonely trek, withdraws
Before the white steeds of Day.  After the fierce
Storm-winds have ceased, a calm envelops
The groaning sea.  Even sleep, who makes
Us all her captives, imprisons only
To set free!
                      Should we, then, not learn this wisdom.
I, of all men, know that one must hate
One’s enemies, remembering all the while
That some day they may be his closest friends,
And aid one’s friends as though they soon may
Be numbered among his most treacherous
Enemies.  For to most men friendship is
No haven at all.  But enough!
Go in and pray to the gods to grant
Me my heart’s desire.  And you, my friends,
Do likewise, honor me with your prayers
That I may find peace;  and when Teucer comes
Tell him I have left everything in his hands,
And that he should look after you.  I am going where I must go.
You will hear of me soon:  a happiness
Untouched by misery, unburdened of suffering.

                                                            from Sophocles' Ajax

              from the Uzbek of Alisher Navoiy

Tulip fields blaze the face of my soul’s fire.
Sunsets sear across the sky, touch the earth with fire.
Light radiates through that flesh-façade to essence.
Without fortune and prospect, I ignite with the fire
Of impatience—the guards of prudence have vanished:
My caravan defenseless to the coming fire.
A lightning flash has struck and changed me utterly
As rushes burst and spread in a sea of fire.
Did a whirlwind seize and scatter the flower’s life?
Did heaven’s treachery envelope in fire
The tapering cyprus?  How could you do it:
Unveil your countenance, unleash my passion’s fire?
Understand, Navoiy, I deny my suffering
As the Masandaran forests turned red with fire.

A Plea for Protection
                Translated from the Irish of Muireadach O’Dalaigh, early 13th century.

Fragile hand of youth, highborn, half-Gael,
We, the guests of your clan-house, greet you.
From what far land do they come? You ask,
Who governs?  Listen, no gabble you’ll hear.

Oft times with high powers we’ve quaffed our wine:
Monarch, nobility, God’s own abbot.
We drink a mannered drink without blow
Or buffet; our song a peerless tune.

Each good verse an instrument of touch,
A knob into the tear-catching heart,
The swollen heart, haven of memory.
O bard, O poet, another, they shout.

But need I recount their flattery,
Their praise, number their bountiful gifts.
No.  Others will sing of the heights attained,
Of my feats, my fame—tales you’ll soon hear,

More seemly heard in their songs, not mine.
Just Lord of Leinster, brave protector,
We come to you from under the feet
Of Conn’s children; our flight, we hope, finished.

The anger of Donnel pursues us,
His wrath unbounded.  Yet this stern prince
Of the north would not abandon one,
O Fitzwilliam, who stood bold against you.

The quarrel itself:  too trifling to tell.
I axed a churl, a tithe collector
Who abused my name.  The puffed-up fool!
Should this—mere reflex—sire such enmity?

Lord of Tara, champion our cause.
There is no chessboard without a king,
No bard without a faultless patron.
Your name will be famous forever.

From the five provinces they will come,
The best poets of the Gaelic race,
For I am Muireadhach, bard of Meath.
Do not doubt:  my verses are heeded.