TRISTIA 1.7 NASO BURNS HIS BOOKS
Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) trans. Jo Balmer (from Latin)

Si quis habes nostri similes in imagine uultus,
deme meis hederas, Bacchica serta, comis.
ista decent laetos felicia signa poetas:
temporibus non est apta corona meis.
hoc tibi dissimula, senti tamen, optime, dici,
in digito qui me fersque refersque tuo,
effigiemque meam fuluo complexus in auro
cara relegati, quae potes, ora uides.
quae quotiens spectas, subeat tibi dicere forsan
'quam procul a nobis Naso sodalis abest!'
grata tua est pietas, sed carmina maior imago
sunt mea, quae mando qualiacumque legas,
carmina mutatas hominum dicentia formas,
infelix domini quod fuga rupit opus.
haec ego discedens, sicut bene multa meorum,
ipse mea posui maestus in igne manu.
utque cremasse suum fertur sub stipite natum
Thestias et melior matre fuisse soror,
sic ego non meritos mecum peritura libellos
imposui rapidis uiscera nostra rogis:
uel quod eram Musas, ut crimina nostra, perosus,
uel quod adhuc crescens et rude carmen erat.
quae quoniam non sunt penitus sublata, sed extant
(pluribus exemplis scripta fuisse reor),
nunc precor ut uiuant et non ignaua legentem
otia delectent admoneantque mei.
nec tamen illa legi poterunt patienter ab ullo,
nesciet his summam siquis abesse manum.
ablatum mediis opus est incudibus illud,
defuit et coeptis ultima lima meis.
et ueniam pro laude peto, laudatus abunde,
non fastiditus si tibi, lector, ero.
hos quoque sex uersus, in prima fronte libelli
si praeponendos esse putabis, habe:
'orba parente suo quicumque uolumina tangis,
his saltem uestra detur in urbe locus.
quoque magis faueas, non haec sunt edita ab ipso,
sed quasi de domini funere rapta sui.
quicquid in his igitur uitii rude carmen habebit,
emendaturus, si licuisset, eram.'

Take my laurels, such as you’ve bestowed,
for I am a poet no longer.
Unwreathe the ivy from my stone brow;
sadness veins my verse, lines are sorrowed -
my friends, feel it, and then conceal it,
as you sigh over my signature
for you look on the mark of exile.
‘How many miles,’ you ask, ‘divide us,
our far-away friend, comrade Naso?’
Your dedication is most welcome,
for you find me now, better or verse,
only in my ever-changing forms,
my mercurial Metamorphosis.
Look for quality, though, and not width,
opus interruptus by my flight;
I burnt its books - and all my bridges -
before leaving Rome, on that last night.
Like Althaea, the worst of mothers,
I destroyed my issue, my offspring,
sacrificed that undeserving poem,
threw my own entrails on searing pyre.
Did I hate my Muse, my betrayer,
or my own rough work, verse in progress?
(It still survives, of course, is extant -
some copies have been made, so I think.)
I pray it lives for me, is studied
for me, charms for me, reminds of me.
Yet who’ll read it without misgiving,
unaware revision is missing -
torn from forge before anvil’s finished
not hammered, filed or fine-polished?
So now I don’t seek praise but pardon
(for praise will come with patient readers);
submit six new lines for frontispiece:
‘Take these orphaned books, give them house-room,
grant them, at least, your city’s freedom.
Indulge them the more, unedited,
rescued from fire, their parent’s death-bed -
the small faults he would have corrected,
all of them, had he been permitted.’

Trans. Copyright © Jo Balmer 2009 - publ. Salt Publishing


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