TRISTIA 1.11 NASO SEES THE END OF THE BEGINNING
Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) trans. Jo Balmer (from Latin)

Littera quaecumque est toto tibi lecta libello,
est mihi sollicito tempore facta viae.
aut haec me, gelido tremerem cum mense Decembri,
scribentem mediis Hadria vidit aquis;
aut, postquam bimarem cursu superavimus Isthmon,
alteraque est nostrae sumpta carina fugae,
quod facerem versus inter fera murmura ponti,
Cycladas Aegaeas obstipuisse puto.
ipse ego nunc miror tantis animique marisque
fluctibus ingenium non cecidisse meum.
seu stupor huic studio sive est insania nomen,
omnis ab hac cura cura levata mea est.
saepe ego nimbosis dubius iactabar ab Haedis,
saepe minax Steropes sidere pontus erat,
fuscabatque diem custos Atlantidos Ursae,
aut Hyadas seris hauserat Auster aquis,
saepe maris pars intus erat; tamen ipse trementi
carmina ducebam qualiacumque manu.
nunc quoque contenti stridunt Aquilone rudentes,
inque modum cumuli concava surgit aqua.
ipse gubernator tollens ad sidera palmas
exposcit votis, inmemor artis, opem.
quocumque aspexi, nihil est nisi mortis imago,
quam dubia timeo mente timensque precor.
attigero portum, portu terrebor ab ipso:
plus habet infesta terra timoris aqua;
nam simul insidiis hominum pelagique laboro,
et faciunt geminos ensis et unda metus.
ille meo vereor ne speret sanguine praedam,
haec titulum nostrae mortis habere velit.
barbara pars laeva est avidaeque adsueta rapinae,
quam cruor et caedes bellaque semper habent,
cumque sit hibernis agitatum fluctibus aequor,
pectora sunt ipso turbidiora mari.
quo magis his debes ignoscere, candide lector,
si spe sunt, ut sunt, inferiora tua.
non haec in nostris, ut quondam, scripsimus hortis,
nec, consuete, meum, lectule, corpus habes.
iactor in indomito brumali luce profundo
ipsaque caeruleis charta feritur aquis.
improba pugnat hiems indignaturque quod ausim
scribere se rigidas incutiente minas.
vincat hiems hominem! sed eodem tempore, quaeso,
ipse modum statuam carminis, illa sui.

In every tense, each letter of this first chapter,
youíll find my hand, rough passage of its begetter;
the Adriatic bears witness to my scribbling
through ice-hard December, frostbitten, shivering.
And then, as we proceeded through sea-pinched Isthmus -
by now on the next of exileís several ships -
the fact that oceanís boom gave me inspiration,
astounded, I believe, isles of the Aegean
(Iím amazed, too, that in depths of sea - and spirit -
productivity did not weaken, far from it).
Call it madness, maybe numbness, I canít explain,
except I know all pain was lightened by such pains.
Beneath the Plough we were tossed on storm-dark furrows,
under Pleiadesí glowering star we were cowed.
BŲotes gathered in lowering clouds, darkened days
of the Bear; southern squalls drained skies of late-year rains
until ocean became ship, ship became ocean,
still I trembled over verses - of a fashion.
Now, once again, sail-ropes shriek, stretched taut by sailor
and a mountain rises, surge of curving water.
Even the helmsman is praying, hands held to heaven,
pleading, all skill forgotten, for his salvation.
Iím looking on the face of death, its breath, pallor -
the death I fear and, in fear, the death I pray for.
For if we should reach port, port holds yet more terror
ship or shore, all that awaits me now is horror:
Iím caught between the devils and the deep blue sea -
sword and spume both terrify, allied enemies
(weapons seek my life as their fair share of booty,
waters think my death might confer celebrity).
Ahead wait blood-soaked bandits on a hostile shore,
cut-throats seeped in slaughter, cruelty, constant war.
And now, as the waters are stirred by wintry swells,
my heart grows more turbulent than the sea itself.
So grant me your true indulgence here, dear reader,
if these lines should prove less than youíd hoped - as they are.
For theyíre no longer written in shady gardens
where my soft couch offered support, contemplation,
but drawn from the deep at ebb of the dying year
as salt-spray blots my page, dark cerulean blur.
The brutal storm roars on, outraged that I presume
to write in its threat, such uncompromising gloom.
To the storms the spoils: let this be an end to it -
an end to it all: poem first and then poet.

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


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