Wednesday, July 26, 2006

at fides et ingeni benigna vena est

Is it just me, or do other people like reading poems in languages they don't understand?

I know it sounds strange, but there's something fascinating about poetry in a foreign language - listening to the pure rhythm of the words, unalloyed with meaning, spotting a familiar word here or there and trying to imagine the rest. It's such fun, for instance, reading Neruda in the original. Or Paz. Or Rilke.

Or, for that matter, this:

Musis amicus tristitiam et metus
tradam protervis in mare Crecitum
portare ventis, quis sub Arcto
rex gelidae metuatur orae,

quid Tiridaten terreat, unice
securus. o quae fontibus integris
gaudes, apricos necte flores,
necte meo Lamiae coronam.

Piplei dulcis! nil sine te mei
prosunt honores: hunc fidibus novis,
hunc Lesbio sacrare plectro
teque tuasque decet sorores.
- Horace. Odes 1.XXVI
I'm giving the translation below, in case you're interested, but seriously - read it. Can't you just hear the rhythm of that first line? Or feel the richness of "apricos necte flores, necte meo Lamiae coronam"? Or the rousing call of "Piplei dulcis!"?

Translation (by Patrick Bronte):

To the wave and the wind, while the muses are kind,
My cares and my sorrows I'll fling;
Nor e'er with the question will trouble my mind
Of the snow-covered north, who is king:
Or what is the dread, o'er the Parthian's head -
That the shades of misfortune may bring.

O, Goddess divine, the first of the Nine,
Who lovest the fountain clear,
A garland of spring's sweetest offering twine
For the brows of my Lamia dear,
Since oh! without Thee honour to me
Nor pleasure nor profit can bear!

Thou and they sisters, his praises to sing,
Once more awaken the Lesbian string!

P.S. Am going to be travelling the next few days, so may not be updating my blog. See you next week.


MockTurtle said...

Not sure I share your appreciation for foreign language art (poetry/music etc).
When I hear a song in a language I don't understand, I always have the sneaky suspicion that the singer is crooning "...well, my stomach was really upset this morning, so I kicked my wife in the head and told her 'Bitch! Get me some breakfast!'..." or words to that effect. Not knowing makes me assume the worst.

Space Bar said...

What an amazing coincidence! I just put up Horace on my blog a few days ago!

But I know exactly what you mean--to stay with Horace-- you don't need a translation to know the power of "Eheu fugaces, postumus, postumus." Time's winged chariot!

The Black Mamba said...

totally! It is like entering a whole different world. Its not just the language, its the completely unique set of experiences and expressions a poet from a different time or place can bring.

the attraction for me is more than the language, its the ability to peer into a fantasy world and still see the same feelings in there.

dazedandconfused said...

I was going to comment, "It's probably just you, Falstaff", but looks like I would have been wrong.

I tried to read and get that rhythm you were talking about but was not sure if I was pronouncing the words correctly.

Maybe you should put it on the Po-tre blog and give us a link to the recital...

Anonymous said...

I get the same feeling when listening to ancient chants in Sanskrit sometimes. Its not all alien- but the rhythm and flow of the words, chanted by two or three hypnotic deep voices just reaches down and grabs you by.. the throat of your soul.

mk said...

I don’t know about poetry in foreign languages, but this happens to me when listening to film songs in Tamil (bummer..), a language I don’t speak but certain words of which I understand. And ofcourse there is meaning from the music and the different registers in the singer’s voices(Minmini’s voice singing Chinna chinna asai comes to mind, the sweet wistfulness she musters..*sigh*). But what happens is , saddled with these half-meanings, I make up a far more beautiful rest than what the words really mean. So then when I get someone to translate it for me, there is inevitable disappointment and disbelief, “ yeah? THAT is what it means? yeah? Oh…”
I didn’t want to know.

Kingsley said...

Most of the convent crowd don't even notice the words of our film music. But it takes special courage to read poems in languages you don't understand. The closest I can think of is how I like reading Sangam poetry though I can't understand a lot of it.

ironyofdparadox said...

Eso es tan verdad! Great post. Foreign languages never cease to amaze me. Especially those that take on sounds… I may not get it right but the exotic enunciations are music to my ears.
More so, in verse when:
A low hum…
an echo, a gentle breeze
reverberates through
the lilting branches of
a sentence and
creates the sort of
music that
I can give meaning
to with my mouth,
my ears,
my understanding.
Yes, it’s true…
You don’t have to
know the language
to read between
the rhymes.

30in2005 said...

It's just you.

I like listening to music in other languages but petry just puts me off when I ahve no clue whats being said!

Prat said...

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo..
I know just what you mean. Its beautiful and sensual.
Eliot. Prufrock, ofcourse!

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M. said...

I agree, there is something beautiful in listening to poetry inn a language you don't undertand - you get to appreciate the musicality of the poem, without any cognitive input, a bit like the experience of listening to music, I suppose.

Horace and other Roman poets can be heard read loud on the Latinum podcast, in the original Latin.