Monday, May 10, 2010

excitusque hilari die

I got married on the May Day weekend. I'm not sure that this is necessarily something that I'd discuss on this academic blog for its own sake. But I thought I would reproduce one of the readings, as it is relevant to the sort of material I have here. We decided on a couple of Classical-themed readings. My wife chose an excerpt from Ursula Le Guin's rewriting of Virgil, Lavinia, about which I've written before. I chose a poem of Catullus - not the wedding epithalamium from which I quote the title of this entry (Poem 61), but Poem 5. Being the sort of person that I am, I wasn't going to be satisfied with using any translation that I could find on my bookshelves or on the 'net (the poem has been much translated and imitated, by the likes of Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh, among others).

Instead, I decided to translate it myself. But I also decided not to do a plain prose translation, but to try to render the Latin verse into English verse. This was quite a challenge. I decided any sort of rhyming structure would be beyond me, but I wanted some sort of structure, rather than just free verse, which would make my translation little different from prose. In the end, the iambic tetrameter seemed the correct metre - a pentameter, more typical in English poetry, would make the lines too long to match the content of each Latin line, and so I would not have the line-for-line translation I wanted. So each thirteen-syllable Latin line is rendered, as best I can, into eight English syllables. Technically, not every line is strictly iambic - the third line certainly opens with a trochee (I evidently remember some Latin scansion!). But a pure iambic rendition would be very difficult, and I am told that part of the effect of English poetry comes from the clash between the stresses of the metrical feet and the natural stresses of the English lines.

There remain some bits, especially towards the end, that I'm not entirely happy with (indeed, I've changed the penultimate line from what was read on the day). But I showed it to my OU colleague Paula James, who knows Catullus far better than I do, and it passed muster with her. And some guests recognised the poem from past experience of it, and at least one thanked me for rescuing it from associations with dreadful school experiences.

So here it is, as read on the day by my dear friend Alison Freebairn, who, in the words of another guest, "gilded [the poem] with a gentle Scottish burr".

Catullus, Poems 5, ad Lesbiam

Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus

Let’s live, my darling, and let’s love.
And let’s not give a monkey’s for
Gossip of mis’rable old men.
The sun sets but can rise again.
But when our brief light fades from view,
We must sleep through an endless night.
Kiss a thousand times, a hundred,
Another thousand, a hundred,
Then yet more thousands, more hundreds.
Then when we’ve kissed many thousands
Of times, let’s lose count, so we won’t
Know how often we’ve kissed, and no
One can harm us with that knowledge.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

General Election

Tomorrow, the UK goes to the polls to elect a new government. Whichever of the main parties wins, the prospects for education, and especially in the Classics, are not good. Both parties are agreed that universities must bear their share of the cuts necessary to take the country out of a recession which was not of the universities' making (nor of the making of most of the sectors of the country that seem to be bearing the brunt of the pain). I did catch Gordon Brown saying how he was dedicated to ensuring that everyone's potential and ambitions in education be fulfilled, but it's pretty clear from the statements of Labour education minister after education minister that if your potential and ambitions lie in the arts or humanities, that doesn't really apply. Nor are the Conservatives likely to be any better, as that sort of narrow-minded utilitarianism is part of Margaret Thatcher's legacy, and too many Conservatives still revere that. I might feel differently were Boris Johnson still Shadow spokesman for Higher Education - for all his buffoonery, he believes in education for its own sake, and the value of the humanities and the necessity for them to be supported. But he isn't.

On a wider scale, I don't really want either of these parties to win. Labour have sunk into the sort of excessive authoritarianism that has ruined many a socialist revolution, whilst the Conservatives remain, under the skin of 'caring Conservatism', dedicated to the self-interest of the rich and powerful. A Labour government will be slightly better than a Tory one, but it is a bit like havoing to decide whether you'd rather have Nero or Caligula as emperor.

The only encouraging thought is that we might be heading towards a hung parliament, and that the Liberal Democrat vote might be sufficient to make the argument for electoral reform unassailable. There is much talk of the danger of a hung parliament, and how it will prevent 'strong government'. Good. Strong government brought us the Poll Tax and the Iraq War. A hung parliament will get us closer to consensus government, rather than the 'elective dictatorship' (Lord Hailsham's phrase, I believe) we have at present. 'Strong government' really only means that a minority of the population can impose its will upon an unwilling majority. If you're wondering why so many people feel disenfranchised, that's why.

In the constituency I live in, only the Liberal Democrat candidate has a hope of displacing the incumbent Tory (who actually is quite a decent bloke). In a proper proportional system, I would probably vote Green (as I do in the Euro elections). As it is, I will vote LibDem, in the hope that this will initiate a change that will allow me to vote Green next time. And I encourage you to do so too.