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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2010

18-and-under, commended

Read the judges’ comments
To obtain the free booklet of winning entries and commentaries,
please email: info@stephenspender.org


Caitlin Spencer

Amores 1.12
by Ovid


Mourn for my misfortunes: the dismal tablets have returned
With the wretched message saying she is unavailable today.
It seems there is something in omens: just now as Nape was leaving
She caught her toes on the threshold and stumbled.
Now that you are sent out again, remember to cross the doorway
Cautiously and to soberly lift your foot high.
Be off with you, surly tablets, firewood fit only for funerals
And you, wax crammed with refusing marks which,
I suppose, a Corsican bee collected from the long-stemmed hemlock flower
And sent here in its infamously bitter honey.
You were even coloured red, as if dyed deeply with cinnabar,
But that colour was in truth the colour of blood.
Lie banished at the crossroads, useless firewood
And let passing wheels roll over and shatter you.
As for the man who changed you from a tree into a useful object,
I shall prove that he did not have pure hands;
That tree offered gallows for a wretched neck,
It supplied harsh crosses for the executioner.
It gave disgraceful shelter to raucous horned owls
And bore in its branches the eggs of vultures and screech-owls.
Did I insanely entrust my love to these tablets?
Did I give them messages of love to be carried to my mistress?
It would be more fitting for these waxed surfaces to bear babbling lawsuits
For some attorney to announce in strict tones;
It would be better for them to lie amongst the records and tablets
In which a miser mourned for his ruined wealth.
Thus I judge you, double tablets, to be also double-crossing:
Even your number is not well-omened.
What shall I pray for in my anger but that withering age will gnaw you
While your wax grows white with filthy decay?

Translated from the Latin by Caitlin Spencer
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Amores 1.12


Flete meos casus: tristes rediere tabellae;
infelix hodie littera posse negat.
omina sunt aliquid: modo cum discedere uellet,
ad limen digitos restitit icte Nape.
missa foras iterum limen transire memento
cautius atque alte sobria ferre pedem.
ite hinc, difficiles, funebria ligna, tabellae,
tuque, negaturis cera referta notis,
quam, puto, de longae collectam flore cicutae
melle sub infami Corsica misit apis.
at tamquam minio penitus medicata rubebas:
ille color uere sanguinulentus erat.
proiectae triuiis iaceatis, inutile lignum,
uosque rotae frangat praetereuntis onus.
illum etiam, qui uos ex arbore uertit in usum,
conuincam puras non habuisse manus;
praebuit illa arbor misero suspendia collo,
carnifici diras praebuit illa cruces;
illa dedit turpes raucis bubonibus umbras,
uolturis in ramis et strigis oua tulit.
his ego commisi nostros insanus amores
molliaque ad dominam uerba ferenda dedi?
aptius hae capiant uadimonia garrula cerae,
quas aliquis duro cognitor ore legat;
inter ephemeridas melius tabulasque iacerent.
in quibus absumptas fleret auarus opes.
ergo ego uos rebus duplices pro nomine sensi:
auspicii numerus non erat ipse boni.
quid precer iratus, nisi uos cariosa senectus
rodat, et inmundo cera sit alba situ?

Ovid
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Translation commentary


Whilst reading Ovid’s Amores, this particular poem stood out to me as it takes a universal emotion – anger and frustration at being disappointed – but plays upon this idea, exaggerating it to such an extent that it becomes almost comical. I therefore chose this poem to translate because I felt I could relate to the melodramatic feelings of the persona but also to Ovid’s satire.

One issue with translating Latin is that not all words have a straightforward English equivalent (like mollia. The same is true of concepts, such as the dual tablets being as duplicitous as their name. In such cases I therefore translated more freely than in other places in order to convey the original idea effectively.

This poem also provoked the question of whether to translate tabellae as ‘tablets’ or to use a modern substitute. I decided to retain the direct meaning to keep translation closer to the original and since the words are very alike, it will sound more like the Latin word than an alternative would.

When approaching this poem, I tried to keep the structure and syntax reasonably comparable in order to retain original emphasis upon words. I did not try to use a regular metre like Ovid, as I felt the language was more important and I preferred to keep the translation close to the original. I also felt that a metre was unnecessary for a modern translation; in Ovid’s time it was standard but nowadays free verse is extremely common.

I did however try to acknowledge stylistic features like repetition: I used ‘mourn’ both times for Flete/fleret although I did vary my translation of praebuit to fit the imagery more effectively. Overall, I tried to recreate the impression of Ovid’s non-serious and witty tone by mimicking his exaggeration and hyperbole.

Caitlin Spencer
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