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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2011

18-and-under, joint second prize

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William Kennaway

In the Jaws of Luxury...

In the jaws of Luxury, the walls of Mars wither.
To your taste, the peacock is trapped and fed –
it is clothed in gilded Babylonian feathers –
and for you, the guinea-fowl; for you, the capon;
even the stork, that dear and foreign guest,
that baby-bringer, that slim-foot clacker.
Winter’s exile, warm weather’s claim to fame,
the bird now builds its idle nest in a cooking pan!
Why costly pearls, why fruits of India?
So your wife can be decorated with seafood
and lift her hooves in a strange man’s horse-blanket?
Why the green emerald, the precious glass?
Why do you need the fires of Carthaginian stones –
unless for honesty to sparkle out of the rubies?
Should the bride clothe herself in woven breeze,
or should she flaunt her nudity in a linen mist?

Translated from the Latin by William Kennaway

In the Jaws of Luxury...

Luxuriae rictu Martis marcent moenia.
Tuo palato clausus pavo pascitur
plumato amictus aureo Babylonico,
gallina tibi Numidica, tibi gallus spado;
ciconia etiam, grata peregrina hospita
pietaticultrix gracilipes crotalistria,
avis exul hiemis, titulus tepidi temporis,
nequitiae nidum in caccabo fecit modo.
Quo margaritam caram tibi, bacam Indicam?
An ut matron ornata phaleris pelagiis
tollat pedes indomita in strato extraneo?
Zmaragdum ad quam rem viridem, pretiosum vitrum?
Quo Carchedonios optas ignes lapideos,
nisi ut scintillet probitas e carbunculis?
Aequum est induere nuptam ventum textile,
Palam prostare nudam in nebula linea?


Translation commentary

I knew from the moment I decided to enter the competition that I would try to choose something ‘off-the-beaten-track’; something I hope to have achieved with my selection of one of the many satirical poems of Satyricon. In approaching the poem my main goal was to preserve the stabbing articulation of the original.

One of the greatest challenges presented by Latin is the way the language can tersely convey ideas which would require many more words in English. For instance, the three words of line 4, ‘pietaticultrix gracilipes crotalistria’, literally mean something like ‘the worshipper of piety, the slender-footed castanet dancer’, which I thought would be far too clunky a translation; by rendering it instead ‘that baby-bringer, that slim-foot clacker’, I think I have been fairly successful in maintaining both the sense and the rapid articulation that is achieved in the Latin, despite drifting a little from the precise meaning of ‘pietaticultrix’.

Line 14 proved particularly troublesome in satisfyingly translating: the phrase ‘nisi ut’ has no precise equivalent in English, so I had to compromise with ‘unless for honesty to shine forth’ for ‘nisi ut scintillet probitas’.

Throughout the poem, the author uses alliteration to add to the pace and impetus of the line of attack: in some cases, like ‘Martis marcent moenia’, ‘the walls of Mars wither’, I was able to replicate this to a degree, but I was unable to translate the repeated ‘p’ sounds of lines 2 and 3. There were also subtleties of word order which had to be lost in translation such as the varied placing of ‘tibi’ in line 4. To compensate for this and other weaknesses I attempted anaphoras that sounded more natural in English: the repeated ‘that’ of lines 5 and 6, for instance, and the ‘why’ of 9, 12, and 13.

William Kennaway