Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Overstepping Boundaries: Rectius Vives II:10

Today marks the arrival at the last page of The Bustan بوستان, which my friend Brandon Stone and I have been reading in Persian for the past ten months.  The Bustan—or The Orchard—was written by Saadi, a thirteenth-century Persian poet, in 1257, a year before the Mongols laid waste to that part of the world. A bit of irony this, for the Bustan is a book of civility, of how to act, be ye king or beggar, toward others.

Saadi is beloved in Iran and by Middle-East scholars everywhere. He wrote these lines, which grace the entrance hall of the United Nations:

بنی آدم اعضای یک پیکرند
که در آفرينش ز یک گوهرند
چو عضوى به درد آورد روزگار
دگر عضوها را نماند قرار
تو کز محنت دیگران بی غمی
نشاید که نامت نهند آدمی

The Sons of Adam, members of one face,
are created from one family. 
If ever one member suffers, 
the others will find no rest.
If ever you be without sorrow
for the misery of others
You shall not be called 'of Adam.' 

This is my translation. It is not as ecumenical as the official ones which do not refer to Adam but take the word adam in its usual generic sense to refer to human beings.  I decided to narrow my translation to highlight the double meaning and show that while Saadi was writing universal truths, he was also writing to a largely Muslim audience.

Sometimes the references to the Qur'an and to the Hadith of Muhammad made reading The Bustan rough going. Add to this the fact that Saadi was no lightweight when it came to using difficult words and difficult grammatical constructions. Every line he wrote is pithy, to the point, and quotable for its beauty and grace. 

Saadi, like all poets, stretched the limits of his language. He took advantage of the fact that in Persian many of the rules of grammar can be ignored in order to maintain the meter. This means that poetic meter is king:  grammar — even meaning — must submit to its tyranny.  This doesn't mean that Saadi was unclear. No, it means you have to work harder to understand what he is saying.

This peculiar feature—that grammar is subordinate to meter—is so unlike Latin poetry.  To the Romans grammar was the glue that held the poem together.  With a tight rein on grammar, the poet could move words around, separate adjectives from nouns, verbs from subjects, whatever it took to create the right tone.

When links are broken, when the grammar is ripped apart, it is called hyperbaton (high-PURR-but-on).  The word is Greek and means 'overstepping.' 

Yesterday's poem was filled with it.  Scholars say that hyperbaton added to the effect of the poem, for it has a rushed, helter-skelter feeling to it. Here is the first stanza of the poem color coded to show how the words fit together in the Latin mind. 

Quis  multa gracilis te puer in rosa

perfusus liquidis urget odoribus

     grato, Pyrrha, sub antro?

     cui flauam regligas comam,

The best example of hyperbaton comes in the second stanza. See how the words weave in and out:

aspera nigris aequora ventis

rough black seas winds

The phrase means: 'rough seas by black winds.'

Hyperbaton fascinates me in Latin poetry just as, in Persian poetry, meter- over-grammar fascinates me.  Both are new to me. Both are eye-opening. Both are like the first time I stumbled across a sumi-e painting in black and white or really sat down to listen to jazz. My world opened up to colorless color, to rhythm over melody.

Today is also a good day to talk about Horace's 10th ode in his second book: Rectius Vives—You live more correctly. The ode sounds as if Saadi had written it. It is prescriptive and talks about the aurea mediocritas: 'the golden mediocrity'—I mean 'the golden mean.'  The phrases are aphoristic. They are easily quotable, if you quote Latin to your friends.  What a difference from yesterday's bed of roses. 

I read once that Horace carefully constructed his four books of odes. When I have read more of them, when I have a better grasp on what his work is about, I'll return to Rectius Vives to see how it fits into the wider picture.

My prose rendition will appear tomorrow. Here below is the poem:

Rectius vīvēs, Licinī, neque altum
semper urgendō neque, dum procellās
cautus horrescis, nimium premendō
   lītus inīquum.
auream quisquis mediōcritātem
dīligit, tūtus cāret obsōletī
sordibus tectī, cāret invidendā
   sobrius aulā.
saepius ventīs agitātur ingēns
pīnus et celsae graviōre cāsū
dēcidunt turrēs feriuntque sūmmōs
   fulgura montıs.
spērat infestīs, metuit secundīs
alteram sortem bene praeparātum
pectus. informıs hiemēs redūcit
   Iuppiter, idem
sūmmovet. nōn, sī male nunc, et ōlim
sīc erit: quondam citharā tacentem
suscitat Mūsam neque semper arcum
   tendit Apollō.
rēbus angustīs animōsus atque
fortis appāre; sapienter idem
contrahēs ventō nimium secundō
   turgida vēla.

:: Latin books by James Rumford ::

For all 102 odes purchase Carpe Diem, Horace De-Poetizedfor $11.50 at 

For a Latin translation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at $12, click here: 

To find out more about Carpe Diem go to the blog of March 26, 2015; 
for more about Pericla Thomae Sawyer, go to the blog of November 22, 2016.

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