Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

you retire into the country, you may now and then amuse yourself with my translation. Should your remarks reach me, I promise faithfully that they shall be all most welcome, not only as yours, but because I am sure my work will be the better for them. With sincere and fervent wishes for your lordship's health and happiness, I remain, my lord, &c. W. C.

The following is Lord Thurlow's reply.

TO WILLIAM COWPER, ESQ.

Dear Cowper—On coming to town this morning, I was surprised particularly at receiving from you an answer to a scrawl I sent Harry, which I have forgot too much to resume now. But I think I could not mean to patronize rhyme. I have fancied that it was introduced to mark the measure in modern languages, because they are less numerous and metrical than the ancient, and the name seems to import as much. Perhaps there was melody in ancient song without straining it to musical notes, as the common Greek pronunciation is said to have had the compass of five parts of an octave. But surely that word is only figuratively applied to modern poetry. Euphony seems to be the highest term it will bear. I have fancied also, that euphony is an impression derived a good deal from habit, rather than suggested by nature; therefore in some degree accidental, and consequently conventional. Else,

[ocr errors]

why can't we bear a drama with rhyme, or the French, one without it 2 Suppose the “Rape of the Lock,” “Windsor Forest,” “L’Allegro,” “Il Penseroso,” and many other little poems which please, stripped of the rhyme, which might easily be done, would they please as well? It would be unfair to treat rondeaus, ballads, and odes in the same manner, because rhyme makes in some sort a part of the conceit. It was this way of thinking which made me suppose that habitual prejudice would miss the rhyme; and that neither Dryden nor Pope would have dared to give their great authors in blank verse. I wondered to hear you say you thought rhyme easier in original compositions; but you explained it, that you could go farther a-field if you were pushed for want of a rhyme. An expression preferred for the sake of the rhyme looks as if it were worth more than you allow. But, to be sure, in translation, the necessity of rhyme imposes very heavy fetters upon those who mean translation, not paraphrase. Our common heroic metre is enough; the pure iambic bearing only a sparing introduction of spondees, trochees, &c., to vary the meaSure. Mere translation I take to be impossible, if no metre were required. But the difference of the iambic and heroic measure destroys that at once. It is also impossible to obtain the same sense from a dead language and an ancient author, which those of his own time and country conceived; words and phrases contract, from time and use, such strong

shades of difference from their original import. In a living language, with the familiarity of a whole life, it is not easy to conceive truly the actual sense of current expressions, much less of older authors. No two languages furnish equipollent words,—their phrases differ, their syntax and their idioms still more widely. But a translation, strictly so called, requires an exact conformity in all those particulars, and also in numbers; therefore it is impossible. I really think at present, notwithstanding the opinion expressed in your preface, that a translator asks himself a good question, How would my author have expressed the sentence I am turning, in English, as literally and fully as the genius, and use, and charac of the language will admit of?

In the passage before us, atta was the fondling expression of childhood to its parent; and to those who first translated the lines, conveyed feelingly that amiable sentiment. T'epate expressed the reverence which naturally accrues to age. Διοτρεφης implies an history. Hospitality was an article of religion ; strangers were supposed to be sent by God, and honoured accordingly. Jove's altar was placed in ξενοδοχειον. Phoenix had been describing that as his situation in the court of Peleus; and his Alotpepes refers to it. But you must not translate that literally

Old daddy Phenix, a God-send for us to maintain.

“ Precious limbs," was at first an expression of great feeling, till vagabonds, draymen, &c., brought upon

it the character of coarseness and ridicule.

It would run to great length, if I were to go through this one speech thus—this is enough for an example of my idea, and to prove the necessity of farther deviation; which still is departing from the author, and justifiable only by strong necessity, such as should not be admitted, till the sense of the original had been laboured to the utmost and been found irreducible.

I will end this by giving you the strictest translation I can invent, leaving you the double task of bringing it closer, and of polishing it into the style of poetry.

Ah Phoenix, aged father, guest of Jove!
I relish no such honours; for my hope
Is to be honour’d by Jove's fated will,
Which keeps me close beside these sable ships,
Long as the breath shall in my bosom stay,
Or as my precious knees retain their spring.
Further, I say—and cast it in your mind!—
Melt not my spirit down by weeping thus,
And wailing, only for that great man's sake,
Atrides: neither ought you love that man,
Lest I should hate the friend I love so well.
With me united, 'tis your nobler part
To gall his spirit who has galled mine.
With reign equal, half my honours share.
These will report; stay you here, and repose
On a soft bed; and with the beaming morn
Consult we, whether to go home, or stay.
Iliad, Book ix.

I have thought that hero has contracted a different sense than it had in Homer's time, and is better rendered great man : but I am aware that the enclitics and other little words, falsely called exple

tives, are not introduced even so much as the genius of our language would admit. The euphony I leave entirely to you. Adieu !

TO THE LORD THURLOW

My Lord—We are of one mind as to the agreeable effect of rhyme, or euphony, in the lighter kinds of poetry. The pieces which your lordship mentions would certainly be spoiled by the loss of it, and so would all such. The “ Alma" would lose all its neatness and smartness, and “ Hudibras" all its humour. But in grave poems of extreme length, I apprehend that the case is different. Long before I thought of commencing poet myself, I have complained, and heard others complain, of the wearisomeness of such poems. Not that I suppose that tedium the effect of rhyme itself, but rather of the perpetual recurrence of the same pause and cadence, unavoidable in the English couplet. I hope, I may say truly, it was not in a spirit of presumption that I undertook to do what, in your lordship's opinion, neither Dryden nor Pope would have dared to do. On the contrary, I see not how I could have escaped that imputation, had I followed Pope in

A closer translation was called for. I verily believed that rhyme had betrayed Pope into his deviations. For me, therefore, to have used his mode of versifying, would have been to expose myself to the same miscarriage, at the same time that I had not his talents to atone for it.

his own way.

« AnteriorContinuar »