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This Propertius Condemned

In comments to my "500th post" post, below, I have been rightly taken to task for fudging my compliance with Robert's Rules of Double Dactylery.  Yes, it's true, I did omit to incorporate a proper name into the poem, preferably in the second line.  Since the poem was All About Me, I thought I might get away with it.  (The critics have kindly foregone pointing out my egregious misuse of the word "quinquecentennial," which itself is not even the preferred form of The Long Word Meaning Five Hundred Years.  "Quincentennial" is favored, although "quinquecentennial" seems to have been applied pretty consistently to the 500th birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus back in 1973.  But I digress.)

Chastened, I crafted this new one in my head whilst toiling on a cross-training machine last night.  It is unrelated to my 500th post -- that's so several days ago -- but it duly incorporates a proper name to fill out a line of dactylic dimeter.

PropertiusPiners of Rome

Elegant elegist
Sextus Propertius,
Cynthia’s synthesist's
Gone to the ground;

Modernist Ezra sez,
Honing his Homage, “Once
In for a pen, he’s now
In for a Pound.”

For Further Reading

Some quotations from Pound's "Homage to Sextus Propertius" can be found here.

In the Autumn 1993 issue of the Wilson Quarterly, Joseph Brodsky published a lovely essay on Propertius, accompanying a translation of Elegy 7 in Part Four of the Roman's only surviving work, Cynthia Monobiblos, in which the poet's beloved Cynthia visits him from beyond the grave, still smoking a bit from her funeral pyre.  Brodsky's essay is available online, but only if you search hard and are willing to pay for it.  Fortunately, I have kept a copy since I first read it, and can quote the closing paragraph:

I hope that this elegy will whet readers' appetites for Sextus Propertius.  His standing with the American public is either nonexistent or incomprehensibly low.  This may in part have to do with a singular disservice done him by Ezra Pound's 'Homage to Sextus Propertius' -- the moronic pastiche of our eternal sophomore enamored of foreign name dropping.  Largely, though, this is so because, as regards the literature of antiquity, we are the true barbarians.  The shorter shrift we give it, the deeper we bury our imaginations and the greater the desert of the human heart.  Propertius can make it more habitable.  By reading him, we may at least learn what it takes to endure 2,000 years, without being a messiah.  Without the knowledge of what it takes to so endure, our run is bound to be short indeed.

Propertius in the original Latin is available online in several locations: here, for instance.

A complete English prose translation of the elegies is downloadable here, in a variety of formats.  Elsewhere, you can find some rhyming verse translations by Franklin P. Adams, not including IV.7, an unrhymed verse translation of which can be found here [in PDF].


David Giacalone

Nice d-d, GW (around here, of course, one is "in for a pixel, in for a pound").

I sure hope my insistence on following d-d rules won't stifle your poetic inspiration. In fact, I've been thinking that the "to name or not to name" issue may be similar to the "season word" fight in the past few decades in the haiku world -- as described in dagosan's haiku primer:

All classical Japanese haiku and most modern Japanese haiku contain a season-word, many of which are highly stylized (e.g., mentioning a frog refers to spring; mentioning lightning refers to summer). Because all classical Japanese haiku contain a season-word, all classical Japanese haiku have a reference to nature in the poem. Without the season-word and reference to nature, a poem is not haiku in the Japanese tradition, even if it has the exact form as classical haiku. (A Japanese poem with haiku form that refers only to human nature or relationships is called "senryu," not haiku.)

For a few decades, there was a debate over whether English language haiku must also use a translation of one of the Japanese season-words (kigo). There are thousands of them in the Japanese haiku tradition, many of which have no useful point of reference for non-Japanese people. Using English translations of Japanese kigo would obscure the meaning of the poems for speakers of other languages and those living in other climates, with other flora and flauna and geography. Therefore, except for a few English haikuists who feel rabid about needing season-words, it is clear that there is no season-word tradition or rule in English language haiku.

Perhaps you will be the great liberator, Sylvan Fool, breaking away from double dactyl tradition, because -- gosh -- proper names (not to mention rules) are just so out of sync with modern English poetry and the English language.

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