Monday, October 14, 2013

Juxtapositions: Ovid and Sexton

Gian Lorenzo Bernini: "Apollo e Dafne" (1625)

Ovid: Metamorphoses 1.533-552 (translation mine)
[Apollo chases Daphne, who is transformed into a laurel tree]

like when a Gaulish dog sees a hare in an empty field
and the dog seeks its prey on fleet feet, the prey its health:
the dog, as if about to catch it, hopes that now and now he's got it
and grazes its footprints with his outstretched muzzle;
the hare, uncertain whether it's already caught, is snatched
away from his bites, and leaves behind his gnashing jaws—
such are the god and the girl: he fleet with hope, she with fear.
But the hunter's helped by the arrows of Love.
He's faster, and needs no rest, and looms over the back
of she who flees, and his panting scatters the hair on the nape of her neck.
Her strength exhausted, she pales, defeated by the work
of her driven flight; watching the waves of the river Peneus,
she calls, "Help me, father! If the streams have any power,
destroy this face with which I pleased too much by changing it!"
Her prayer was barely finished when a heavy torpor seized her joints,
her soft chest belted with thin bark,
her hair grows into leafy limbs, her arms into sturdy branches,
her feet (just now so fast) stick to sluggish roots—
the treetop has a face: a single sparkle stays there.

Where I Live in This Honorable House of the Laurel Tree
Anne Sexton (1960) 

I live in my wooden legs and O
my green green hands.
Too late
to wish I had not run from you, Apollo,
blood moves still in my bark bound veins.
I, who ran nymph foot to root in flight,
have only this late desire to arm the trees
I lie within. The measure that I have lost
silks my pulse. Each century the trickeries
of need pain me everywhere.
Frost taps my skin and I stay glossed
in honor for you are gone in time. The air
rings for you, for that astonishing rite
of my breathing tent undone within your light.
I only know how this untimely lust has tossed
flesh at the wind forever and moved my fears
toward the intimate Rome of the myth we crossed.
I am a first of my unease
as I spill toward the stars in the empty years.
I build the air with the crown of honor; it keys
my out of time and luckless appetite.
You gave me honor too soon, Apollo.
There is no one left who understands
how I wait
here in my wooden legs and O
my green green hands.


Other juxtapositions:
Sappho and Philip Sidney
George Herbert and John Berryman 
Walt Whitman and WisÅ‚awa Szymborska 

Click below to read the Latin version. (And who wouldn't want to?)

The Latin version (for those who care):

ut canis in vacuo leporem cum Gallicus arvo
vidit, et hic praedam pedibus petit, ille salutem;
alter inhaesuro similis iam iamque tenere               535
sperat et extento stringit vestigia rostro,
alter in ambiguo est, an sit conprensus, et ipsis
morsibus eripitur tangentiaque ora relinquit:
sic deus et virgo est hic spe celer, illa timore.
qui tamen insequitur pennis adiutus Amoris,               540
ocior est requiemque negat tergoque fugacis
inminet et crinem sparsum cervicibus adflat.
viribus absumptis expalluit illa citaeque
victa labore fugae spectans Peneidas undas
'fer, pater,' inquit 'opem! si flumina numen habetis,               545
qua nimium placui, mutando perde figuram!'
vix prece finita torpor gravis occupat artus,
mollia cinguntur tenui praecordia libro,
in frondem crines, in ramos bracchia crescunt,               550
pes modo tam velox pigris radicibus haeret,
ora cacumen habet: remanet nitor unus in illa.

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