Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lighter shadows among the shades

[Edward Fitzgerald to Edward Byles Cowell]

May 7 /[18]57.

My Dear Cowell,

Owing partly to my own stupidity, and partly to a change in the India Post days, my last two letters (to you and wife) which were quite ready by the Marseilles Post of April 25th will not get off till the Southampton Mail of this May 10. Your letter of March 21 reached me three days ago. Write only when you have leisure and inclination, and only as much as those two good things are good for. I will do the same. . .
Well, I have not turned over Johnson's Dictionary for the last month, having got hold of Aeschylus. I think I want to turn his Trilogy into what shall be readable English verse; a thing I have always thought of, but was frightened at the chorus. So I am now; I can't think them so fine as people talk of: they are terribly maimed; and all such lyrics require a better poet than I am to set forth in English. But the better poets won't do it; and I cannot find one readable translation. I shall (if I make one) make a very free one; not for scholars, but for those who are ignorant of Greek, and who (so far as I have seen) have never been induced to learn it by any translations yet made of these plays. I think I shall become a bore, of the Bowring order, by all this translation: but it amuses me without any labour, and I really think I have the faculty of making some things readable which others have hitherto left unreadable. But don't be alarmed with the anticipation of another sudden volume of translations; for I only sketch out the matter, then put it away; and coming on it one day with fresh eyes trim it up with some natural impulse that I think gives a natural air to all. . .

When in Bedfordshire I put away almost all books except Omar Khayyam!, which I could not help looking over in a paddock covered with buttercups and brushed by a delicious breeze, while a dainty racing filly of W. Browne's came startling up to wonder and snuff about me. 'Tempus est quo Orientis Aura mundus renovatur, Quo de fonte pluviali dulcis Imber reseratur; Musi-manus undecumque ramos insuper splendescit; Jesu-spiritusque Salutaris terram pervagatur.' Which is to be read as Monkish Latin, like 'Dies Irae,' etc., retaining the Italian value of the vowels, not the Classical. You will think me a perfectly Aristophanic old man when I tell you how many of Omar I could not help running into such bad Latin. I should not confide such follies but to you who won't think them so, and who will be pleased at least with my still harping on our old studies. You would be sorry, too, to think that Omar breathes a sort of consolation to me! Poor Fellow; I think of him, and Oliver Basselin, and Anacreon; lighter shadows among the shades, perhaps, over which Lucretius presides so grimly.

Thursday, June 11. Your letter of April is come to hand, very welcome; and I am expecting the MS. Omar which I have written about to London. And now with respect to your proposed Fraser paper on Omar. You see a few lines back I talk of some lazy Latin Versions of his Tetrastichs, giving one clumsy example. Now I shall rub up a few more of those I have sketched in the same manner, in order to see if you approve, if not of the thing done, yet of

(Letter breaks off abruptly at the end of the page.)

June 23. I begin another Letter because I am looking into the Omar MS. you have sent me, and shall perhaps make some notes and enquiries as I go on. I had not intended to do so till I had looked all over and tried to make out what I could of it; since it is both pleasant to oneself to find out for oneself if possible, and also saves trouble to one's friends. But yet it will keep me talking with you as I go along: and if I find I say silly things or clear up difficulties for myself before I close my letter (which has a month to be open in!) why, I can cancel or amend, so as you will see the whole process of blunder. I think this MS. furnishes some opportunities for one's critical faculties, and so is a good exercise for them, if one wanted such! First however I must tell you how much ill poor Crabbe has been: a sort of paralysis, I suppose, in two little fits, which made him think he was sure to die: but Dr. Beck at present says he may live many years with care. Of this also I shall be able to tell you more before I wind up. The brave old Fellow! he was quite content to depart, and had his Daughter up to give her his keys, and tell her where the different wines were laid! I must also tell you that Borrow is greatly delighted with your MS. of Omar which I showed him: delighted at the terseness so unusual in Oriental Verse. But his eyes are apt to cloud: and his wife has been obliged, he tells me, to carry off even the little Omar out of reach of them for a while. . . .

-from The Letters of Edward Fitzgerald (London: Macmillan and Co., 1901) vol. 1

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