"Cool rare air": Zukofsky's Breathing with Catullus and Plautus.
To which the best answer might be another question: Just who gets to be called an ancient Roman poet? Gaius Valerius Catullus and Titus Maccius Plautus lived and wrote in Rome, but neither happened to be a native. Catullus moved there in the middle of the first century BCE from Verona, a north Italian city that had only recently acquired Roman citizenship. Plautus, about a century and a half earlier, had come to Rome from the central northern town of Sarsina. In fact, no major "Roman" poet whose birthplace is attested was born in Rome, a curiosity of history you can count on Zukofsky to have known. (2) It matters, or can be made to. Because if having a "mastery" of Latin means being a native speaker of the prestige dialect of the imperial capital, and if the opposite of "native" is "foreign," then it follows that Roman poetry was a literature of foreigners, all trilingual at the very least. All the canonical Roman poets possessed the Italic (or not) language or dialect of their birth community and the Hellenistic Greek of their education as alternate tongues alongside the classical Roman Latin they wielded with canon-storming ferocity and in large measure fashioned by their art. Plautus's elder contemporary Quintus Ennius, known as the "father of Roman poetry," probably wrote poems in all three of his languages, and described his own trilingualism as the condition of having "three brains." (3)
Both Catullus and Plautus translated or adapted Greek poems to make poems of their own in Latin. Both explicitly thematize the anxieties and hilarities, the breakdowns and wildly lucky breaks, that beset linguistic utterance whenever it crosses language borders, as it does all the time, from the "native" out into the "provincial" as well as the "foreign." It is tempting to press the possible connections between Zukofsky's own multiphrenic nexus of linguistic and cultural affinities and those of the poets whose Latin he translated. A native of the American metropolis, and "more completely a city poet," said Bunting, "than any I can think of for at least a century past," Zukofsky's poetic formation was spun of disparately interentailed strands: a childhood filled with Yiddish theatre, including translated Shakespeare; graduate education in English at Columbia and a teaching career at Brooklyn Polytechnic; intergenerational poetic friendships with Ezra Pound, Basil Bunting, William Carlos Williams, others; and the lifelong multilingual autodidaxis of a twentieth-century American poet of the generation after Pound and Eliot. (4)
But tempting or not, pressing a transhistorical affinity of this kind, insisting on its particularity, is probably pressing too hard. In a 1929 essay on Ezra Pound, Zukofsky suggested that connections like these are often best left prepositional:
Postulate beings and there is breathing between them and yet maybe no closer relation than the common air which irresistibly includes them. Movements of bodies, peoples through history, differences between their ideas, their connections, are often thus no closer knit, no further away than 'So that' and an 'and' which binds them (end of Cantos 1 and 2 respectively). (5)
Catullus, Plautus, and Zukofsky, then: poets who point to language as a locus of the selfsame in the strange and the strange in the self-same. No strategy of containment, no aggressive mobilization of monolingualist ignorance or philological learning can insulate or rescue us from the plural condition of every human language, what Bakhtin called "the fact of heteroglossia." (6) It isn't just that language borders are permeable. It's that every tongue of one's own is peopled with strangers, those occasions of fright, and hospitality.
The bilingual edition of Catullus published in 1969 by Grossman in the US and concurrently, in a handsome deluxe edition, by Cape Goliard in the UK, represented a labor of love that had occupied both Celia and Louis Zukofsky off and on for just under a decade. (7) The American poet from the Lower East Side was at work translating his "Cats," as he had taken to calling them, for about as many years as the Roman poet from Verona probably spent composing them. (8) Zukofsky's interest in translating Catullus actually went back to as early as the late 1930s, when he had produced a chastely muscular modernist version of Poem 8 in a tough-guy tone and with a translatorly fidelity, in the conventional sense, that could win the approval of a classicist translator like Burton Raffel (who praised it chiefly to damn the later work). (9) But the spousal collaboration that would engender a very differently voiced Catullus first began, with versions of the first five poems, in 1958. From there it proceeded systematically through the rest of the corpus in numerical order, skipping only the central long Poem 64 on the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (the one that had driven Bunting to disgust or was it despair when he tried his hand at it) and coming back to the miniature epic in 1965 to bring it and the whole book to a close in 1966. (10)
On the ancient Mediterranean reckoning by inclusive counting, 1958 to 1966 makes nine years of work to translate fewer than twenty-five hundred verses, just over a hundred pages of Latin text. (11) Zukofsky could thus by right have applied to the patient labor of fashioning his cats, matching the original line for line and very nearly syllable for syllable, the little praise-hymn Catullus himself had once framed to celebrate the long-awaited, exotically titled, fabulously elegant, and (so we hear--it didn't survive) fiendishly difficult new work of a friend and fellow poet:
Zmyrna mei Cinnae, nonam post denique messem quam coeptast nonamque edita post hiemem Zmyrna, my own Cinna, nine harvests passed making his hymn, calm coped taste, Nine harvesting, edited post wintering
On the copyright page Zukofsky dedicates the short piece this couplet opens, Poem 95, to Ezra Pound. (12) Catullus in praising Cinna the poet is telling us something about how he makes his own poetry and thinks poetry is best made. Zukofsky here, as usual when his ostensible subject is Pound, seems to be pointing toward his own poetics as well. The act of dedication is integral to the act of translation and to the poetic artifact that act generates. Like Catullus's poem honoring Cinna and his Zmyrna, Zukofsky's translated poem honoring Pound and his Cantos invites the knowledgeable reader to recognize as manifest, precisely in the words describing it, the kind of sensuous poise in utterance poets wrest from language by contention with its particularities--"coping" means, among other things, "coming to blows," and of course therefore also "pounding"--through long bouts of labor brought to pleasurable harvest in word patterns (hymns) of "calm coped taste."
But slow and sweaty isn't the only way to cope with plural languages and their difficulties. Velocity has its virtues, not least among them fun. Catullus once completed, Zukofsky turned directly to Plautus's Rudens, working on his own this time. His chief guides were: the 1916 Loeb edition of the play with Paul Nixon's serviceable pony on facing pages; Lewis and Short's Latin dictionary, one of the lexical references Zukofsky had kept close at hand for years now alongside his Liddell and Scott's Greek lexicon, his Funk and Wagnalls desk dictionary, and his ten-volume Century dictionary of the English language; and finally, but not insignificantly, what acquaintance with Latin morphology and syntax he will have picked up during nine years of studying Catullus letter by letter with Celia. (13) Plautus's "rude deigns," as Zukofsky's version once calls it by homonym ("A"-21, 476), is a comedy of just over fourteen hundred verses, some two-thirds the length in lines of all the Catullus we possess. Plautus's metres make for longer verses, though, and word for word the play weighs in at nine-tenths the heft of the slender poem book that had companioned two shared creative lives for nine years. And yet, by some time in 1967 the comedy was already rendered entire, not one full planting cycle since its inception. By then its translator had assigned it a place as the twenty-first section or "movement" of "A", the long poem in twenty-four parts he had conceived early in his career and would spend all told just under half a century executing. By comparison with his other Latin poet, Plautus fell open at Zukofsky's touch, and gushed.
Critics have dealt with the two translations about as differently as did their maker(s). While Catullus is probably still his most famous (some Latinists still insist on "notorious") poetic production, "A"-21 is a poem that the small but growing number of Zukofsky's appreciators have to date all but ignored. I think they're missing something, and missing out. At the level of formal constraint, the play provides a crucial foot in the door to those (almost) desperately hermetic cabinets that are Zukofsky's late poetry. The last three major projects--"A"-22 and "A"-23, a pair of universal histories, one geological one cultural, in exactly one thousand verses each; and 80 Flowers, a series of six-line stanzas, one per flower, to make a collection of 640 verses, ten times the number of hexagrams in the I Ching--are composed entirely in verses of five words each, the form he had perfected during his year of apprenticeship to the Roman comedian. The form, at least, of the late Zukofsky begins in Zukofsky's Plautus, and more waits to be made of this fact. (14)
But "A"-21 gives us something more than a potential way in to other more difficult Zukofskian writing. It even does more than show us a crucial twentieth-century poet of the American language rejoicing in full poetic maturity and writing at a comfortable clip. It offers us an introduction to his later poetry at its most accessible, hospitable, and most nearly immediately enjoyable. Plautus is actually funny, after all. So is "A"-21, though probably not on most readers' first reading (not on mine, anyway). But getting the laughs isn't a matter of knowing something about Plautus's Latin. It's a matter of bringing your attention up to the speed and intensity of Zukofsky's English.
"A"-21's main dictional engine is a ruthless concision, the kind of Joycean "extreme compression" that critics have found characteristic of Zukofsky's late poetry. (15) The effect is often bracing, as when to the comment "Pap you had it luscious!" a character answers "Had's misery's not to have" ("A"-21, 502): that is, the misery of having had it "luscious" in the past lies in the fact of no longer having it good at present. Zukofsky's italics, here as often, quotationalize but also substantivize. The effect might make us think of Shakespeare, or Dickinson at her most metaphysical, but it also represents something American English speech does as a matter of course, or used to. For a (thoroughly outmoded) vernacular example take "used to's a dead rooster," spoken in a dialect pronunciation that makes subject and predicate rhyme.
The syncopations and ellipses that keep his short five-word lines chugging at the speed of Plautus's six-beat iambic action are more often colloquial than "poetic" in a high-flown way. This is another Joycean trait, but also of course a profoundly Shakespearean one. And Rudens seems to have first attracted Zukofsky's attention as a precursor--by its plot elements of shipwreck and narrowly averted incest--to Shakespeare, especially Pericles Prince of Tyre, his favorite of the plays and the one set to music by Celia Zukofsky as the second volume of Bottom: On Shakespeare.
"A"-21 opens like this:
RUDENS PROLOGUE (Voice off) an 'twere any nightingale an if they be not sprites Plot fisheRman's sea net dragged Up a leathery wicker rattling the baby's charms of his master's Daughter a leno had kidnapped for his slave brothEl. unknown to her father she was his little ward after her shipwreck: later they fouNd out-- she married her Sweetheart a young man.
The passages labeled "voice off" are Zukofsky's own occasional insertions into an otherwise line-for-line rendering of Plautus's text. This opening voice off gives "A"-21 its requisite initial "An," shared by each of the last eleven sections of "A". (16) It further gives the reader a first set of interpretive clues, significant ones, by soldering together two Shakespearean tags from A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest.
Next begins the translation proper, with the argumentum composed by an anonymous ancient editor. Written in Plautus's own iambic senarius metre, these six Latin lines summarize the dramatic action while spelling out the play's title, Rudens, in a verse-initial acrostic. We might have expected a poet like Zukofsky to reproduce the acrostic--no real challenge for the formal virtuoso he was--and also to keep to his own practice throughout the rest of "A"-21 by matching each Latin senarius with a line of exactly five English words. He does neither. Instead of writing properly acrostic verses (like the Hebrew abecedarian psalms), he spells out the title by capitalizing six letters at seemingly random points (rather like the enlarged letters found in some Hebrew prayers). And instead of five-word lines he gives us longer, irregular ones, ranging from seven to nine words in length. Zukofsky being Zukofsky, these capital letters just might be placed in some precise logarithmic pattern. But I doubt it. Their irregular positions are simply enough and well enough accounted for when we notice that they slow down the eye and thereby also the ear, while inviting the mind to ask a simple question. To that question the mind attains a simple and satisfying answer upon stepping back to contemplate the six verses and thereby also the play's plot as a whole, thus achieving the kind of synoptic view that Aristotle, and the Aristotelian Zukofsky, thought a well-made drama ought to allow. (17)
The plot of Rudens, while an intricate enough species of its genus, belongs in fact to a very familiar type. Girl, born free but abducted into slavery as an infant, gets bought by pimp. Rich freeborn boy falls in love with girl and contracts with pimp to buy her. Boy's down payment taken, pimp secretly leaves for Sicily, or tries to. Promptly shipwrecked in a storm, pimp with a business partner and girl with a second slave girl wash ashore in two separate pairs back where they started, in Cyrene, on the north African coast. The latter pair take asylum first in Venus's temple then in the guardianship of a man who--unbeknownst to both and with the momentary threat of unwitting incest--is the girl's real father. Fisherman, slave to father, finds pimp's wicker trunk and pulls it ashore with the rope (rudens) that gives the play both its title and a synecdochic metaphor of its fortuitously concatenated sequence of events. Trunk's contents attest girl's paternity. Girl betrothed to boy, grateful father manumits fisherman.
Zukofsky's version of the ancient synopsis, like its original, is rather clearer and simpler than that. In fact, the irregular lines of his "Plot" are best explained, I think, as a relaxing of formal precision motivated by a careful concern to render this snapshot of the play's action in plain twentieth-century American poetic speech. No formal virtuosity is in these lines, no "modernism of difficulty" to speak of, and virtually no echo of the sound of the original Latin. "A"-21 thus begins on a teacherly gesture of hospitality. A well-placed one: after the clear concision of this plot synopsis comes a drama whose wild enactment on the page, starting with an especially demanding prologue spoken by the star Arcturus, will pass through a reader's eyes and ears like an opera sung without supertitles in a language neither fully familiar nor fully unfamiliar. "A"-21's English is a language one knows, but knows only as "foreign" and so must construe, actively, tentatively, with all the receptivity and respect of heightened awareness: an American English that asks to be read as if it were Latin. But again, the wildness of "A"-21 is more often than not a wildness of velocity, achieved through a concision as demotic as it is extreme. And here the formal constraint of a five-word line works as a positive agent of liberation. For a characteristic example take this short exchange between Placey (Plautus's Pleisidippus, the boy in love) and his clever slave Track (Plautus's Trachalio). Track has just reported to Placey that the pimp has tried to break the asylum of Venus's temple and reclaim the two girls. Placey is furious. Here, if only to show its shape on the page, is the Latin:
Ples. Meamne ille amicam leno vi, violentia de ara deripere Veneris voluit? Trach. Admodum. Ples. Quin occidisti extemplo? Trach. Gladius non erat. Ples. Caperes aut fustem aut lapidem. Trach. Quid? ego quasi canem hominem insectarer lapidibus nequissimum? Rudens, 838-42
Here is Nixon's Loeb translation, with his familiarizing didascalic parentheses for the reader's theatre of the mind:
Ples. (indignant) That pimp laid violent hands on my girl, tried to drag her from the altar of Venus by violence? Trach. Just so, sir. Ples. Why didn't you kill him on the spot? Trach. (after a pause) I had no sword, sir. Ples. You might have taken a club or a stone. Trach. (virtuously) What, sir? Chase a human being, vile as he is, with stones like a dog--I? (18)
And here is Zukofsky's version:
PL. Mine! and Leno'd violate, tear her from Venus' altar! TR. Indeed! PL. Couldn't you kill'im! TR. No sword. PL. No stick! stones? TR. Think I'd quash a human dog with stones? "A"-21, 471
Zukofsky no doubt used Nixon's trot to help him construe Plautus's Latin. But he can't be said, here or elsewhere, simply to have leaned on it. Rather, the five-word form makes him do what an artist does in making a series of sixty-second gesture drawings. His eye, tactile and auditory as well as visual, searches the flesh of each Latin verse for the one or two words that define the attitude of its underlying musculature. This defining attitude his hand then strives to render, in a few strokes, to give a form as simple as the thing itself. Sometimes it is almost simpler, almost too far reduced for even the attentive reader to make it out, but never quite. "Human dog," for example, may puzzle at first. But even without resort to Plautus or Nixon we can arrive at the solution of taking "human" literally, and "dog" figuratively, as twinned predicates of a pimp. With a very little Latin we might notice further that Zukofsky has thereby translated Plautus's quasi canem ("as if a dog") with a curiously happy adequacy, by metaphorizing the simile (a process of condensation: what poetry is). More than that, "human dog" achieves an ethopoetic sketch, in a single ligature, of the character uttering it.
Nixon's Trachalio comes off in this scene as timid and a bit of a toady, a right slavish slave beneath whose "virtuous" invocation of the Stoic "kinship of all humans" we can discern real self-serving cowardice: the "prudence," as it were, that is a slave's only "virtue." Nixon has quietly injected into his Plautus the late modern secularized Augustinian critique of human virtue as a sham masking human depravity. Zukofsky knew his ancient moral philosophy, especially his Aristotle, too well and has read the Latin of this scene too well to be taken in by Nixon's familiarizing moral updates. At least to my ear Zukofsky here as largely throughout has rescued his Track from Nixon by giving him back the shoulder-shrugging comic sprezzatura, and with it the ethical seriousness, of Plautus's Trachalio. For a slave (who's trying to make it through life successfully by using his wits to help his adolescent master get laid) to invoke, if only in a single word, his own cosmopolitan human kinship with a pimp (who's trying to turn a buck by swindling that same rich adolescent), while simultaneously admitting the justice of calling said pimp a dog, is deeply ironic. It's also deeply serious. Zukofsky got both those points, I'd say, and got them both across in his translation for all its fierce concision. (19)
If Zukofsky does occasionally hoist the tone of "A"-21 into grandiloquence, like Plautus he does this chiefly for "paratragic" comic effect. Take for example the following sesquipedalian pair of lines from an earlier scene when Leno the pimp and his partner Chum have just washed ashore. Still shivering and vomiting, Leno is blaming everything on Chum's get-rich-quick scheme of absconding to Sicily with Polly and Amabel. When Chum observes that both girls, Leno's human assets, are probably now both drowned ("Feeding the fishes pabulum: credo!"), Leno responds bitterly:
Your mendacious tool of tongue magnified auscultation worked my mendicity. (20) "A"-21, 458
The giddy play on words that makes Chum's mendacity, as if by the magic of a single letter's alteration, work the uncanny effect of Leno's mendicity, happens to be Plautus's own--
Mendicitatem mi optulisti opera tua, dum tuis ausculto magnidicis mendaciis. Rudens, 514-5 Beggary's what you've brought me by your efforts as I lent an ear to your big-talking trickeries. (my translation)
--and Zukofsky's translation so intimately conspires with its text as to bring out, in ten English words for (it so happens) ten Latin ones, not just the near-pun but also the comically glitzy high style by which Plautus deflects sympathy from a pimp in distress. Nixon here had reproduced neither the wordplay nor the high diction but only the alliteration, on a different consonant: "Ugh, thanks to you! It's listening to you and your flattering flimflam that has left me flat."
A few verses later, when Plautus makes Labrax ratchet down and restate his complaint against Charmides in the plainer but still not colloquial speech of legal obligation and financial expectation, Zukofsky as translator scores another series of tonal hits:
You rascal you promised me the maximum profit in prostitutes, windfalls to accrue you said. "A"-21, 458
These three lines are all too discursively clear to be representative of "A-21 at its wildest. But as an example for testing Zukofsky's method in translating Rudens, for gauging his skill and success as a translator in the ordinary sense of the term, they seem ideal. I want to use them for a moment to reflect more broadly on "A"-21 as a translated dramatic poem.
Making a five-word line the primary formal constraint of a long poem is a provocatively iconoclastic thing to do inside a poetic tradition where "nature and Homer" have legislated feet not words as the proper building blocks of verses. Yet in an important sense it puts Zukofsky into the same position as any English-language poet rendering Greco-Roman poetry into traditional English verses. His form is comparable to that of his source text, if only by virtue of being stichic, but also significantly different. Its constraint is both loose enough to allow him to strain toward lexical, syntactical, and rhetorical "fidelity" and also tight enough to invite and justify the exercise of his poetic ingenuity in the form of "liberties." A poetic translator's liberties are, in the most traditional terms, species of what Horace taught us to call poetic license. In the hands of a translator who knows how to "quarry designs to a licit pudency" (that's Zukofsky taking impudent license--he knows how to do both--with Catullus 21), liberties make a bid for our approval precisely by their implicit claim to achieve a fidelity of some less obvious kind, and at some other level, than the one where the liberty taken looks like violence done.
To the basic formal constraint of a five-word line Zukofsky has added a further maxim, more in the nature of a counsel than a rule. Wherever possible (that is, wherever the sense as he would render it allows) each English verse is to resonate with some aspect of the shape of the Latin verse it renders. Not a hard thing to do stated like that. What makes it both difficult and remarkable is that Zukofsky strives to locate the moment of resonance at the precise point of the strongest sense emphasis in Plautus's line as he hears it. In Leno/Labrax's short speech to Chum/Charmides, Zukofsky hits that emphasis, right on the note, three times in as many lines.
Here is what Zukofsky found in Nixon: "It was your advice I followed. You kept promising there'd be all sorts of money in slave girls there; I could just rake in the cash, according to you." Once again this is accurate enough to have helped Zukofsky construe the Latin (albeit slightly bowdlerized to smuggle the prostitutes past the censor) but not precise enough to have served up to him the poetic and translatorly solutions he arrived at. For that he had to work at Plautus's Latin until his ear could hear it as meaning-making utterance. Here is what Plautus made Labrax say, scanned, with Zukofsky's Leno speaking under each line:
Tib(i) auscultavi, tu promittebas mihi You rascal you promised me ill(i) esse quaestum maximum meretricibus, the maximum profit in prostitutes, ibi me conruere poss(e) aiebas ditias. windfalls to accrue you said Rudens, 540-2 / "A"-21, 458
Tibi auscultavi means "I lent you my ear!" and is, despite the anaphora of the second person pronoun (tibi ... tu; "to you" ... "you"), the rhetorical climax of the line, at least as I hear it. Zukofsky heard it that way as well, and he seems to have heard the line the way a Roman actor would have said it, with the second syllable of tibi elided. Given the dramatic context, "You rascal!" is actually close enough in tone to be regarded as a translation of the original, a free one, but definitely a translation in the conventional sense not just an imitation. And more to the point, it makes Labrax's Latin mouth articulate a short series of English phonemes--or makes Leno's American mouth talk Latin--just at the place where the line packs its semantic, syntactic, and rhetorical punch.
In the second verse Zukofsky can reproduce a whole Latin word, maximum, precisely that word of the line on which its rueful sarcasm crests, though in a different position in the Latin. He also does something in this verse that belongs to translating practice of the most conventional late modern kind: where Plautus alliterates maximum meretricibus, Zukofsky answers with "profit in prostitutes," thus reproducing the effect of alliteration while substituting a different consonantal sound that allows him to render the senses of quaestum and meretricibus with semantic fidelity.
The third line is the one I find most impressive as poetic translation of poetry. For its concision, first off. Latin is so much the more concise language that a fair editor's rule of thumb is three words in English to translate two in Latin (Nixon was not being particularly verbose here in taking ten to render Plautus's six), and in this light Zukofsky's five-word rule squeezes him into a much tighter constraint than comparative word counts alone might suggest. But this line's assonating echo, by its subtlety and precision, is to my mind the finest translational effect of the whole passage. It falls on the exact moment where Plautus's three-verse ascending tricolon emits its third and highest ping, the beat on which we hear the sea-soaked breath heave hardest through a character's mask. The fifth and last syllable of windfalls to accrue bears the same climactic accent, and wants to be played with just the same dramatic tone, as the fifth syllable of Plautus's ibi me conruere: "there" in Sicily I'd "rake in the cash," as Nixon says, or more literally "cause it to come rushing together." The sense of accruing--accounting for uncollected revenues as already earned--cashes out a washed-up pimp's misery, and our shared comic enjoyment of it, in a way that I find stunningly apt as a recreation, on the hither shore of the gap between languages, of the shower of gold Labrax had fancied pouring into his purse and now mourns as lost. As the pimp himself, in Zukofsky's version, will put it later: "Lenos! Joy procreates pimps so / the world enjoys their downfall" ("A"-21, 499).
The echo effects in "A"-21 are not always this precise. But neither is this instance unique. The similarly but sympathetically shipwrecked female lead Palaestra, for example, had lamented in Plautus's act one: algor, error, pavor, me omnia tenent ("cold, being lost, terror, all things have hold of me," Rudens 215). "A"-21 reads: "Cold, loss, fear tear me" (446). In departing from lexical equivalence only for the duration of the emphatic syllable, Zukofsky gets Polly's phonetic articulation momentarily inside Palaestra's vocal instrument where he can render the suddenly heightened emotional tone, the tug in the throat. A more slavish, less "free" translation of the lexeme tenere ("to hold") would not have achieved this effect. It's true that "tear" doesn't mean, lexically, what tenent means. But the Latin means something stronger than what English "hold" conveys in this context, and already on that count alone Zukofsky has defensibly matched the Latin by meeting it on some other level than the purely lexical. That other level however is clearly irreducible to pure sound. The fact of its sharing some phonemes, a voiceless dental consonant and a wide vowel, with the Latin lexeme tenent is not the only reason why an American translator might choose the word "tear" as a fit equivalent of it in this context.
Yet it is a reason, as anyone knows who has worked with translated poetic texts meant to be sung. This is the high note in Palaestra's aria, and her Anglophone counterpart in "A"-21 gets to hit it as well, on a word that can bear its full rhetorical weight and on a breath of the same phonic shape. It could thus be Plautus's Palaestra talking to Zukofsky's Polly when the latter says to another character in the next scene, "You speak from my lips." Effects of this kind happen often enough that by the time we reach the voice off passage near the start of the play's fifth act, an elegy that opens "When Plautus lay dead Comedy wept," Zukofsky has earned the right to invite us imaginatively to hear his entire dramatic poem as if being mouthed simultaneously by two poets: an American one, advanced in years and still bitterly unheard, ungreeted--
Old friends when I was young you laughed with my tongue but when I sang for forty years you hid your ears hardly a greeting I was being poor termed difficult "A"-21, 499
--and a Roman one, long dead and in a long dead tongue. But "not really" dead, as the father in Zukofsky's novel Little answers when his son asks him if Mozart is dead, because "if you play his music he's alive": (21)
if I'm not dead a dead mask smiles to all old friends still young where else it says take care prosper without my tongue only your own "A"-21, 500
Take care: Zukofsky's italics again. "A"-21's prologue, spoken by the star Arcturus, had ended on those same words "take care," the tender leave-taking of friends in demotic American. Here the next line's prosper sounds like a closing benediction. It also makes us think the speaker may be taking tender leave of Prospero, a character from another Shakespearean play for which Zukofsky took Plautus's Rudens to be a kind of precursor. But his name here is missing its O, the letter a mask's mouth looks like. The last two lines of the voice off passage breathe it back to him, for the eye five times in all, and twice for the ear as well: "without my tongue / only your own.
So far I've tried to make two broad points about "A"-21. First, I hope to have advanced the case of its genuine literary interest. As a poem it is worthwhile and potentially appealing even, maybe even especially, to readers who read Latin not at all or not enough to evaluate it as a translation. Every line Zukofsky has translated from Plautus (the inserted voice off passages may be another matter) admits of successful construing and pleasurable recognition as honest if not plain English given enough head-scratching, and maybe some page-thumbing as well, but only in English-language references. The vocabulary, it's true (and truer still of Catullus), will strip the gears of any single-volume collegiate desk dictionary, but Zukofsky supposes that anyone interested in poetry will have regular resort to a full-sized English lexicon. Rare of diction, the compacted-yet-rarefied language of this American Rudens is everywhere that which Henry James claimed never to have been: so vulgar as to state. Though always terser by far, Zukofsky comicus is every bit as propositional, as discursive, as Plautus. If he often throws high or wide, sometimes more than once in a single five-word line, he does so always in implied expectation of a reader willing to jump, within the bounds of her own tongue, for a catch.
Second, I hope to have made, with description and exemplification doing the work of argument, a fundamental point about Zukofsky's method in translating Plautus and about the precise kind of translation the dramatic poem he produced by that method is, and isn't. "A"-21 has sometimes been described as a phonemic or "homophonic" translation, one in which the aim of reproducing or approximating the sound of the original source text exercises an overriding constraint or highly prioritized pull on the translator's every choice. A bilingual edition of "A"-21 with Plautus's Latin on facing pages would offer a number of advantages for the study of Zukofsky. Not least among them is the fact that no one who thumbed through it could ever again call "A"-21 a homophonic translation. Zukofsky's Rudens is a homophonic translation to about the same degree and in about the same way that Pope's Iliad is a verbatim translation: that is, so little as to be effectively not so at all. Pope hits or grazes some aspect of the precise lexical meaning of Homer's Greek in most lines, but his chief concern is to bring Homer's narrative and emotional drive over into English verses while remaining loyal to the overriding formal constraint of the heroic couplet. Take the previous sentence, read "sound" for "lexical meaning" and "five-word line" for "heroic couplet," and you have a fair thumbnail of Zukofsky's poetic practice as a translator of Plautus's Rudens.
Louis and Celia Zukofsky's Catullus is a text whose difficulties are of an altogether different order from those of "A"-21. Its formal constraint, altogether different as well, enables an immeasurably closer relation to the sonic contours of the poetry it translates. The only formal rule Zukofsky set himself in translating Catullus was to match the Latin line by line and (give or take one) syllable by syllable. Thus, while "A"-21's five-word verse, like Pope's rhymed couplet, has no causal dependence on the shape of what it translates because its structuring form is fully internal to the "target" text and external to the "source" text, Catullus instead takes shape as a translation by hanging on the Roman poet's every syllabic breath, though not necessarily, and seldom in practice for even a whole line, by mimicking each syllable's sonic contours.
Of all the differences between Zukofsky's two Latin translations the difference of form is the primary one, and it brings us around to the place where discussions of Zukofsky as a translator of Roman poetry generally start: the longstanding characterization of Catullus as a relentlessly thoroughgoing instance, if not the limit case, of homophonic translation. (22) At its broadest this term seems to comprise all instances of (1) pseudo-translation, (2) quasi-translation, or (3) not-very-serious translation, in which the phonetic sound of a source text gets reproduced in the target version (1) instead of the source text's sense, to give nonsense or a sense not in the original; (2) at the expense of its sense, to give a middling translation that, if it interests, does so only as a literary curiosity; or (3) in addition to its sense, to give, at the limit, a carnivalesque bid to break down, or pretend to break down by fudging, the barrier of incomprehensibility between languages.
It is easy enough to object to such a definition as a naive dichotomizing and hierarchizing of sense and sound. In all fairness, though, it's just as easy to counter that objection by pointing to the heuristic value of the term so defined. "Homophonic translation" usefully names a recognizable way of dealing with the relation between "foreign" speech and "native" meaning through a set of multilingual practices that can be: creatively liberating, as often for students in poetry workshops; good for a laugh, as for generations of English schoolboys learning Latin; or symptomatic of mental disorder, as in the case of Freud's polyglot patient who distanced himself from his mother('s) tongue by compulsively reconstituting all the words of his "native" language as phonetic calques on "foreign" ones. (23)
But if the term has some utility, I frankly doubt its usefulness to the study of Zukofsky. Even on the broadest understanding of the term, describing either of his Latin translations as "homophonic" turns out to be misleading and counterproductive at best. Even in the moments of his most feverishly relentless sonic cleaving to Catullus's Latin, with all the concomitant seismic jolts to the semantic surface of his English, so much more is happening than mere phonetic imitation that if you call Catullus's translation mode "homophonic" or "phonemic," it's fair to say that, as Zukofsky puts it in another context, "while you're partly right you're all wrong" ("A"-12, 130).
Critical explanations of Catullus often begin with the short "translators' preface" written in 1961 just as the project was hitting its speed. Celia and Louis Zukofsky there claimed that their version of Catullus represented an attempt "to breathe the 'literal' meaning with him." Any reader, Latinist or non, who has opened the bilingual Catullus at random somewhere in the middle has probably joined the critical consensus in making two suppositions about this preface: first, that "breathing with" means little or nothing more than imitating in English the sounds of Catullus's Latin; and second, that by "the 'literal' meaning" the translators are saying more or less the same thing again, if somewhat more provocatively this time. The inverted commas around "literal" do seem to want to pick a fight. Maybe they mean to remind us that the literal or at least etymological meaning of "literal" is "to the letter," and littera was the ancient Roman name for a speech sound ("phoneme") as well as its graphic representation ("letter").
All of which, again, is partly right. One way of showing how it's all wrong is to leave aside the translators' preface for a time and start instead where the translators themselves had started three years earlier in 1958 with another preface, Catullus's own. Poem 1 is the Roman poet's dedication piece to Cornelius Nepos, a historian. As in Poem 95, only more so here, Catullus is telling us what qualities he wants his poetry to possess and his readers to seek and prize in it. Here is Catullus's poem, ten lines in eleven-syllable verses, followed by Zukofsky's translation:
Cui dono lepidum novum libellum arido modo pumice expolitum? Corneli, tibi: namque tu solebas meas esse aliquid putare nugas, iam tum cum ausus es unus Italorum 5 omne aevum tribus explicare chartis doctis, Iuppiter, et laboriosis. quare habe tibi quicquid hoc libelli, qualecumque; quod, o patrona virgo plus uno maneat perenne saeclo. 10 Whom do I give my neat little volume slicked dry and made fashionable with pumice? Cornelius, to you: remindful that you used to dwell on my scantlings as something great, in that time when one solitary Italian 5 you dared ransack all the ages in three-- Jupiter!--learned and laborious papers. Care, as you did, somewhat for this little book, whatever quality, patroness virgin, may outlast a perennial cycle. 10
As a rendering of sense for sense this is a pretty well-behaved performance with little to fault in it, and almost no warning of the wild waters soon to come. Yet Zukofskian effects are present subtly from the outset. The first line's verse-final "volume" both jingles partially with what it translates (libellum) and also shares the Latin word's place in its line. In the next verse "made" similarly lip-reads modo ("just now"): no semantic equivalence or even approximation this time, but note that both words start at their line's fourth syllable.
"Scantlings" in verse four for nugas ("silly trifles") nicely renders the touch of modesty with which Catullus simultaneously cloaks and spotlights the ferocity of his own poetic ambition. The word's effect here is a profoundly Zukofskian one, but not because it sounds anything like what it renders. It shoots a first lexical shaft out past the "thin earnest American English of the professional classes" and begins already to tune Anglophone ears back in to the frequency of Renaissance exuberance. (24) Further, and more precisely, "scantling" is in Shakespeare once and only once. The author of Bottom: On Shakespeare hopes we'll be remindful of the word and its context there, accessing it by memory or reference. We are already being asked, as readers of a Catullus in which things are going to get wild, to "word" in our own mouths a promise made by Shakespeare's Nestor (to the hero of the Odyssey) and to resolve, at least provisionally, that "our imputation shall be oddly poised / in this wild action." (25)
At the level of form, here in this first poem as throughout Catullus, only the structuring principle of matching each Latin verse's syllable count exercises the force of constraint. When Zukofsky departs from that rule by a syllable, as he does in this poem several times, he seems often to do so for the effect of sounding the quantitative rhythm of the Latin more closely. (26) This happens very clearly in the decasyllabic verse 6, where there are some other remarkable effects as well:
omn(e) ae vum tri bus ex pli ca re char tis ba da BUM BUM BUM BUM ba DUM ba DUM BUM BUM you dared ran sack all the ages in three
The "breaths" here are rhythmic rather than phonetic, with English and Latin beats playing off each other. The monosyllable "sack," on an upbeat but phonemically heavy and long to articulate, site in for the Cat's tripping disyllable tribus. Then, at the verse end, Zuk's "in three," rendering lexically the previously "sacked" tribus, borrows the spondaic oomph it rhetorically wants from chartis, which in turn gets rendered lexically--moved one line down but sitting in its proper verse-final seat--as "papers." Fine stuff, all of this, and the sort of thing Roman poets, those that could, did in translating or better stealing from Greek poets.
In no meaningful sense of the word is this poem a "homophonic" translation. Only in the last two verse-final word pairs, "patroness virgin" and "perennial cycle," does Zukofsky ever approximate the action of Catullus's Latin on our tongues and ears for several syllables in a row. The first of these phrases renders the Latin sense and syntax to perfection, in addition to approximating its phonetic contour very nearly and matching its syllable count exactly. In the second pair Zukofsky does take a liberty, and here one recent critic, ultimately sympathetic but striving hard for balance by giving the other side its due, charges him with "simply ignoring the difference in grammatical case between these words" (Yao, 228). It's true that perenne can't modify saeclo, but it's also true that hypallage, the transfer of an epithet, is a minor liberty of the kind that Dryden, Pope, and every English translator who wrote before the advent of the late modern notion of a literary text translated "literally" took without asking.
It's also true that Zukofsky here is translating otherwise than word for word: the Latin speaks, more modestly, of outlasting a "generation" (saeclum) not a (Viconian-Joycean) cyclical progression of ages. But he hasn't exactly overtranslated Catullus's case on this point. A made poetic artifact that, in a gesture of grateful and graceful reciprocity to a friend, likens itself to a "universal history" in three slender volumes thereby implicitly expresses something that Zukofsky sees in Catullus and would affirm for himself: a drive toward the condition of totality instantiated by an ocean, a galaxy, an epic poem, the canon--he called it that, and thought of it as a single work--of Shakespeare, or the lexicon of a human language.
The final verse of this translation does a further important thing. It leaves the entire last sentence's syntax in suspense--
quare habe tibi quicquid hoc libelli, qualecumque; quod, o patrona virgo, plus uno maneat perenne saeclo. Care, as you did, somewhat for this little book, whatever quality, patroness virgin, may outlast a perennial cycle.
--and in so doing seems to verge toward rendering the effect Catullus had achieved by inwreathing the boldness of his own claim to poetic immortality in a small forest of relatives: quare ("wherefore"), quicquid ("whatever"), qualecumque ("of whatever quality"), quod ("which"). What do we take to be the subject of "may outlast" (plus ... maneat)? Sense wants libelli in Latin and "little book" (a more precise translation than "volume" this time, but without the partial homonymy) in English. In both cases grammar says no, and sends the eye back centripetally upwards to contemplate the sentence and the poem as a whole.
"Care" at the sentence's head slows us down, asks us to read with what it names, for other reasons as well. For one, it is the poem's moment of freest translating. The Latin invites Cornelius to "have" (habe) or "keep" the book for his own, not explicitly to care for it. For another, it is thus the only full-fledged instance in the translation where Catullus's "letters" are made utterly to take hold of his senses. All the other "homophonic" moments here are also fairly close sense approximations. This moment isn't exactly one of homophony, though. Its leap toward sense proceeds along a line of affinity more graphic than sonic, and on this count we might find it almost too much to bear. "Care" is a mighty "quare" way of Englishing the Latin quare. (27) The discomfiting silliness, if that's what it is, of this observation literalizes the sense in which translating Catullus Zukofsky's way--or doing it any way at all, only his way admits it--brings us into (befouling? taboo?) contact with an alien tongue, and also of course a dead one. It thrusts the critical argument already, for the duration of a single syllable within this first installment of Catullus Zuked by a "monstrous method" (Guy Davenport), up and out into a place where our only choice seems to be between (1) violent defensive attack, in a mode either hysterical (Burton Raffel: "Can [the non-Latinist] get anything--anything?--from this?") or paranoid (Robert Conquest: "The Hun is at play--worse still, at work--among the ruins"), and (2) provocatively challenging defense, as in Burton Hatlen's remark that Zukofskian translation refuses "to pander to our fear of language, our hunger to escape from words into 'meanings.'" (28)
"Care" thus stands within the utterance that is this poem as a strongly marked signifier. In one of the later cats we might comfortably have taken its departure from translating exact sense as just one more wild effect in a welter of them. In the present context it is oddly incongruous and "ungrammatical," in Michael Riffaterre's sense of a dictional feature that sends us searching for a meaning-making reference outside the present context. (29) We have already encountered this word in later Zukofsky, in the act five voice off passage where "take care/prosper" serves, among other things, as a gloss on Latin's and English's shared way of expressing a parting salutation: vale, "farewell." It also serves there as one of the ways he invites us to take the translated comedy of "A"-21 as an elegy for his recently deceased brother. (30)
When Zukofsky writes "care" he is thinking of love. And love is at the center of something he disliked owning up to but did sometimes admit to having: a philosophical theory of knowledge. A writer who assigned philosophy to the "gas age" would presumably have resisted being called a philosopher-poet. (31) He was in any case a serious thinker whose intellectual heroes included Aristotle, Lucretius, Spinoza (Celia Zukofsky said of her husband that he loved reading Spinoza as other men love eating bread), Marx, and Wittgenstein: philosophers of matter, of the thingness of things, and writers whose words keep showing up in Zukofsky's poetry. (32) In his own version of epistemology, put forward most explicitly in Bottom: On Shakespeare--that whale of a book that "takes exception to all philosophies" but also "commits the sin it preaches against"--the solidity of sight, defined as love's unclouded knowledge, takes precedence over what he had elsewhere called the liquidity of sound and the gaseousness of intellection.
In "A"-12, composed in 1950 and 1951 soon after the death of his father, Zukofsky paraphrased Spinoza to make a poetic syllogism about "caring," "loving," "dwelling on," and "keeping": (34)
Since no one cares about anything he does not love And love is pleasure that dwells on its cause He who loves keeps what he loves: An image inwreathed with many things That may flourish, that draws cause To light up. "A"-12, 174
And in the second half of "A"-9, completed a year earlier and again fashioned of words borrowed from Spinoza, things themselves had taken voice--the way those talking things called poems do on the page--to give us a lesson in love's epistemology and teleology: (35)
No one really knows us who does not love us, Time does not move us, we are and love, searing Remembrance--veering from guises which cloak us, So defined as eternal, men invoke us. "A"-9, 110
At this point we seem to have two answers to the question why Zukofsky Englished "Care, as you did" where Catullus had Latined Quare habe tibi ("wherefore keep for yourself"). One reason is a substitution of "care" for quare whose implied principle of equivalence might fall on our senses like a schoolchild's silly mistake, a kazoo blast, a Looney Tunes gag. The other reason belongs to what might be called Zukofsky's ars amatoria, an epistemology at once sensuous and intellective, according to which caring implies loving entails knowing effects keeping of a kind that by definition eternizes the thing kept, and does this in a way that is not transcendent-idealist-Platonist-Romanticist, not just a lot of gas, but fully material and available to the senses: the kind of "outlasting" that poetry has at times claimed the power to effect.
Zukofsky, I think, would insist that those two reasons add up somehow to one and the same reason. The last section of volume one of Bottom, rounding out an "alphabet of subjects," bears the rubric "Z (signature)" and starts:
'A'--pronounced how? (36) With a care for the letters and out of them their sound. Whose sound? Out of what time? Taken at this time at what pace, at that distance or of that space? Bottom, 442
Zukofsky would further insist that his ars amatoria was also an ars poetica. In fact he explicitly did so. "An integral/Lower limit speech/Upper limit music" is only the most familiar of the definitions of his own poetics he gives in "A"-12 (138). Another one, more succinct, says simply "As I love: /my poetics" (151). Simply said but hardly a simple statement, once we attempt unsentimentally--yet without hostility toward sentiment--to explicate it by defining loving and poetic making in ways that can equate or approximate them. And here Zukofsky's writing as a whole, if read as a whole, points surprisingly clearly toward an explication of this pair of lines written at the beginning of the 1950s.
In "An Objective," the introductory essay to the issue of Poetry he guest edited, Zukofsky had defined poetry, or rather had given a "test of poetry," thus: "Properly no verse should be called a poem if it does not convey the totality of perfect rest" (Prepositions, 13). One of the names he gave to that rested totality was "objectification," something a poem by definition instances, and something effected only through the perfection of what he calls sincerity. (37) In sincerity, "writing occurs which is the detail, not mirage, of seeing, of thinking with the things as they exist, and of directing them along a line of melody" (Prepositions, 12). What Zukofsky means by sincerity is thus intimately linked with the kind of attention to detail our language still calls "loving." It is linked as well with the kind of formal elegance (not a particularly Zukofskian word, but a very Catullan one) we call concision or economy, a (Poundian) principle this same early essay was already connecting with the signifying force of words and the letters that make them up:
The economy of presentation in writing is a reassertion of faith that the combined letters--the words--are absolute symbols for objects, states, acts, interrelations, thoughts about them. If not, why use words--new or old? "An Objective," Prepositions, 14
"As I love: / so my poetics." If conveying the totality of perfect rest was what made a versified utterance a poem for Zukofsky in the 1930s, we find him on the first page of Bottom, begun in the late 1940s and completed in 1960, explaining love, "if one wishes to explain," as "the desire to project the mind's peace," a desire that is "one growth" (Bottom, 13). He then proceeds over the next several pages to explain that explanation by reference to "illustrations of the definition of 'Love's mind'" in Shakespeare, in Spinoza, in Ovid, and in Joyce whose Stephen Dedalus "works in all he knows" and calls the sentimentalist someone "who would enjoy without incurring the immense debtorship for a thing done" (Bottom, 13-23). Poetics, then, as the theory and practice of making the things called poems, must be a theory and practice whose objective--a word defined by the 1930s Zukofsky as "(Use extended to poetry) desire for what is objectively perfect, inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary particulars"--is that of projecting, extending amicably toward another, the mind's peace (Prepositions, 12).
Taking it that Catullus aspires ("breathes toward," that word says) to a totality of just this kind, I want to turn back now to the "Translator's Preface" dated November 14, 1961 and placed at the book's head:
This translation of Catullus follows the sound, rhythm, and syntax of his Latin--tries, as is said, to breathe the "literal" meaning with him.
Again, why the inverted commas around "literal," why "as is said"? Maybe partly as a reminder that Catullus never heard of such a thing as "literal meaning." The adjectival form didn't exist in the Latin of Catullus's time, though his cultural moment did have the notion of a verbatim translation, and regarded it as something slavish not commendable. But every "literate" speaker of English knows the word "literal," and only a very persnickety classicist could count it a neologism. (38) The term sensus literalis belongs originally to medieval Biblical exegesis, where it describes a practice of great antiquity and clear necessity to every community of readers. If you and I want to discuss a difficult text we will want first to establish how far we can agree on a commentary-style construal of the words on the page before going on to a "secondary" level of interpretation, which latter may in turn send us back to revise our "primary" interpretation. We will frame and think of that secondary level as "critical" and "literary" if we are literary critics, or as "allegorical," "moral," and "anagogical" if we are medieval Biblical exegetes or ancient readers of Homer.
But we at present, like the Zukofskys in 1961, are talking in the context not of exegesis but translation. The latter context has transferred, metaphorized, the notion of literalness from the former. This borrowed notion of a translation's literalness is a relatively recent one, of early modern coin, as Zukofsky knew thanks to the dictionary. Useful enough as a figure of speech, the expression "literal translation" taken literally invites us, especially if we live in an aggressively monolingual dominant culture, to imagine the relations between human languages in ways that can be, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid, crazy, and violent, in at least two separate ways. (39) First, to the question "How adequate is this translation?" the word "literal" can be taken as (metaphorically?) giving the (crazy) answer This translation perfectly renders its original, not just word for word but letter for letter, to the last jot and tittle. The implicitly claimed formula for "literal" translation is thus not y = f(x), where x is the original or "source" text, y the translated text in the "target" language, and f the function or process of translation. It is rather x = y, where "=" is not so much the mathematical sign of equality as the computer programming symbol meaning "is replaced by" or "is assigned the value." A translation produced and consumed as both fully literal and fully comprehensible is a translation that has domesticated the foreignness, obliterated the difference, of the original text along with that text's entire cultural context. (40)
Predicating "literal," literally, of domesticating translation can be seen as working a second and not unrelated kind of violence upon the body and its senses, and also upon the mind and soul, to the degree we take these last two as materially embodied things. On the still widely vernacularized idealist, antimaterialist, Platonic and Cartesian view (whose interpellating power can feel like air pressure), an apt model of a rational human being would be an unbodily (spiritual, mental) rat riding in a bodily (material) spaceship. External material forces in the form, say, of corporate capital, weather, or microbes can wobble, redirect, or wreck my spaceship. But only the rat not the spaceship is really me, and while I live, maybe afterwards as well, the rat abides. (41)
Against this dualist view stand all the ancient and modern philosophical materialisms with which Zukofsky's thinking claimed affinity. As he put it in the mid-1930s:
Whether it was 'impossible for matter to think?' Duns Scotus posed. Unbodily substance is an absurdity like unbodily body. It is impossible to separate thought and matter that thinks. (42) "A"-8, 46
Dualism, while principally a theory of mind and matter, imposes itself as a theory of language as well, urging us to regard a word's "meaning" as something like its immaterial mind or soul. Everything material about a word's wordness is thereby relegated to the status of fleshly frame, mere husk possessing only use-value. Dualism tells a familiar story about how translation works: the translator, or rather the anonymous process of translation, scoops each constituent unit of meaning out of its atom-sized foreign spaceship and encases it in a new native one. These replacement domestic crafts, shot sequentially through the reader's eyeballs, fall off and disintegrate somewhere on the way to the mind. The mind then mystically, immaterially, reconstitutes the ghostly rat (the text's "literal" meaning--but where did all the letters go?) from its constituent ghostly cells.
Whoever agrees that poetry is both "what gets lost in translation" and a way of "saying one thing and meaning another" has implicitly signed off on a dichotomized world in which the sensible attributes of speech--what breath conveys to ears and what letters transcribe for tongues and eyes--can only be regarded as husk. (43) Lovely husk makes for pretty poems, but it remains fundamentally alien to, because separable from, meaning and the use-value of words, which are thereby commodified. And even on a more sophisticated (and optimistic) theory of poetry and translation like Pound's, one is still committed to maintaining that "melopoeia," the musicness of a poem, is all but untranslatable. (44) Zukofsky's view of translation was always more radically materialist. When he made a pair of translations of Cavalcanti's Donna mi prega (the so-called canzone filosofica that Pound had translated a number of times) in which he rendered the whole intricate pattern of the original text's end-rhymes and internal rhymes, it wasn't simply to prove that he could accomplish--twice, in the two halves of "A"-9, first with phrases taken from Marx's Capital and then, preserving all the same end-rhymes, with phrases taken from Spinoza's Ethics--a prodigious leap of craft into territory Pound had implicitly pronounced uninhabitable. (45) It was more profoundly a way of insisting, while poetically recycling the actual words of materialist thinkers, on a materialist view of language that refuses to attribute to speech any level of meaning transcendently separate from its availability to the senses.
Regarded from the viewpoint of idealist dualism, a thoroughgoing materialist theory of poetry looks reductive to the point of not allowing words to have meanings, convey ideas, at all (just as, by analogy, from the viewpoint of an ethical theory that insists on the primacy of "moral law" any ethical theory that fails to put law at its summit and center looks like theorized immoralism). The materialist answer to this complaint is that it is simply unfounded. As Kenneth Fields put it, explicating the famous line of William Carlos Williams, "'no ideas but in things' doesn't mean no ideas." (46) Zukofsky, writing in 1948, put it this way:
The sound of the words is sometimes 95% of poetic presentation. One can often appreciate the connotations of the sound of words merely by listening, even if the language is foreign. The Scotch of Gawin Douglas can hardly be called foreign, if one reads English. What is foreign to poetry is the word which means little or nothing--either as sound, image, or relation of ideas. If, in any line of poetry, one word can be replaced by another and "it makes no difference," that line is bad. A Test of Poetry, 58
"What is foreign to poetry is the word which means little or nothing." Zukofsky, here as always, insists on the meaning-making power of sound and image. (47) He refuses to cut a hierarchizing division between sound and sense. But neither does he deny the power of words to relate ideas. Quite the contrary. That would be as absurd as denying the power of matter to think.
The stakes of "translation theory" are raised to a different order of magnitude once we acknowledge that every theory of translation presupposes a theory of mind, which presupposes in turn, like it or not, a theory about the relation of existents to existence: a metaphysics. The question of what the Zukofskys meant by their stated aim "to breathe the 'literal' meaning" with Catullus and how far they actually accomplished that aim is a question that can never be answered adequately in terms of homophony, because that term implies a sound-sense dualism radically opposed to Zukofsky's materialist conception of how words mean: "either as sound, image, or relation of ideas." Zukofsky took seriously, perhaps more seriously than Pound, the poesis, the shared madeness and therefore the materiality, of all three members of Pound's triad: melopoeia, phanopoeia, and logopoeia. Even "the dance of the intellect among words," for Zukofsky, left footprints. Intellectual ones, to be sure, but always also bodily ones, pressed into actual matter.
If sound is not the binary opposite of sense, "breathing with" Catullus will everywhere involve more than just the phonic passage of air through a human vocal apparatus. That too, however, will be everywhere necessary, for "only speech transforms whatever skeleton remains of the past and conveys judgments of it to the intelligence" (Prepositions, 73). Those words belong to Zukofsky's 1929 essay on Pound, as does the passage already quoted above:
Postulate beings and there is breathing between them and yet maybe no closer relation than the common air which irresistibly includes them. Movements of bodies, peoples through history, differences between their ideas, their connections, are often thus no closer knit, no further away than 'So that' and an 'and' which binds them (end of Cantos 1 and 2 respectively). Prepositions, 77
Breathing was an idea Zukofsky had been thinking about for at least three decades when he came to Catullus. It meant for him something always more, but never less, than what circulates through the human vocal apparatus.
"Breath" seems at the limit to have denoted for him something close to the Vedic prana or the Stoic pneuma, "the common air" that everywhere fills and permeates nature on these and similar nonatomist models of physicalist materialism. Or, to put the thing in less gassy terms he would have been more likely to like, "breathing with Catullus" represented for Zukofsky a necessary aspect of thinking with Catullus, an instance of the kind of writing in which there "occurs the detail, not mirage, of seeing, of thinking with the things as they exist, and of directing them along a line of melody" (Prepositions, 12): the kind of writing made possible only through that degree of sincerity--caring, loving, seeing, knowing, keeping--for which everything, every thing, matters. Literally.
But even at the plainest empirical level, we can already see that Catullus is not merely and not properly a homophonic translation by seeing that its translating practice, poem by poem, is inadequately accounted for by reference to phonetic sound alone. To start with what may seem the more trivial point (though not to the translators), sight matters here as well as sound. Not only do the Latin and English texts, in matching typefaces, play off each other as visual artifacts conveying rested totality. At individual moments the translatorly choices are clearly guided by principles of equivalence that are specifically visual rather than sonic. Take for example the opening stanza of Catullus 51, which Zukofsky heard and conveyed as a jealous lover's melodramatic soliloquy:
Ille mi par esse deo videtur, Ille si fas est, superare divos, qui sedens adversus identidem te spectat et audit He'll hie me, par is he? the God divide her, he'll hie, see fastest, superior deity, quiz--sitting adverse identity--mate, inspect it and audit--
The most purely visual effect in the translation is its third line's "mate" for identidem te, as though a letter had fallen out of the printer's plate and the sense-making eye rushed to supply it. But note also the momentary dyslexic metathesis that turns the first line's videtur into "divide her," as eyes grope back and forth conspiringly, breathingly, along the Latin line.
Another kind of visual effect, or rather partly visual and partly sonic, dawns on ear and eye simultaneously through an intentional "mispronunciation" that can occur on either side of the page, often with comic effect, as at the end of this pair of verses at the head of Poem 8: (48)
Miser Catulle, desinas ineptire et quod vides perisse perditum ducas. Miss her, Catullus? don't be so inept to rail at what you see perish when perished is the case.
There are some extraordinary effects of translation here. "At what you see" matches et quod vides syllable for syllable. The etymological figure contained in the pair quod vides perisse ("what you see has died") and perditum ducas ("count as dead") gets reproduced in the polyptoton of "perish" and "perished." "Perished is the case" further manifests that Shakespearean velocity of concision Zukofsky would bring to "A"-21, with "perished" standing, substantivized, for "that it has perished." The last two syllables of the phrase perditum ducas/"perished is the case" work yet a further effect. They make not a homophonic pair but rather a pair of magnetized breaths that want to chime together. And to make that happen ear, eye, and tongue have to conspire to vocalize Latin ducas in English and "the case" in Bugs Bunny's Brooklynese: "duhCASE." This sets the tone nicely for the whole poem. (It took Catullus scholarship a bit longer than it took Zukofsky to hear the comic overtones in this poem's performance of wheedling self-pity.)
More extraordinary still is the self-apostrophizing question that opens the poem. "Miss her, Catullus?" is on one level, if you want it to be, an "ingenious"--Raffel called it that--but silly sonic gag, the most obvious "homophonic" translation of miser Catulle ("poor Catullus") imaginable. Some professional classicists still respond to the mention of Zukofsky's Catullus by quoting this opening tag of Poem 8 with good-natured derision. That critical appraisal tells more truth than it knows. It misses the mark only insofar as it misses the aptness of its own mocking affect as an envoicing of Catullus's poem and Zukofsky's breathing with it. Pain is one of the things poetry makes into lovely song, and doing this takes a measure of cruelty. Catullus's poem enacts a man probing his own interior and testing, with an artist's highly sensitized but rigorously pitiless fingers, for hurts useful to poetry: "Miss her, Catullus?" (49)
In a later poem where the precision has grown scarier, the pathos more pathological, the speaker will "recur" to precisely this utterance, as an idee fixe and mawkish keepsake:
quare iam te cur amplius excrucies? quin tu animo offirmas atque istinc teque reducis, et dis invitis desinis esse miser? Catullus 76.10-12
Construed, the Latin goes something like: "Why will you crucify yourself still longer? Why don't you stand tough in spirit, get over it, and--the gods don't will it--stop being miserable?" Zukofsky has:
Why recur to the theme ample use excruciates? Can't you animate, affirm, as what gust extinguishes, reduces it, this inward is--destiny's is is miss her?
The sonic and graphic equivalences and approximations to Catullus's Latin letters here are interesting, beautiful, hilarious, delicate, and best left to each reader's sensual testings to trace. That is necessary work but not yet a sufficient reading. Giving a full account of Zukofsky's material breathing with Catullus in these lines requires sounding their intellective pleasures as well.
The first line, measured, round, clear, and adequate (by early modern standards) to the sense it renders, also announces the intratextual echoes to follow. The next two lines, lexically and syntactically more intricate, ask for some schooling in Zukofsky and the dictionary. "Animate" is intransitive here and means "come to life," an eighteenth century usage. "This inward is" is the object of "affirm." The speaker is thus tauntingly urging himself to animate by affirming, paradoxically, the status of an "is" inside himself--incurable eros feels indistinguishable from the self's being--as being merely what a "gust extinguishes" or at least "reduces it." Then, in the second half of the third line, where Catullus had remembered the first word of Poem 8, miser, Zukofsky answers in kind by recalling the opening of his own version of that earlier poem: miss her? Responsions of this kind not only show how attentively Zukofsky is reading Catullus's Latin. They point to the broadest sense in which he is striving to realize the aim of translating Catullus by breathing with him.
"Destiny's is is miss her?" is a dark saying, not impenetrable but irreducibly ambiguous, like an oracle. On one possible construction, its speaker is making a further manful attempt at self-encouragement by gruff rhetorical question: "Can it be, then, Catullus, that Fate's Sentence, Destiny's declaration of what is, is that you must evermore miss her?" But if the question mark punctuates only the italicized intratextual quote, the utterance becomes instead a resigned acknowledgement. "Destiny's is," on this construction, is that Catullus must evermore endlessly recur to the excruciating but irresistible torment of Poem 8's futile diagnostic self-examination: "miss her?" This ambiguity about the disposition of fate gives an honest account, a genuine translation, of the Latin it breathes with. Catullus's dis invitis ("the gods being unwilling," ablative absolute) goes either with desinis ("you cease") or esse miser ("to be miserable"). The hostility of Catullus's gods is thus left fluttering between the two objects of his disease and its cure.
In light of responsions of this kind it's worth remembering the subtitle of the Zukofskys' translation: Gai Valeri Catulli Veronensis Liber, The Book of Gaius Valerius Catullus of Verona. They took Catullus's collection, and meant their translation, to cohere as a whole. Paul Allen Miller has described Catullus's poem sequences as an instantiation of "lyric consciousness," a multi-layered garden of forking paths enacted and enabled by the courses and recourses traced by the multi-directional roaming of each reader's reading, memory, and consciousness. (50) The Zukofskys' Catullus, here at this moment in Poem 76 and elsewhere, deserves to be described in similar terms. A description that fails to account for its achievements at this level fails to account for what breathing, as Zukofsky understood it, encompasses at its widest. If a letter can breathe with another letter, so can a book with another book, and a canon with another canon.
I've argued that Zukofsky's "breathing the 'literal' meaning with Catullus" involved more than just sound, and more than just sound and sight. I want to close by pointing to three instances of Zuked Catullus at its wildest as a way of showing, in places where it doesn't take much or any Latin to see, that this version of Catullus even at its maddest still cares about what we mean when we say "meaning" and about Catullus's Latin as meaning-making utterance. Zukofsky shares with other translators the aim of getting as much of his "source" text's meaning across the border between languages and into his "target" text. He differs from most translators in locating sound within the range of what counts as meaning. But like every translator he is constantly faced with the problem of the wolf, the sheep, the cabbage, and the rowboat that only holds one at a time. Every choice to bring a given thing across is a choice to leave other things behind. And every poem in Catullus contains individual moments where Zukofsky has demonstrably chosen lexical synonymy over phonetic homonymy. (51)
Poem 64 is the longest in the book and the last one the Zukofskys worked on. Here are its last four lines:
omnia fanda nefanda malo permixta furore iustificam nobis mentem avertere deorum quare nec tales dignantur visere coetus, nec se contingi patinutur lumine claro. all law once founded unfounded malice a mixture of furor justifying no blest mind may await gods' ray where or home. Where there are no tales dignifying Their Ways They cut us, nor seek contingent patient touch to illumine clear air.
The first two of these verses will never "make sense," if by that we mean holding still and resolving into just one sense. Zukofsky is weaving syntactic units into the apo koinou construction he favored, and that Language poets learned in large measure from him. More phrases here than not admit construal both fore and aft: "all law once founded unfounded" but also "unfounded malice"; "justifying no blest mind" but also "no blest mind may await"; and so on. The third and fourth verses, by contrast, are discursively as clear as the air they close on.
A longer argument could show that these lines, and the ones immediately preceding, give a good account of Catullus's overall sense. They adequately render the conventional themes, reflective of shared social and cultural processes, that Catullus is mobilizing, especially the theme of nostalgia for an engoddened mythological time from which history has traumatically cut us off. They also render the particular twists Catullus gives those themes. Rather than pursuing that discussion I point instead to one monosyllabic word in the second line: gods'. Sound out the Latin, read the English line, "look in your own ear and read," and you'll see that this is the only word in the English line your tongue can't tease out of the Latin letters. (52) Gods' is a literal sense rendering of deorum, a word whose sounds next get a near-literal sonic rendering in "where or home." It's as though, for the duration of a single syllable in the English line, the Latin-English dictionary had amicably let pass, through a chink in the wall between languages, a single spurt of intellective gas to supply and complete the meaning-making, love-inspired respiratory action of the reader's material senses and material thoughts. Of a translation that does this, you can't say it looks so exclusively to sound as to leave sense to fend for itself as best it can.
More striking still is this second example, Poem 85, the famous couplet Pound had rendered "I hate and love. Why? You may ask but / It beats me. I feel it done to me, and ache": (53)
Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior. O th'hate I move love. Quarry it fact I am for that's so re queries. Nescience, say th'fiery scent I owe whets crookeder.
Partly because the poem is so famous, and partly because the Zukofskys' two spiral notebook pages for it are reproduced on the dust cover to the Cape Goliard edition (and in Yao, 222-3), this is a translation that gets talked and written about. Reading it is another thing. Every literary translation translates not words on a page but a reading experience. This English poem translates an experience recognizable to anyone who has hit the intermediate stage of reading a language like Latin. Each individual word is familiar and so "makes sense." But as words grouped into clauses they aren't and don't, and they send us back to a big dictionary to study centuries of usages of words we only thought we knew. Do that for the words of this poem and you'll find not a single answer but rather a plurality of ongoing queries toward an asymptotically approached quarry. (54) But that's how it is with regard to queries. And, as this poem's speaker says, that's how I am in fact when, pleading the cause of love--O the hate of it!--I call upon my own unknowing to say that the burning feeling I own and must pay sharpens and bends me like a blade. (55)
But setting aside the reasons for thinking this difficult and good English poem also a good "equivalent or paraphrase" of Catullus's Latin poem (though obviously not good for, say, the purposes of a college course on Roman poetry in translation), I want to point instead to the single syllable that forces us to admit that its "breathing with" Catullus cannot merely mean mouthing with him or, as Zukofsky called it in a marginal note to this manuscript page, "reading his lips that is while pronouncing." As "care" in Poem 1 was the only moment where sonic-visual congruence trumped lexical equivalence, so here conversely in Poem 85 only "love," in the poem's whole utterance, is a pure effect of intellection.
My closing example gives this essay its title. Poem 63 is Catullus's wildest, and maybe the wildest of all extant Roman poems, for the machine-gun staccato of its "galliambic" metre no less than its theme. It tells the story of Attis, the first Greek to become a gallus or eunuch priest of the goddess Cybele. As the poem opens Attis arrives on the coast of Phrygia in ecstasy. By the fifth line he has picked up "acute flint spewing his ponderous testicles" and is encouraging his companions to imitate him. They do, and then follow him into the woods, where they dance to the beat of his tambourine until sleep overtakes them all. At dawn Attis awakes regretting his deed. His soliloquized nostalgic apostrophe to lost homeland and manhood catches the ear of Cybele herself. Offended, the goddess sends a raging lion to drive Attis back into frenzy and the forest, "to be ever no man but the spayed woman familiar fleeing." The figuration of self-castration as feminization, common in Greco-Roman culture, runs through the Latin of this poem. After Attis's "unmanning" the Catullan narrator begins assigning him feminine modifiers, an effect whose first instance Zukofsky neatly renders in punning Shakespearian diction: "he was she cut out to ape a woman's hands." The poem ends with an apotropaic prayer spoken in the narrator's own anxious male voice: "proclaim ah my goodness such furious madness far from my home: / all of those, ah go inciting those, all those who go robbed of those."
As the cited phrases suggest, Zukofsky has rendered enough of Catullus's language at the level of relation of ideas to allow an attentive reader to follow the plot. But at individual moments he "cuts out," like a soloist, into that sublime whose American name is "cool." The following speech is sung to his mates by a fresh cut Attis in the first rush of his new state. With all the feathery chaos of the craziest saxophone solo, Zukofsky matches the thought beat and image beat of these words, along with their sonic rhythm, to a rare pitch:
agite ite ad alta, Gallae, Cybeles nemora simul, simul ite, Dindymenae dominae vaga pecora, aliena quae petentes velut exules loca celeri sectam meam executae duce me mihi comites 15 rapidum salum tulistis truculentaque pelage et corpus evirastis Veneris nimio odio, hilaratae erae citatis erroribus animum. mora tarda mente cedat; simul ite, sequimini Phrygia ad domum Cybelles, Phrygia ad nemora deae, 20 ubi cymbalum sonat vox, ubi tympana reboant, tibicen ubi canit Phryx curvo grave calamo, ubi capita Maenades vi iaciunt ederigerae, ubi sacra sancta acutis ululatibus agitant, ubi suevit illa divae volitare vaga cohors: 25 quo nos decet citatis celerare tripudiis. Ah go to the high altar, Gallae, Cybele's None more rare, so mill so mill onto Dindymus Mount domain of vague minds picked chorus, alien here come patient willing exiles--look ah your lair, here! set and my aim executed you came meek at my heel comates-- 15 rapids, solemn to listing seas, truculent what could belay you, white core castrated of Venus, her nimiety odious-- hail your true Hera--the hot tease, errant pulse of animate heart! More at heart had meant decayed heart; so mill to me, singing many, Phrygia our home Cybele's, Phrygian woods' None more rare to eye, 20 o be cymbal, loom sounded voice, o be tympana rebounded, tibia can be, can it, freaks? curb woe, growl air, coll and mow, o be capital Maenades' weighed jocking heads with their ivy crowns, o be sacral sancta o hoot tease, ululant boys, agonize, o be, sway with the Lady, high vaulting raring vaguest cohort: 25 who knows the cat's cut out is cool rare air to trip to these rites.
The last word of this speech is a word Zukofsky liked. (56) Here it renders tripudiis, "sacred dances" (the etymology says "three feet" or "triple time"), a word whose sound has just been rendered in the letters "trip to these," if you sound them right. "Rites" is one of the relatively rare syllabic utterances in the last eight or so lines of this passage ("woods'" in line 20 is another) where he departs from literal conveyance of Catullus's sound to breathe with him by literal relation of ideas alone.
In places he has achieved the impossible, a perfect simultaneity of both. But it does take a demotic American ear to hear this. (57) Take "growl air" in line 22. The Latin word grave, recognizable to speakers of English, means "heavy." Its cognates include the first two syllables of the Greek word "baritone," as Zukofsky's dictionaries will have told him. Here it describes the low, breathy notes growled out by a freaky Phrygian on a curved calamus while Attis's comates "coll and mow": toss their jocking heads and make the cut. "Growl air" not only makes a resoundingly apt multilingual pseudoetymology for grave in its context. It also transliterates the Latin to perfection, but only if you use the "philologically reconstructed" classical pronunciation ("grahweh"), and only if you have access to an American dialect in which the letters of "growl air" can be voiced with precisely those same phonemes. (58) In this phrase, as in the passage as a whole, there is a kind of translating that stirs the ethical as well as the sensual imagination. It makes me think new thoughts about the relations between Zukofsky's multi-languagedness and Catullus's, and my own relations to both. It lets me enter with new imaginings into this poem's dramatic situation by breathing the growled air of its music, through the ear's empathy and via the translated cultural referent, subtly hinted, of American jazz with its cognate power to curb woe and send the mind on an initiatic trip.
Or take line 19, to the semicolon. What Catullus wrote says--without a care for the letters and their sound--something like "let tardy delay cede from (your) mind." Sound out the Latin the way most American Latinists would (vowels continental European but back toward the throat, consonants pure American): mora tarda mente cedat. Now let your eye read precisely those same sounds out of these letters: "More at heart had meant decayed heart." Your ear, if and only if it knows the urban dialect Zukofsky's tongue is articulating in a dead mouth, will hear a flawless sonic mimesis of it, right down to the assimilation of had's final dental to meant's initial nasal. Remarkable enough, but the sound effect is not the most remarkable bit of translating these words work. They bring us in still closer to Catullus and his Attis through the breathing of ideas with ideas, what you and I mean when we say translation.
Zukofsky has thought, as few modern readers of this poem have, about what it is to be its protagonist. The sounded letters of his version imaginatively recuperate all the chill fever of ascetic elation that spurs Attis on toward perfection through traumatic self-transformation, all the fastidious disgust that makes him regard the sensual pleasures of the householder's life--Venus's gifts to gendered bodies--as "nimiety" and so "odious," and all the steamy mysticism of his sublimated eros that refigures the Great Mother as the "true Hera--the hot tease, errant pulse of animate heart." (59) When Zukofsky sings for our ears how Attis's "canorous high sweet voice tasked trembling her band of committed boys," he endows that voice's exhortation with the authority and the gnomic concision of ascetic wisdom.
Italicizing the subject and predicate eases construal: "More at heart had meant decayed heart." To have lived "more at heart"--to have gone on living the ordinary appetitive life people praise as passionate, the life that falls short of perfection--would have meant, on the ascetic's view, living with a "decayed heart." In the Nicomachean Ethics, a central text for Zukofsky, Aristotle suggests that the reason we find change sweet, enjoying now the contrary of what we enjoyed just then, is that in so far as we are human we are phthartoi: subject to decay. (60) It is precisely the life of becoming--chasing and attaining external goods, forming and breaking attachments, growing and withering--that Attis, his "aim executed" once for all, has come to Phrygia to escape. Zukofsky is thinking here of what he called "the definition of love as the tragic hero":
He is Amor, identified with the passion of the lover falling short of perfection--discernment, fitness, proportion--at those times when his imagination insufficient to itself is an aberration of the eyes; but when reason and love are an identity of sight its clear and distinct knowledge can approach the sufficient realizations of the intellect. Bottom, 15
Of this definition of love, according to Zukofsky, the "origins and changes are many and complex":
Greek mysteries, Ovid (as compared to whose work Shakespeare conjures with a difference), Oriental and Arabian sources, Provencal extensions and intensities, Continental and English philosophy of the 13th century, configurations of Cavalcanti, Dante and other Italians. (61) Bottom, 15
Poem 63 is not generally taken this seriously, or at least not in this way. A number of late twentieth-century classicists took Attis, unsurprisingly enough, as a persona for Catullus, and found in the former's flight, self-castration, and self-recrimination an objective correlative for the latter's "unmanned" humiliation at being abandoned to an incurable erotic obsession. There may be something to this interpretation after all, and Zukofsky gives it its due. In the next morning's seaside lament, he makes his Attis recall the Catullan speaker of Poems 8 and 76: "Miss her I miss her--queer end doom's that I am, hot what! animate." But as the speech quoted here shows, Zukofsky finds something nobler in the person and words of Attis (if you agree that a freaky sublime is nobler than a displaced symptomatology) and seems to think Catullus meant us to find it there as well. The last line of Attis's aria in Latin has him urging his cohort into the woods quo nos decet citatis celerare tripudiis: "where it is fitting (decet) for us to hasten on swift dancing steps." Zukofsky's translation of these words is fitted to the form of what Sanskrit calls a phalasutra, the verse that closes a teaching by promising new being through new knowledge, because the fruit (phala) of getting hip to it is being it. Or as Duns Scotus Erigena quoted by Zukofsky put it, "when I understand what you understand, I become your understanding, and am made in you, in a certain ineffable way" (Bottom, 119). Undo the Zukofskian concision (cuts) of Attis's last line and it says: One who knows the cat as being cut out and having cut out is thereby one who makes the cut, becomes cut out for it, is fit to be it, is cool rare air to trip to these rites. Attis is beckoning his cohort to a place outside all twoness. Zukofsky's translation--wild, hilarious, tripping--has sounded that call with honest fullness. In so doing it does what translation aspires to.
"Air" is a favored word in Zukofsky's poetic lexicon--as Robert Duncan had noticed when he began a poem "After Reading Barely and Widely" with the lines "Will you give yourself airs / from that lute of Zukofsky?" (The Opening of the Field, 88). Attis's earlier injunction to "be cymbal" (line 21), sounded out of Catullus's letters by the metaphysical definer of love that was Zukofsky, can't not be pointing to Marvell's "Music's Empire." That poem opens "First was the world as one great cymbal made" and goes on to sing--making the sounds and letters make meanings and relations--how "music, the mosaic of the air" has "gained the empire of the ear, including all between the earth and sphere." (62) Zukofsky likes "air," he tells us, because it "defines constancy," because it's allied through Greek to breathe (aemi) and "in sound" to love (ho eros), because Latin aer retains "Empedocles' corporeal sense" (Bottom, 139) and because in Shakespeare's English and the French of his time it means both look and tune. For Zukofsky, air is sight, song, love, and bodied substance. And music is air breathed, leading us by eye, ear, and reason through understanding to being.
And breathing with a poet of a dead tongue, what Zukofsky's translations of Catullus and Plautus set out to do, is an offer and acknowledgement of relation. A given relation may be no closer than "the common air which irresistibly includes" any two postulated beings. But it will never be more distant than that. Gauging the fitness of these translations, the closeness of their relation to the ancient airs they breathe and breathe with, is work we won't be done with soon. (63)
1 / On the colorful antiquarian reception of Pound's translation see J. P. Sullivan, Ezra Pound and Sextus Propertius: A Study in Creative Translation (London: Faber and Faber, 1964).
2 / In a poem from the late 1950s called "4 Other Countries," for example, Zukofsky depicts himself visiting Verona and musing knowledgeably about the gens Valeria, Catullus's family. Complete Short Poetry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1991), 195 (abbreviated CSP in following citations).
3 / The first "Roman" poet was also the first Roman "academic" poet. Born in 239 BCE in the far south of Italy, Ennius was serving in a Calabrian regiment of the Roman army in Sardinia when Cato the Elder discovered him in 204 and brought him to Rome. There he made friends with great families, acquired Roman citizenship in 184, settled into a modest house on the Aventine hill, and made his living teaching Greek and Roman "grammar" (i.e. poetry) to young Roman aristocrats. See the entry "Ennius" in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd edition (1996).
4 / "Zukofsky," in Basil Bunting on Poetry, ed. Peter Makin (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1999), 153.
5 / "Ezra Pound," in Prepositions +: The Collected Critical Essays (Hanover and London: Wesleyan UP, 2000), 77.
6 / Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: U of Texas P, 1981), 368.
7 / Celia Zukofsky did the "spade work" for Catullus, as she once called it in a letter to Burton Hatlen. See Hatlen, "Zukofsky as Translator," in Louis Zukofsky: Man and Poet, ed. Caroll F. Terrell (Orono, Maine: The National Poetry Foundation, 1979) 347 n. 7 (abbreviated LZMP in following citations).
8 / "A"-14, 355-6: "Out of that / jakes my 'Cats' / chaste--eyeing passionate / Italian lips two / thousand years near." "A" (1978; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993).
9 / Burton Raffel, in "No Tidbit Love You Outdoors Far as a Bier: Zukofsky's Catullus," Arion 8 (1969), 438 calls Zukofsky's earlier version "the best available." Titled "Catullus vii," in CSP, 88-89, it begins:
Miserable Catullus, stop being foolish And admit it's over, The sun shone on you those days When your girl had you When you gave it to her like nobody else ever will.
10 / Bunting's 1933 version, in Complete Poems (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994), 135, renders twenty verses of a four-hundred line poem before concluding and why Catullus bothered to write pages and pages of this drivel mystifies me. On the chronology of the Zukofskys' Catullus, see Celia Zukofsky's "Year by Year Bibliography" in LZMP, 385-92. Steven G. Yao, Translation and the Languages of Modernism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 283 n. 25, notes that the notebooks for Catullus stop in 1965, though of course Zukofsky's work need not have.
11 / Zukofsky was not constantly at work on the translations during this period. Yao (Translation, 228) finds, based on examination of the notebooks, a hiatus of more than two years after Poem 5 was done in spring 1958.
12 / On this poem and its dedication see Daniel Hooley, The Classics in Paraphrase: Ezra Pound and Modern Translators of Latin Poetry (Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania: Susquehanna UP and London, Associated UPs, 1988), 55-56.
13 / Peter Quartermain, Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe (Cambridge: Cambridge UP 1992), 106.
14 / Michele J. Leggott's invaluable Reading Zukofsky's 80 Flowers (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1989) draws a few connections to "A"-21 in passing.
15 / Quartermain, Disjunctive Poetics, 104-20.
16 / "A"-14, 315 announces "First of / eleven songs / beginning An."
17 / One of the two dedicatees of "A"-21 is John Gassner, whose essay "Aristotelian Literary Criticism" was published in the 1951 Dover edition of S. H. Butcher's edition and translation of Aristotle's Poetics.
18 / Plautus, vol. 4 (London and New York: Loeb Classical Library 1916), 369.
19 / In The Trouble With Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein, and Zukofsky (Berkeley: U of California P, 1994), 213-4, Bob Perelman finds in "A"-21 "writing that is in social terms utterly distant from Plautus" and suggests that "if the plot of Rudens ... is to rhyme with the condition of Zukofsky's own family, it does so only by ignoring the context of prostitution and slavery so integral to Rudens." I find the writing in "A"-21 recognizably Plautine, and I don't see Zukofsky shying away from Rudens' metaphoric and metonymic ties that bind marriage and family to prostitution and slavery.
20 / Leno has already complained in this same paratragic tone ("A"-21, 457): "Misfortune was what I invited / sclerosis listened to your auscultations." A strange usage of "auscultation," which usually means the sense not the object of hearing. But Zukofsky hasn't nodded, he's sending us to the dictionary. The OED quotes Elizabeth Barrett Browning in The Greek Christian Poets: "the suggestive name of acroases--auscultations, things intended to be heard." Zukofsky is using an English poet's Latinate calque on a late Greek name for a poetry collection to point to the fact that the Roman dramatic poem he's adapting is itself an adaptation from Hellenistic Greek.
21 / Little / for careenagers, in Collected Fiction (Normal, Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press, 1990), 4. Zukofsky completed this novel soon after "A"-21.
22 / Zukofsky never used the neologism "homophonic." To denote one utterance that sounds like another he used the term shared by Aristotle and standard English: "homonym." See "The Translation" (CSP, 234-9), a poem from the early 1960s that shows Zukofsky in his dictionaries chasing down lexical meanings and etymologies, and making homonyms along the way.
23 / Margaret Bruzelius, in "An Other Sense: Zukofsky and Catullus" (unpublished), draws connections between "homophonic" translation and madness.
24 / Guy Davenport, "Zukofsky's English Catullus," in LZMP, 365.
25 / Troilus and Cressida 1.3:
For here the Trojans taste our dear'st repute With their finest palate: and trust to me, Ulysses, Our imputation shall be oddly poised In this wild action; for the success, Although particular, shall give a scantling Of good or bad unto the general
Zukofsky points to the pun on "odd" and Odysseus in Bottom: On Shakespeare (1963; Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan UP, 2002), 353.
26 / Steven G. Yao remarks, in Translation and the Languages of Modernism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 228, that Zukofsky "fails to reproduce exactly Catullus's hendecasyllables in lines 1, 6, and 10" of Poem 1 but then "does manage to maintain the syllable count throughout" Poem 5. These are factually correct observations, but it's worth taking note of Zukofsky's defense of Wyatt against the critical charge of miscounting syllables (Bottom, 28): "Perhaps it may be guessed that Wyatt, in reworking [Petrarch's] sonnet, was not following, as authorities say, medieval-Latin tradition--composing by ear, without craft, writing accentual verse and throwing in extra syllables promiscuously; but rather thinking a prosody ... Petrarch's sonnet entailed counting out a line of eleven syllables, but permitted elisions in attaining that number, while it let accent shift with the pace of the thing said. And conjecture may say that Wyatt was aware of that, but that in his passion to render this prosody as English thought he decided an equivalent measure was a line of ten syllables allowing for all the devices of Petrarch's craft."
27 / A chapter from Nicholas Salvato's Yale dissertation in progress has made me think there's more to be made of this, and of Catullus and "A"-21 as queering translations more generally.
28 / Davenport in LZMP, 367. Raffel in "No Tidbit," 440. Conquest in "The Abomination of Moab," Encounter 34 (May 1970), 212. Hatlen in LZMP, 347.
29 / Michael Riffaterre, "Compulsory Reader Response: The Intertextual Drive," in Intertextuality: Theories and Practice, eds. Michael Worton and Judith Still (Manchester, New York: Manchester UP, 1990), 56-78.
30 / "A"-21 is dedicated to John Gassner and Zukofsky's brother Morris Ephraim.
31 / See "About the Gas Age," in Prepositions, 169-72.
32 / Celia's remark is mentioned by Robert Creeley in his foreword to CSP, xii-xiii.
33 / On Zukofsky and epistemology see especially Mark Scroggins, Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge (Tuscaloosa and London 1998). As Jeffrey Twitchell remarks, in "Tuning the Senses: Cavalcanti, Marx, Spinoza and Zukofsky's "A"-9," Sagetrieb 11 (1992) 57-91, one wonders if Zukofsky's "scientific analogy" between the states of matter and the materials of poetry might be "really excremental."
34 / "Dwelling on" is how he would later render Catullus's putare ("thinking"), in Poem 1: "you / used to dwell on my scantlings."
35 / Twitchell, "Tuning the Senses," 68: "The things plead for recognition of their nature, that is, for love."
36 / Zukofsky here makes reference here to his 1960 poetry collection entitled I's (Pronounced eyes).
37 / "Sincerity" is also a Poundian term. On what Zukofsky meant by it see especially John Taggart, "Intending a Solid Object: A Study in Objectivist Poetics" (diss. Syracuse U, 1974).
38 / For us the classic reference is the Epistle to Cangrande attributed to Dante: "the first meaning is that which is conveyed by the letter, and the next is that which is conveyed by what the letter signifies; the former of which is called literal, while the latter is called allegorical or mystical." Dantis Alagherii Epistolae: The Letters of Dante, ed. Paget Toynbee (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 199.
39 / Compare Zukofsky in A Test of Poetry (Hanover and London: Wesleyan UP, 2000), 56 against monolingualism: "This [poetic] tradition involves a knowledge of more than English poetry and the English language. Not all the great poems were written in English. There are other languages."
40 / Lawrence Venuti, The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference (London and New York: Routledge 1998).
41 / This is what Gilbert Ryle in The Concept of Mind (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1949), 15-16 describes "with deliberate abusiveness, as 'the dogma of the ghost in the machine.'"
42 / As Twitchell ("Tuning the Senses," 67) notes, Zukofsky found this quotation in Marx and shared it with friends in correspondence.
43 / Both quoted propositions are attributable to Robert Frost. The first belongs to oral tradition. The second comes from a 1946 essay "The Constant Symbol," in The Robert Frost Reader, ed. Edward Connery Lathem and Lawrance Thompson (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1972), 446.
44 / Ezra Pound, "How To Read," in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1968), 25: "It is practically impossible to transfer or translate [melopoeia] from one language to another, save perhaps by divine accident, and for half a line at a time."
45 / Pound, "Cavalcanti," in Literary Essays, 168: "As to the use of canzoni in English, whether for composition or in translation: it is not that there aren't rhymes in English; or enough rhymes or even enough two-syllable rhymes, but that the English two-syllable rhymes are of the wrong timbre and weight."
46 / Recounted in Bill Brown, A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003), 1.
47 / In this he goes further than Pound had in his 1934 ABC of Reading (New York: New Directions, 1987) 47-8: "The term 'meaning' cannot be restricted to strictly intellectual or 'coldly intellectual' significance. The how much you mean it, the how you feel about meaning it, can all be 'put into language.'"
48 / See note 9 for Zukofsky's earlier translation of these lines.
49 / On the "language of woundedness" in Zukofsky, see Rifkin, 98.
50 / Paul Allen Miller, Lyric Texts and Lyric Consciousness: The Birth of a Genre from Archaic Greece to Augustan Rome (London and New York: Routledge, 1994).
51 / After so many shocks of pleasurable recognition, I'm now no longer sure that any verse in Catullus is related to its original by sound alone. For what it's worth as a control, I can point to two other instances of "homophonic" translation where I do think sound is calling the tunes and the original's lexical meaning matters very little or not at all: Zukofsky's own sonic recreation of Welsh poetry in the comic novel Little; and long stretches of David Melnick's fabulously inventive Homeric Men in Aida (Berkeley: Tuumba Press, 1983). On Zukofsky's "welshing" see Sean Golden, "'Whose morsel of lips will you bite?'" in Nonverbal Communication and Translation, ed. Fernando Poyatos (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1997), 217-45.
52 / "Peri Poietikes," in CSP, 213.
53 / Ezra Pound: Translations (New York: New Directions, 1963), 408.
54 / Zukofsky has shown to my ear something I had always missed in this poem: the poetic etymological connection Catullus makes between quare ("why") and requiris ("you ask"). To query is to go quarrying.
55 / Two technical points about the Zukofskys' translation practice and their Latin deserve mention here. First, Celia's marks over the vowels of this poem's Latin are not, as Yao (Translation, 224) and others have supposed, an attempt at scansion. They're something far more precise and painstaking. Celia has looked up every word and marked the "natural" quantity of each vowel. For example, the word fortasse would properly be scanned long-long-short. Celia has instead marked all three syllables as short, and not by mistake. The o and a of fortasse are both long "by position" (followed by two consonants) but short by nature. The natural quality of each vowel, its sound in the mouth, is evidently all Louis wanted and needed to see indicated. Second, the poem Louis wrote here strongly suggests that he knew how to scan Latin. O th'hate I move perfectly reproduces the metrical shape and even the elision of od(i) et amo, neither of which had been indicated by Celia. An analogous pair of points can be argued about Celia's English version of this poem. As a "literal" construal of the poem it's a bad translation, but as a word-for-word morphological-not-syntactic gloss it's correct. And this suggests that Louis had enough Latin syntax in him to be able to make use of an aid of this kind.
56 / "Rites" is the R word in Bottom's "alphabet of subjects," where the entry reads "Time goes on crutches till love have all his rites." M. A. (Much Ado) II, I, 372. (Bottom, 436.)
57 / No surprise, then, that Bunting's Northumbrian ear heard nothing impressive in Catullus: "when I am familiar with the original sounds, as I am with those of Catullus, in Latin, I'm not at all satisfied with Zukofsky's rendering of them through English words." Bunting on Poetry, 160.
58 / "Coll and mow" does the same for calamo, with dialect assimilation of final nd to m.
59 / Hera (Juno) is absent from Catullus's Latin here. She presided over marriage chiefly in its aspect as a social institution. Zukofsky's translated Attis is speaking the language of mystical union figured as marriage.
60 / Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics VII.14.1154b20-31. For Zukofsky's reading of Aristotle see especially "A"-12.
61 / When Zukofsky makes Attis refer to his goddess as "the Lady" at line 25 of Poem 63, possibly he is merely using the poetic diction of courtly love. But I suspect a more specific allusion to "the Lady" who is the syncretic goddess of Robert Duncan's "Often I Am Permitted To Return To a Meadow," the "Queen Under The Hill / whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words / that is a field folded." The Opening of the Field (New York: Grove Press, 1960), 7.
62 / Zukofsky devotes five pages in Bottom (186-190) to quotations from Marvell, beginning with these lines from "A Dialogue Between the Soul and Body": "Here blinded with an eye, and there / Deaf with the drumming of an ear."
63 / I owe thanks, in chronological order, to John Taggart for generous and encouraging comments on a very short first go at this essay, to Mark Scroggins for no end of enthusiasm and knowledge, and to the members of the Poetry and Poetics workshop and the Rhetoric and Poetics workshop at the University of Chicago for a lively and useful discussion.
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|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2004|
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