Sunday, 26 January 2014

Alcuin: Let the cuckoo come!

At the moment I am writing this post, the first snow of this winter has fallen here. Looking for an appropriate text, I found this poem by Alcuin (though sometimes attributed to Bede). Alcuin (c. 735 – 19 May 804) was an English monk working at the court of Charlemagne and one of the scholars responsible for the Carolinian Renaissance. This poem is about a quarrel between Spring and Winter: shepherds come together in praise of the cuckoo, whom they want to come. Winter and Spring come too and a strife arises between these two, as Spring wants the cuckoo to come too, but Winter wants this bird to stay away. At the end Palaemon and Daphnis – the old and the young shepherd from Virgil’s Eclogues – support Spring.
As for me, for the time being I support Winter: first a lot of snow!
I have left the first part out, but you can read it in the translation below.

Alcuin, Conflictus Veris et Hiemis.
Meter: hexameter

Opto meus veniat cuculus, carissimus ales.
omnibus iste solet fieri gratissimus hospes
in tectis, modulans rutilo bona carmina rostro.

Opto veniat = opto ut veniat
in omnibus tectis: (tectum: roof, house, but as far as I know the cuckoo is a wood bird )
modulo: to sing
rutilo rostro: with a red beak

Tum glacialis Hiems respondit voce severa:
non veniat cuculus, nigris sed dormiat antris.
iste famem secum semper portare suescit.

antrum: cave (it was unknown that the cuckoos in Europa spent wintertime in Africa)
fames –is (f.)
suescit = consuescit (the reason why the cuckoo used to take hunger with it, is that  during spring the store of winter food was often becoming critically low and there was no new harvest yet.)

Opto meus veniat cuculus cum germine laeto,
frigora depellat, Phoebo comes almus in aevum.
Phoebus amat cuculum crescenti luce serena.

germen –inis (n.): bud, germ
(cum) Phoebo (Phoebus: the sun)
comes comitis (m., f,): companion
almus: foodgiving
aevum: time, eternity

Non veniat cuculus, generat quia forte labores,
proelia congeminat, requiem disiungit amatam,
omnia disturbat; pelagi terraeque laborant.

generat quia = quia generat
forte: perhaps
congemino: to double (because often in wintertime no war expeditions were undertaken.)
disiungo disiunxi disiuntum: to break
pelagus: the sea

Quid tu, tarda Hiems, cuculo convitia cantas?
qui torpore gravi tenebrosis tectus in antris
post epulas Veneris, post stulti pocula Bacchi.

tardus: slow
convitium: reproach
torpor –oris (m.): sluggishness  
tenebrosus: dark
tectus: covered

Sunt mihi divitiae, sunt et convivia laeta,
est requies dulcis, calidus est ignis in aede.
haec cuculus nescit, sed perfidis ille laborat.

divitiae –arum: riches
convivium: feast
calidus: warm
aedes aedis (f. usually plural)

Ore ferat flores cuculus, et mella ministrat,
aedificatque domus, placidas et navigat undas,
et generat soboles, laetos et vestiet agros.

mel mellis (n.): honey
placidas et navigat undas: in summertime there are less storms than in autumn and winter, but if the cuckoo is responsible for that...
soboles –is (f.): offspring
vestio: to clothe, dress

Haec inimica mihi sunt, quae tibi laeta videntur.
sed placet optatas gazas numerare per arcas
et gaudere cibis simul et requiescere semper.

inimicus: hostile
placet (mihi)
gaza: treasure
arca: chest
cibus: food

Quis tibi, tarda Hiems, semper dormire parata,
divitias cumulat, gazas vel congregat ullas,
si ver vel aestas ante tibi nulla laborant?

aestas aestatis: summer
nulla laborant: produce nothing

Vera refers: illi, quoniam mihi multa laborant,
sunt etiam servi nostra ditione subacti.
iam mihi servantes domino, quaecumque laborant.

vera refers: you say true things
nostra ditione subacti: subjected to my dominion (ditione = dicione)

Non illis dominus, sed pauper inopsque superbus.
Nec te iam poteris per te tu pascere tantum
ni tibi qui veniet cuculus alimonia praestat.
inops inopis: weak
superbus: arrogant

Tunc respondit ovans sublime e sede Palemon
et Dafnis pariter, pastorum et turba piorum:
'Desine plura, hiems: rerum tu prodigus, atrox.
et veniat cuculus, pastorum dulcis amicus,
collibus in nostris erumpant germina laeta,
pascua sint pecori, requies et dulcis in arvis.
et virides rami praestent umbracula fessis,
uberibus plenis veniantque ad mulctra capellae,
et volucres varia Phoebum sub voce salutent.
quapropter citius cuculus nunc ecce venito!
tu iam dulcis amor, cunctis gratissimus hospes.
omnia te expectant, pelagus tellusque polusque.
salve, dulce decus, cuculus per saecula salve!'

ovo: to rejoice
turba: crowd
desine plura: say no more
prodigus: wasteful
atrox atrocis: horrible
collis collis (m.): hill
erumpi erupi eruptum: to break through
pascuum: pasture
arvum: field, ploughed field
viridis,-is: green
ramum: branch
praesto praestiti praestatum: to give, provide
umbraculum: shadow
fessus: tired
uberibus plenis veniantque ad mulctra capellae: and my she-goats come with full udders come to the milking –pails .(a bucket for collecting milk)
volucris volucris (f.): bird
varia sub voce: with various voices
citius: very fast
venito: imperative third singular
tellus telluris (f.): earth
polus: sky
decus decoris (n.): beauty
Translation by Helen Waddell:


The Strife between Winter and Spring

From the high mountains the shepherds came together,
Gathered in the spring light under branching trees,
Come to sing songs, Daphnis, old Palemon,
All making ready to sing the cuckoo's praises.
Thither came Spring, girdled with a garland,
Thither came Winter, with his shaggy hair.
Great strife between them on the cuckoo's singing.

Spring. I would that he were here,

Cuckoo !

Of all winged things most dear,
To every roof the most beloved guest.
Bright-billed, good songs he sings.

Winter. Let him not come,

Cuckoo !

Stay on in the dark cavern where he sleeps,
For Hunger is the company he brings.

Spring. I would that he were here,

Cuckoo !

Gay buds come with him, and the frost is gone,
Cuckoo, the age-long comrade of the sun.
The days are longer and the light serene.

Winter. Let him not come,


For toil comes with him and he wakens wars,
Breaks blessed quiet and disturbs the world,
And sea and earth alike sets travailing.

Spring. And what are you that throw your blame on him ?
That huddle sluggish in your half-lit caves
After your feasts of Venus, bouts of Bacchus ?

Winter. Riches are mine and joy of revelling,

And sweet is sleep, the fire on the hearth stone.
Nothing of these he knows, and does his treasons.

Spring. Nay, but he brings the flowers in his bright bill,
And he brings honey, nests are built for him.
The sea is quiet for his journeying,
Young ones begotten, and the fields are green.

Winter. I like not these things which are joy to you.
I like to count the gold heaped in my chests;
And feast, and then to sleep, and then to sleep.

Spring. And who, thou slug-a-bed, got thee thy wealth?
And who would pile thee any wealth at all,
If spring and summer did not toil for thee?

Winter. Thou speakest truth; indeed they toil for me.
They are my slaves, and under my dominion.
As servants for their lord, they sweat for me.

Spring. No lord, but poor and beggarly and proud.
Thou couldst not feed thyself a single day
But for his charity who comes, who comes!

Then old Palemon spake from kis high seat,
And Daphnis, and the crowd of faithful shepherds.
" Have done, have done, Winter, spendthrift and foul,
And let the shepherd's friend, the cuckoo, come.
And may the happy buds break on our hills,
Green be our grazing, peace in the ploughed fields,
Green branches give their shadow to tired men,
The goats come to the milking, udders full,
The birds call to the sun, each one his note.
Wherefore, O cuckoo, come, O cuckoo, come !
For thou art Love himself, the dearest guest,
And all things wait thee, sea and earth and sky.
All hail, beloved : through all ages, hail !

No comments:

Post a comment