In this installment, we’d like to bring you the spicy taste of the poems and epigrams of the ancient poet Martial. The guest of this post is George Held, a poet and translator of great versatility who moves with ease from sonnets to epigrams to witty insights in his own poems—and always surprises his readers. Suffice to say, February at NTM is hot, dear friends!
And remember, all this month and beyond: read, write, and share your favorite translated poems.
—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman
Why do you always call me an old man, Ted?
No one’s an old man, Ted,
when it comes to giving head.
A lawyer, they say,
is carping at my wares.
Who he might be, I do not know.
If I do know, lawyer beware!
To you, my father Fronto and mother Flaccilla,
I commend this girl, my pet and delight,
little Erotion, that she be not scared by dark shadows
and the monstrous mouth of Tartarus’ hound.
She’d have felt the chills of six winter solstices
had she lived that many more days.
May she now play with her old protectors
and her lisping lips chatter my name.
Earth, may the sod that covers her soft bones
be not hard or heavy upon her: she was not hard
or heavy on you.
Thais has black teeth,
Laecania’s are white as snow.
How come? The first has bought
hers, the other’s are her own.
You say you’re pretty, Bassa,
you say you’re young;
if true, Bassa, you wouldn’t
so wag your tongue.
Phil swears he never dines at home, and here’s why:
If not asked out to dinner, he goes hungry.
You* that scare straights with your sickle and gays
with your prick, guard these few remote acres.
Thus may no old thieves enter your orchard,
just a boy or a gorgeous girl with long hair.
Marcus Valerius Martialis (A.D. 40-104), or Martial, was born in Spain and flourished in Rome. His greatest achievement remains his 1,500 epigrams, in which he depicts, often satirically, the behavior of his fellow Romans and perfects the form in Latin. His influence appears in the work of virtually every epigrammatist since.
George Held’s translations of Martial’s epigrams have appeared in many journals, including Circumference, Connecticut Review, Ezra, The International Poetry Review, and The Notre Dame Review, and in his chapbook Martial Artist (Toad Press, 2005). An eight-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he has published twenty collections of poems, including Culling: New & Selected Nature Poems http://astore.amazon.com/thprpo-20/detail/0615910076 (Poets Wear Prada, 2014).