Metrical Translations of Corinne’s Odes in Madame de Staël’s Corinne, or Italy/Corinne’s Chant in the Vicinity of Naples

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    Ay, Nature, History and Poesie,
Rival each other's greatness:—here the eye
Sweeps with a glance, all wonders and all time.
A dead volcano now, I see thy lake
Avernus, with the fear-inspiring waves
Acheron, and Phlégeton boiling up
With subterranean flame: these are the streams
Of that old hell Aeneas visited.

    Fire, the devouring life which first creates
The world which it consumes, struck terror most
When least its laws were known.—Ah! Nature then
Reveal'd her secrets but to Poetry.

    The town of Cuma and the Sibyl's cave,
The temple of Apollo mark'd this height;
Here is the wood where grew the bough of gold.
The country of the Æneid is around;
The fables genius consecrated here
Are memories whose traces still we seek.

    A Triton has beneath these billows plunged
The daring Trojan, who in song defied
The sea divinities: still are the rocks
Hollow and sounding, such as Virgil told.
Imagination's truth is from its power:
Man's genius can create when nature's felt;
He copies when he deems that he invents.

    Amid these masses, terrible and old,
Creation's witnesses, you see arise
A younger hill of the volcano born:
For here the earth is stormy as the sea,
But doth not, like the sea, peaceful return
Within its bounds: the heavy element,
Upshaken by the tremulous abyss,
Digs valleys, and rears mountains; while the waves,
Harden'd to stone, attest the storms which rend
Her depths; strike now upon the earth,
You hear the subterranean vault resound.
It is as if the ground on which we dwell

Were but a surface ready to unclose.
Naples! how doth thy country likeness bear
To human passions; fertile, sulphurous:
Its dangers and its pleasures both seem born
Of those inflamed volcanoes, which bestow
Upon the atmosphere so many charms,
Yet bid the thunder growl beneath our feet.

    Pliny but studied nature that the more
He might love Italy; and call'd his land
The loveliest, when all other titles fail’d.
He sought for science as a warrior seeks
For conquest: it was from this very cape
He went to watch Vesuvius through the flames:—
Those flames consumed him.

    O Memory! noble power! thy reign is here.
Strange destiny, how thus, from age to age,
Doth man complain of that which he has lost.
Still do departed years, each in their turn,
Seem treasures of happiness gone by;
And while mind, joyful in its far advance,
Plunges amid the future, still the Soul
Seems to regret some other ancient home
To which it is drawn closer by the past.

    We envy Roman grandeur—did they not
Envy their fathers' brave simplicity?
Once this voluptuous country they despised;
Its pleasures but subdued their enemies.
See, in the distance, Capua! she o'ercame
The warrior, whose firm soul resisted Rome
More time than did a world.

    The Romans in their turn dwelt on these plains,
When strength of mind but only served to feel
More deeply shame and grief; effeminate,
They sank without remorse. Yet Baiæ saw
The conquer'd sea give place to palaces:
Columns were dug from mountains rent in twain,
And the world's masters, now in their turn slaves,
Made nature subject to console themselves
That they were subject too.

    And Cicero on this promontory died:
This Gaëta we see. Ah! no regard
Those triumvirs paid to posterity,
Robbing her of the thoughts yet unconceived

Of this great man: their crime continues still;
Committed against us was this offence.

    Cicero ‘neath the tyrant's dagger fell,
But Scipio, more unhappy, was exiled
With yet his country free. Beside this shore
He died; and still the ruins of his tomb
Retain the name, "Tower of my native land:"*[1]
Touching allusion to the memory
Which haunted his great soul.

    Marius found a refuge in yon marsh†[2],
Near to the Scipio’s home. Thus in all time
Have nations persecuted their great men.
But they enskied them after death‡[3]; and Heaven,
Where still the Romans deem’d they could command,
Received amid her planets Romulus,
Numa, and Caesar; new and dazzling stars!
Mingling together in our erring gaze
The rays of glory and celestial light.

    And not enough alone of misery,
The trace of crime is here. In yonder gulf behold
The isle of Capri, where at length old age
Disarm'd Tiberius; violent yet worn;
Cruel, voluptuous; wearied e'en of crime,
He sought yet viler pleasures; tis he were
Not low enough debased by tyranny.
And Agrippina's tomb is on these shores,
Facing the isle §[4], rear'd after Nero's death;
The murderer of his mother had proscribed
Even her ashes. Long at Baiæ he dwelt
Amid the memories of his many crimes.
What wretches fate here brings before our eyes!
Tiburius, Nero, on each other gaze.

    The isles, volcano-born amid the sea,
Served at their birth the crimes of the old world.
The sorrowing exiles on these lonely rocks,
Watched 'mid the waves their native land afar,
Seeking to catch its perfumes in the air:

And often, a long exile worn away,
Sentence of sudden death arrived to show
They were remember'd by their enemies.

    O Earth! all bathed with blood and tears, yet never
Hast thou ceased putting forth thy fruit and flowers;
And hast thou then no pity for mankind?
Can thy maternal breast receive again
Their dust, and yet not throb?L. E. L.

Some memories of the heart, some women's names
Yet ask your tears. 'Twas at this very place,
Massena *[5], that Cornelia kept till death
Her noble mourning; Agrippina too
Long wept Germanicus beside these shores.
At length the same assassin who deprived
Her of her husband found she was at last
Worthy to follow him. And yonder isle †[6]
Saw Brutus and his Portia bid farewell.

    Thus women loved of heroes have beheld
The object perish which they so adored.
Long time in vain they follow'd in their path;
There came the hour when they were forced to part.
Portia destroy'd herself; Cornelia clasp'd
The sacred urn which answer'd not her cries;
And Agrippina, for how many years!
Vainly her husband's murderer defied.
And wander'd here the wretched ones, like ghosts
On wasted shores of the eternal stream,

Sighing to reach the other far-off land.
Did they not ask in their long solitude
Of silence, of all nature, of the sky,
Star-shining?—and from the deep sea, one sound.
One only tone of the beloved voice
They never more might hear.

    Mysterious enthusiasm, Love!
The heart's supremest power;—which doth combine
Within itself religion, poetry,
And heroism. Love, what may befall
When destiny has bade us separate
From him who has the secret of our soul;
Who gave us the heart's life, celestial life.
What may befall when absence, or when death
Isolate woman on this earth?—She pines,
She sinks. How often have these rocks
Offer'd their cold support to the forlorn!
Those once worn in the heart;—those once sustain’d
Upon a hero's arm.

    Before you is Sorrento:—dwelling there
Was Tasso's sister, when the pilgrim came
Asking asylum 'gainst the prince unjust
From humble friends: long grief had almost quench'd
Reason's clear light, but genius still was left.
Yet kept he knowledge of the things divine,
When earthly images were all obscured.
Thus shrinking from the desert spread around
Doth Genius wander through the world, and finds
No likeness to itself; no echo given
By Nature; and the Common crowd but hold
As madness that desire of the rapt soul,
Which finds not in this world enough of air—
Of high enthusiasm, or of hope.
For Destiny compels exalted minds:—
The poet, whose imagination draws
Its power from loving and from suffering,—
They are the vanish'd from another sphere.
For the Almighty goodness might not frame
All for the few—th’ elect or the proscribed.
Why spoke the ancients with such awe of Fate?
What had this terrible Fate to do with them,
The common and the quiet, who pursue
The seasons, and still follow timidly
The beaten track of ordinary life?
But she, the priestess of the oracle,
Shook with the presence of the cruel power,

I know not what the involuntary force
That plunges Genius into misery.
Genius doth catch the music of the spheres,
Which mortal ear was never meant to know.
Genius can penetrate the mysteries
Of feeling, all unknown to other hearts;
A power hath entered in the inmost soul,
Whose presence may not be contained.

    Sublime Creator of this lovely world,
Protect us: our exertions have no strength;
Our hope's a lie. Tumultuous tyranny
Our passions exercise, and neither leave
Repose nor liberty. What we may do
To-morrow may perhaps decide our fate.
We may have said but yesterday some word
Which may not be recalled. Still, when our mind
Is elevate with noblest thoughts, we feel
As on the height of some great edifice,
Giddiness blending all things in our sight;
But even there, woe! terrible woe! appears.
Not lost amid the clouds, it pierces through;
It flings the shades asunder; Oh my God!
What doth it herald to us?"L. E. L.

  1. * "La tour de la patrie." Patrie can scarce be rendered by a single word: "native land" perhaps best expresses the ancient patria.—L. E. L.
  2. † Minturno.
  3. ‡ "Ils sont consolés par l’apothéose." This is the only instance in which I have not given, as nearly as possible, the English word that answered most exactly; but I confess one so long as "apotheosis" fairly baffled my efforts to get it into rhythm. It is curious to observe how many Pagan observances were grafted on the Roman Catholic worship. Canonization is but a Christian apotheosis,—only the deceased turned into saints instead of gods.—L. E. L.
  4. § Caprea
  5. * The retreat of Pompey.
  6. Nisida