Thursday, January 3, 2013

"The Piers Are Pummelled By The Waves"

The ode by Horace that I discussed in my previous post contains an image of a tempestuous Tyrrhenian Sea in winter.  In Derek Mahon's translation of the ode, the winter is described as one that "flings the high Tyrrhenian waves on the stone piers."  Louis MacNeice uses similar imagery in his translation:  the winter "on the ramparts of rock is exhausting the battering waves."

Something about the wind-tossed Tyrrhenian waves pounding the shore seemed vaguely familiar.  At my age, these inklings sometimes remain inchoate.  However, if I wait patiently, what I am looking for may arrive unexpectedly.  I eventually remembered the following poem by W. H. Auden.

                                Richard Eurich, "Marine Harvest" (1949)

            The Fall of Rome

The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar's double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

W. H. Auden, Nones (1951).  Auden wrote the poem in 1947.

I'm afraid that I have no arcane or profound parallels of any sort to draw between Auden and Horace.  I was only thinking of the waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea ("mare Tyrrhenum") crashing upon piers in winter.

                       Richard Eurich, "Coast Scene with a Rainbow" (1952)


Eric Thomson said...

As a translation of Horace's 'debilitat', Mahon's 'fling' is wide of the mark, not that it makes his version any the less forceful, but it does force the original. For Horace, it's the sea rather than the piers (which are not even that - 'oppositis pumicibus') that receives the pummelling, worn out by a surf(eit) of wearing away at stone barricades in winter. 
For the late Auden, Horace was the 'adroitest of makers'. By an odd coincidence, I went in search of him yesterday on the Esquiline, in the Auditorium of Maecenas ('chiuso' but fortunately I'd been before) Tomorrow we'll be flying over the Tyrrhenian Sea, unpummelled I hope. The Romans had no such luck.

Stephen Pentz said...

Eric Thomson: it's good to hear from you again.

I appreciate your pointing out the distinction between Horace and Mahon's version of Horace -- perhaps Mahon had Auden in the back of his mind!

I hope that your journey over mare Tyrrhenum went well. Happy New Year.