This stone, beloved Sabinus, on thy grave
Memorial small of our great love shall be.
I still shall seek thee lost; from Lethe's wave
Oh! drink not thou forgetfulness -- of me.
Anonymous (translated by Goldwin Smith), in Henry Wellesley (editor), Anthologia Polyglotta: A Selection of Versions in Various Languages, Chiefly from The Greek Anthology (1849).
I realize that some may find the poem to be slight: four lines by a nameless ancient poet translated by a Victorian historian who dabbled in poetry. And I suspect that those who have knowledge of the original Greek text may find the translation wanting (and/or florid). Yes, I understand. But it keeps haunting me, and I cannot let it go.
But I will not destroy it by dissecting it. I will only say that this is marvelous: "I still shall seek thee lost." As is this: "Memorial small of our great love shall be." Translation or not, the poem bridges the millennia and reminds us that we are all one and the same. From an unknown Greek poet in an antique land to a translator in Victorian England to readers in the 21st century: nothing has changed.
"Tombstones, Holy Trinity Churchyard, Hinton-in-the-Hedges" (1940)
William Johnson Cory, whose wonderful translation of a poem by Callimachus appeared here recently, wrote a poem in Greek which he then translated into English. It is an appropriate companion to the first poem. From the other side of the grave.
You come not, as aforetime, to the headstone every day,
And I, who died, I do not chide because, my friend, you play;
Only, in playing, think of him who once was kind and dear,
And, if you see a beauteous thing, just say, he is not here.
William Johnson Cory, Ionica (1891).
Cory has captured the spirit and tone of the poems in The Greek Anthology very well: that characteristic mixture of emotion and stoicism (lower case) -- restrained passion, with an underlying foundation of dignity and decency. Ancient, not modern.
John Piper, "Exterior of the Church of St. Denis, Faxton" (1940)
In his essay "The Charm of the Greek Anthology" (in More Literary Recreations), Edward Cook perceptively pairs Cory's "Remember" with a poem of the same title by Christina Rossetti (which has previously been posted here, but is always worth revisiting).
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862).
John Piper, "Tithe Barn, Great Coxwell, Berkshire" (1940)