Daily Archives: January 18, 2011

Lumen de Lumine:you know more Latin than you know you know

Touching again on our theme of translation, I thought I’d share with you a (New!!) Latin poem by my friend Sheila Swartz, and two diferent ways in which it might be translated. Now before anyone throws up their hands in horror and says, ‘Latin! but thats a dead language! or ‘blogging in Latin, how elitist is that!’ let me say that everyone knows more Latin than they know they know (as it were). All the words in english that end in ‘ation’ for example, are really Latin, and you know hundreds of those, indeed in almost every sentence you speak you will be using or drawing from a word with a Latin root, which is why even when you come across some Latin in its pure form you can have a pretty good idea of what its saying. Take these two lines from a greatLatin hymn:

Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine

You didnt need the translators of Oh Come All Ye Faithful to tell you those words mean God of god, Light of light, you spotted the deum in our word deity and you had already been illuminated by the glimpse of lumen, glimmering  in  words like luminous.

Indeed Latin is an illuminating language in everyway, it sheds light on sources and origins, and concentrates our mind on the hidden sources and stems of grace from which our language springs. Dense little Latin words are like the seeds from which our later languages grow and so reading and translating from Latin somes times feels like drawing out and unfolding something, rather than just finding an English equivalent.

So now to our new Latin poem and two English versions that might ‘iluminate’ the ways we can use language. I know that for most people the days of Christmas end at Epiphany (January 6th), but some people keep the feast until candlemas (on February 2nd) when they brought the baby Jesus into the temple. So I reckon theres time for one last Christmas fling, and here it is. First I’ll give you Sheila’s  Latin Hymn in praise of Jesus: ‘Num Frustra’ (‘not in vain’ – but you knew that , you know what it is when a purpose is ‘frustrated’) See how many Latin roots of well known words you recognise as you also enjoy the lovely compact stacatto rythms she gets out of her Latin phrases. Next I will give you her own literal translation, a kind of ‘crib’ which shows you what each word means but doesnt ‘work’ or carry its own current as an independent English script. Finally I will give you an effort of mine which is not so much a translation as a ‘version’. I tried to write something which ‘works’ in English in the same way that Sheila’s version ‘works’ in Latin, with its own sense of rythm, momentum and pattern I have managed to include almost all her lovely latin nuggets, tho I was frustrated not to have managed ‘ mysteriorem’ or ‘celebrare’. However, I have, I hope, caught the sprit of her piece. I’ve laso included a link to a recording so you can hear both pieces read aloud. Indeed I think either or both could be sung, if there is someone inventive out there who’d like to have a go! Anyway let me know what you think of these efforts. By the way if anyone would like an amusing way of learning a little Latin, aimed at children, but great fun for adults too, check out Minimus, the mouse who made Latin cool! 

Num Frustra by Sheila Swartz

Jesu adest
Jesu adest
Quaecumque, gaudete
…Jesu adest

Pueri puellaeque
Laudabant facile
Deum, Iaudaeorem
Jesu adest

Nox dimmitivit
Vox servis dedit
Vexi vulnis eorum
Jesu adest

Dominus est
Amicus est
Donus Opportune: Mors
Statim abest

Non mansuetus – bonus
Huc saepe est domus
Jesu adest

Noli lacrimare
Quod celebrare
Nonne decorum?
Jesu adest

Now here is the literal translation:

Jesus is here/Jesus is here/Whoever you are, rejoice/Jesus is here
Boys and girls/Were praising easily/God and Jew/Jesus is here
He dismissed the night/He gave a voice to the slaves/He carried their wounds/Jesus is here
He is Lord/He is friend/A gift at the right time/Death is gone at once
Not tame – good/ He is often at home here/ (Mystery)/ Jesus is here
It is not for you to cry/But to celebrate/ Is it not proper?/ Jesus is here
Jesus is here/ Jesus is here/Whoever you are, rejoice/ Jesus is here

And finally my English Version, or reworking .

He is here, O here is Jesus
He will ease us into praise
Born a Jew despised and wounded
Slaves rejoice, for night has ended
Every child is now befriended
Boys and girls your voices raise

Dry your tears for here is Jesus
Bringing every gift in time
Untamed goodness, always present
Home and heaven never distant
Death itself has died this instant
Come and join our joyful rhyme!

you can listen to the Latin and English by clicking on the ‘play’ button below:


Filed under imagination, literature