Continuing my theme this year of Translation, I would like to share my toughts on a wonderful ‘new’ translation of parts of the Aeneid.
Lewis scholars have known for some time that he had been working on a translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, a poem which he loved, lived with, and learned from throughout his life. But only in the last few years has it been recovered and edited, and now it has been published and made available for everyone, and it has certainly been worth the wait! I had expected only fragments, perhaps no more than a dozen lines here and another half dozen there, but what we get is the whole of book 1, most of book 2, substantial parts of the vital book 6 and then tantalising fragments from the other books. AT Reyes has done a splendid job of editing it all, giving a full facing page Latin text, writing fine summaries to fill in the gaps, and providing an excellent introduction which draws together Lewis’s many appreciations of Virgil in his critical prose and also his various discussions of the art of translation. The introduction alone will be a real resource both for Lewis scholars and for those for whom translation, its losses and gains is an endless fascination. But the heart of he book is in Lewis’s own long, loping, rangey verse translation, full of felicities and an unashamedly, beautiful, romantic and adventurous ‘take’ on its original. Lewis has chosen rhyming couplets in English Alexandrines and deployed them to great efect. the Alexandrine is essentialy a line of iambic pentameter with an extra ‘foot’, an extra two syllables with a single stress, tacked on. This is what gives the verse its sense of bounding length, of stride, for an ear attuned to the more usual five stress line.
We know from various letters that Lewis read substantial parts of this translation at meetings of the Inklings, and it is clearly designed to be read aloud, and reads suerbly. To give you a flavour of what I mean I have read three passages for you onto audio boo, the links are below and I have chosen them to suggest the sheer range of effects Lewis is able to achieve with this verse form. They are all from book 1 and I hope they will whet your appetite to go out and read the whole thing for yourself.
As always you can hear the reading either by clicking on the play button if it appears in your browser, or if no play button appears you can click on the title of the extract and be taken to my audioboo page and play it there
The first passage is a description of the storm Juno sends to wreck the trojan fleet, lines 102-123. Reyes points out in his introduction that there are some striking paralells between this description, as Lewis translates it here, and his own description of the great storm in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Its stirring stuff. See what you think.
The second passage is the one where Dido first sees Aeneas I give more of the context in the audioboo. This is line 585-609
The third passage tells how Venus sends her son Cupid in disguise to the feast dido has given Aeneas and causes her to fall in lve with him. this passage particularly shows Lewis power to summon sensuous and romantic language and imagery even in the sound of his words. as before I have given a little context and commentary as part of the audioboo recording. these are lines 683-720
For Lewis Virgil was a poet who could both celebrate the beauty and majesty of life in this world and at the same time keep the soul attuned to longing, kindle its desire, for the ‘ever-receding shore’, for the land we long for. Virgil’s epic of the founding of the City of Rome becomes in his imagination, as it did in the imagination of Dante before him, the epic of our wondering, always longing journey towards the City of God.