Wild Court

An international poetry journal based in the English Department of King’s College London

Two translations by James Owens


    The Death of Dido


—Aeneid IV, 692-705


She searched the sky for light, and moaned to find it.
Then mighty Juno, for pity on long pain
and a hard-dying soul, sent Iris to unbind her
from the struggle in her knotted limbs, insane
with grief, burning with grief before her hour.
And being this was no deserved or fated death,
Proserpina had not yet snipped a lock of yellow hair
nor assigned the queen to her station beneath.

Thus, dewy, saffron-winged Iris, trailing a rush
of colours opposite the sun, across the sky,
alights by Dido's head. “I will sanctify
this token to Dis and loose you from your flesh”
—she speaks, and grips and shears a tress, and here,
warmth ebbs to nothing, life fades and thins on air.


    The Unique


—De Rerum Natura II, 352-370


Take humans—but also shoals of scaley swimmers,
and peaceful herds, and the fiercest of wild beasts,
all breeds of fowls, those flocking in wetlands,
in pleasant places, on banks and brooks and lakes,
and those that flit and flutter through trackless woods—
examine any individual, of any species,
and you will find all differ in appearance.
By no other means could a cub pick out its dam,
or mother know her child, as we see they can
no less surely than we can, by certain signs.

Often there's a sacrifice—a calf is slain
at the gods' trimmed shrine, the incense-smudged altar,
and breathes out the hot gush of his heart's blood.
His grieving mother roams the green uplands
and licks his cleft-footed prints from the soil.
She looks unresting everywhere, anxious
to happen on her missing young, then stands
and louds the leafy grove with lowing; now goes,
and again, to his stall, pierced by need of him.

No tender willows nor grass thriving in dew,
nor any streams descending between low banks,
divert her mind or dull this sharpest grief;
and the sight of other calves grazing sweet pasture
cannot pull her to them or lessen her pain,
so direly she needs what she knows as her own.

Meanwhile, the young, tremulous-voiced kids
recognize their horned mothers, and playful lambs
their bleating flocks. Thus nature would have it—
each returns surely to its own milky teat.