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Virtutis Genius

December 21, 2011

The second issue of “Ramify” (the Jouranl of UD’s Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts) includes three poems by Jacob Balde, with English translations by Dr. Karl Maurer. I post the most stupefyingly beautiful of these.

Ad Jo Albulam. Virtutis Genius.                        To Johannes Albula. The Genius of Virtue.

Virtus aetheri conscia sanguinis,                       Virtue aware of her celestial blood

Astrorumque soror non amat, Albula,               and sister of the stars does not love, Johann

Inter serpere fungos                                                           to creep between the mushrooms

Et declivia vallium.                                                            and declivities of valleys;

Semper summa petit; quo neque nubium        But flies forever to where not even feathers

Nautum Romulei flammigerum Iovis               excited by deep wind bear the flame-bearing

Pleno concita vento                                                              proud sailor of the clouds,

Transfert penna satellitem.                                             the Eagle of Jupiter.

Illius labor est nobile pabulum,                          Her noble food is labor, and her rest

Acclinis clipeo porrigitur quies                         To stretch out, head propped against a shield,

Accenditque soporem                                                           until sweet danger of war

Belli dulce periculum.                                                        enkindles sleep in her.

Iam cum sidereis otia fratribus,                         There she shares Leisure with her starry Brothers,

Iam cum fulminibus proelia dividit                then battles, with her brother Lightning flashes,

Lustralique tonantis                                                              and loves being sprinkled well

Gestit sulphure spargier.                                                   with the thunderer’s lustral sulphur.

Supra Fata rapax tollere se domat                    Hungry to rise above the Fates, she tames

Formosis humilem sub pedibus Metum.        ignoble fear beneath her shapely feet,

Si Fortuna lacessit                                                                   and if Fortuna mocks her

Constans adicitur sibi.                                                          she steadfastly gathers strength.

At cum pulvereo fumat ab aequore,                But when smoke rises from a dusty field

Corpus non gelida fluminis abluit,                 She does not wash with chilly river water

Sed sudore lavatur                                                                   But bathes in sweat, a Goddess

Neglectu Dea pulchrior.                                                     more beautiful for neglect.

Auri nulla fames, nulla sitis lucri;                   No hunger of gold she has, no thirst for profit;

Dedignatur humum figere spiculis:                 she scorns to fasten arrows to the earth.

Arcus tota cupido                                                                     The bow’s whole longing flies

Metam fertur in arduam.                                                     to a much steeper goal.

Promittente necem vulnere gloriae               As a wound promises death, a death in glory,

Migrat cum Domino fida comes suo                 the faithful comrade migrates with her Lord,

Heredique superbit                                                               proud to be left like plunder

Linqui, ceu spolium, pigro.                                                to her unwilling heir.

From Ramify’s “Biography” of Balde:

Jacob Balde (1604-1688) was a German poet and Jesuit Priest  and perhaps the greatest of the Neo-Latin poets. … He taught Classics and Rhetoric in Munich and Innsbruck, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1633. Balde served as professor of eloquence at the University of Ingolstadt before being called to Munich to educate the sons of Duke Albert. He also served as court preacher to the elector Maximilian I. In 1654 he was sent to Neuberg, on the Danube, on account of his failing health, becoming an intimate friend and advisor to the Count Palatine Philiipp Wilhelm. Balde died 1668.

Balde was a prodigiously prolific, prodigiously various poet; his biographer Georg Westermayer calculated that he published over 80,000 verses; they include four book of “Lyrica” (i.e. lyric odes in classical meters), a book of “Epodes,” nine books of Statian “Silvae,” many books of Elegy, Satire, Pastoral, and Epic, and even a brilliant tragedy (Jepthe, later renamed Jepthias). Although not all of equal weight, within this variety is a kind of unity; as Westermayer says, “Overall one can discern four distinct poetic times of day in Balde’s life: an Epic morning (1626-1637), a lyrical midday (1637-1649), a Satirical evening (1637-1649), and an Elegiac twilight (1662-1668).”

Among the “Lyrica” alone the variety is huge; they include acerbic epigrams, haunting pure lyrics, admonitions to every kind of person, elegies, prayers, and dozens of hymns to the Virgin for which he was especially famous.

During his lifetime, all over Europe Balde was hungrily read, imitated, and envied. Within just a few generations of his death, Latin verse largely ceased to be written, or much read, with the result that few could even understand his too compressed, too subtly allusive Latin. He was later discovered by Herder, and prized by Schlegel and Goethe, but then again largely forgotten; and he remains so today, except among specialists in Germany.

But that is our loss. Unlike many of the Neo-Latin poets, whose poetry is filled with prefabricated parts plundered from the ancients, Balde’s Latin, in the words of Karl Maurer, “is often so fresh and strange, so dense with simultaneous, fully imagined images, that is as if, like Catullus or Vergil, he were stretching Latin beyond its proper bounds.”

“Of course,” writes Maurer, “translations of Latin verse of this quality can only be coarse simulacra. But they might perhaps cause a few readers to notice the denseness and power of the Latin, and the fact that some of these poems are masterpieces.”

More Balde here:

Ramify here (do feel free to subscribe!):

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