31 January 2009

'Night' by Alcman of Sparta

I thought it was time for a little archaic poetry. This is from Alcman, the 7th-century Spartan poet, and one of the nine lyric poets canonised in Hellenistic times. The translation is that of Lionel Casson, the NYU classicist (Lionel Casson, ed., Classical Age, The Laurel Masterpieces of World Literature [NY: Dell, 1965], p. 69).


The mountains sleep, the valleys and peaks,
The jutting headlands, the tumbling creeks,
The black earth's teeming creatures that crawl,
The beasts of the forests, the swarms of bees,
The monsters deep in the purple seas,
The wide-winged birds, asleep, one and all.

The invocative catalogue of nature recalls to me some of the Psalms, while the theme of the teeming world asleep harkens forward—to my mind—to Wordsworth's 'Composed Upon Westminster Bridge'. This poem makes me want to join the earth in its slumber!

(The image above is an 1879 etching by Samuel Palmer—about whom I've posted before—called 'The Lonely Tower'.)

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