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   Chapter 19 THE PERVIGILIUM.

Brother Copas By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 8551

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

'Now learn ye to love who loved never-now

ye who have loved, love anew!

It is Spring, it is chorussing Spring: 'tis the

birthday of earth, and for you!

It is Spring; and the Loves and the birds

wing together, and woo to accord

Where the bough to the rain has unbraided

her locks as a bride to her lord.

For she walks-She our Lady, our Mistress

of Wedlock,-the woodlands atween,

And the bride-bed she weaves them, with

myrtle enlacing, with curtains of green.

Look, list ye the law of Dione, aloft and

enthroned in the blue:-

Now learn ye to love who loved never-now

ye who have loved, love anew!'

"H'm, h'm-tolerable only! 'Aloft and established in blue'-is that better?"

"Uncle Copas, whatever are you doing?"

Corona looked up from her page of irregular verbs, and across to her preceptor as he sat muttering and scribbling.

"The idlest thing in the world, child. Translating."

"But you told me that next week, if I learned these verbs, you would let me begin to translate."

"To be sure I did. You must go on translating and translating until, like me, you ought to know better. Then you throw it all away."

"I suppose I shall understand, one of these fine days," sighed Corona. "But, uncle, you won't mind my asking a question? I really do want to find out about these things.… And I really do want to learn Latin, ever since you said it was the only way to find out all that St. Hospital means."

"Did I say that? I ought, of course, to have said that Latin was worth learning for its own sake."

"I guess," said Corona sagely, "you thought you'd take the likeliest way with me."

"O woman! woman!… But what was your question?"

"Sometimes I wake early and lie in bed thinking. I was thinking, only yesterday morning, if people are able to put into English all that was ever written in Latin, why don't they do it and save other people the trouble?"

"Now I suppose," said Brother Copas, "that in the United States of America-land of labour-saving appliances-that is just how it would strike everyone?"

He knew that this would nettle her. But, looking up hotly, she caught his smile and laughed.

"Well, but why?" she demanded.

"Because the more it was the same thing the more it would be different. There's only one way with Latin and Greek. You must let 'em penetrate: soak 'em into yourself, get 'em into your nature slowly, through the pores of the skin."

"It sounds like sitting in a bath."

"That's just it. It's a baptism first and a bath afterwards; but the more it's a bath, the more you remember it's a baptism."

"I guess you have that right, though I don't follow," Corona admitted. "There's something in Latin makes you proud. Only yesterday I was gassing to three girls about knowing amo, amas, amat; and, next thing, you'll say, 'I'd like you to know Ovid,' and I'll say,' Mr. Ovid, I'm pleased to have met you'-like what happens in the States when you shake hands with a professor. All the same, I don't see what there is in amo, amas, amat to make the gas."

"Wait till you come to cras amet qui nunquam amavit."

"Is that what you were translating?"


"Then translate it for me, please."

"You shall construe for yourself. Cras means 'to-morrow.' Amet-"

"That's the present subjunctive. Let me see-'he may love.'"

"Try again."

"Or 'let him love.'"

"Right. 'To-morrow let him love.' Qui?"



"'Never'-I know that too."


"Perfect, active, third person singular-'he has loved.'"

"Qui being the subject-"

"'Who-never-has loved.'"

"Right as ninepence again. 'To-morrow let him love who has never loved.'"

"But," objected Corona, "it seems so easy!-and here you have been for quite half an hour muttering and shaking your head over it, and taking you can't think what a lot of nasty snuff."

"Have I?" Brother Copas sought for his watch. "Heavens, child! The hour has struck these ten minutes ago. Why didn't you remind me?"

"Because I thought 'twouldn't be manners. But, of course, if I'd known you were wasting your time, and over anything so easy-"

"Not quite so easy as you suppose, miss. To begin with, the original is in verse; a late Latin poem in a queer metre, and by who

m written nobody knows. But you are quite right about my wasting my time.… What troubles me is that I have been wasting yours, when you ought to have been out at play in the sun." "Please don't mention that," said Corona politely. "It has been fun enough watching you frowning and tapping your fingers, and writing something down and scratching it out the next moment. What is it all about, Uncle Copas?"

"It-er-is called the Pervigilium Veneris; that's to say The Vigil of Venus. But I suppose that conveys nothing to you?"

He thrust his spectacles high on his forehead and smiled at her vaguely across the table.

"Of course it doesn't. I don't know what a Vigil means; or Venus- whether it's a person or a place; or why the Latin is late, as you call it. Late for what?"

Brother Copas laughed dryly.

"Late for me, let's say. Didn't I tell you I was wasting my time? And Venus is the goddess of Love: some day-alas the day!-you'll be proud to make her acquaintance.… Cras amet qui nunquam amavit."

"Perhaps if you read it to me-"

He shook his head.

"No, child: the thing is late in half a dozen different ways. The young, whom it understands, cannot understand it: the old, who arrive at understanding, look after it, a thing lost. Go, dear: don't let me waste your time as well as an old man's."

But when she had gone he sat on and wasted another hour in translating-

Time was that a rain-cloud begat her,

impregning the heave of the deep.

'Twixt hooves of sea-horses a-scatter, stam-

peding the dolphins as sheep,

Lo! born of that bridal Dione, rainbowed

and bespent of its dew:-

Now learn ye to love who loved never-now

ye who have loved, love anew!

She, she, with her gem-dripping finger

enamels the wreath of the year;

She, she, when the maid-bud is nubile and

swelling, winds-whispers anear,

Disguising her voice in the Zephyr's-'So

secret the bed! and thou shy?

'She, she, when the midsummer night is

a-hush draws the dew from on high;

Dew bright with the tears of its origin, dew

with its weight on the bough,

Misdoubting and clinging and trembling-

'Now, now must I fall? Is it now?'

Brother Copas pushed the paper from him.

"What folly is this," he mused, "that I, who have always scoffed at translations, sit here trying to translate this most untranslatable thing? Pah! Matthew Arnold was a great man, and he stood up to lecture the University of Oxford on translating Homer. He proved excellently well that Homer was rapid; that Homer was plain and direct; that Homer was noble. He took translation after translation, and proved-proved beyond doubting-that each translator had failed in this or in that; this or that being alike essential. Then, having worked out his sum, he sat down and translated a bit or two of Homer to encourage us, and the result was mere bosh."

-"The truth being, he is guilty of a tomfoolery among principles at the start. If by any chance we could, in English, find the right way to translate Homer, why should we waste it on translating him? We had a hundred times better be writing Epics of our own."

-"It cannot be done. If it could, it ought not.… The only way of getting at Homer is to soak oneself in him. The average Athenian was soaked in him as the average Englishman is in the Authorised Version of the Psalms.…"

-"Yet I sit here, belying all my principles, attempting to translate a thing more difficult than Homer."

-"It was she, this child, set me going upon it!"

Brother Copas pulled the paper towards him again.

By the end of another hour he had painfully achieved this:-

"'Go, Maidens,' Our Lady commands, 'while

the myrtle is green in the grove,

Take the Boy to your escort.' But 'Ah!'

cry the maidens, 'What trust is in Love

Keeping holiday too, while he weareth his

archery, tools of his trade?'

-'Go: he lays them aside, an apprentice

released-you may wend unafraid:

See, I bid him disarm, he disarms. Mother-

naked I bid him to go,

And he goes mother-naked. What flame

can he shoot without arrow or bow?'

-Yet beware ye of Cupid, ye maidens! Be-

ware most of all when he charms

As a child: for the more he runs naked,

the more he's a strong man-at-arms."

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