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Latin exercise: Absolute Power

by Paul Isthmus 

Posted: 26 June 2006
Word Count: 198
Summary: Third stage done now. I'll leave it to sit for a while.

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3. Absolute Power

I pleased myself with stone and old masonry
in the foundation of the city,
found statues of myself in past ages
subsiding under the common land.

Were my faces smashed toppling into rock
or by sledgehammers in full view of the press?
Broken bulbs around my effigies
have pushed their roots into my eyes and mouth.

Above air and rock, flesh and breath
the story changed with every teller.
All say I am broken, over and over again
for their own sake, for the sake of pleasing.

1. Imperium

A bene placito
Ab urbe condita
Absente reo
Res publica

Quo animo?
In flagrante delicto
Per angusta in augusta
Hoc erat in votis

Esse quam videri
Esse est percipi
Frangar non flectar
Gratia placenti


2. Absolute Power

At one's pleasure
from the foundation of the city
in absence of the defendent
the public thing

With what spirit?
In the very act of committing an offence
through difficulties to great things
this was among my prayers

To be, rather than to seem
being is perception
I am broken, I am not deflected
for the sake of pleasing

(nota bene: spirit can also be translated as intent)

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 11:30 on 27 June 2006  Report this post
Hi Paul,

The Latin poem is satisfying to say, and the English translation seems to work too, in that it reads very much as a valid poem and suggests a story and a distinctive voice. I noticed when working with the first two steps of the exercise that a formality of tone came through - it's very strong in this. It'll be interesting to see how you develop what you have here.


NinaLara at 12:36 on 27 June 2006  Report this post
I like the last verse of the translation very much ... very 'to be or not to be'. It is interesting how philosophical the tone of these poems it - even through the absolute dislocation of meaning!

DJC at 20:50 on 27 June 2006  Report this post
The tone is similar to the latin, in a way. I found the same thing happening to mine, in that it made my style more formal. Like your other, I like this very much, and can see a measured, meticulous tone of voice coming through, where every word counts.


NinaLara at 13:07 on 28 June 2006  Report this post
I think the second verse is very interesting - reminding us of the scenes repeated throughout Eastern Europe and in Iraq following the falls of Government, while maintaining the image of survival and that spring will come inspite of it all. I am very impressed with the way you have kept to the tone and feel of the translation.

joanie at 19:11 on 29 June 2006  Report this post
Hi Paul. Oh, wow. I find myself re-reading constantly. It's amazing how an exercise can give birth to such wonderful thoughts. I feel a real sense of power here: pushed their roots is much stronger than all the references to rock and sledgehammers!

Very interesting, very enjoyable.


Elsie at 19:37 on 29 June 2006  Report this post
Hi Paul at first I thought this was someone innocently admiring architecture, then realised it was about the toppling of a dictator. Good response, to a tricky exercise.

paul53 [for I am he] at 06:22 on 02 July 2006  Report this post
Echoes of "Ozymandius" here. Solid, stirring, and remains in the mind long after reading.

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