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Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 07, 2006 12:58PM

Or, maybe just translated it?

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant,
Direr, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant :
"Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j'étais belle."

Lors vous n'aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de Ronsard ne s'aille réveillant,
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle.

Je serai sous la terre, et fantôme sans os,
Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos ;
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,

Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.
Vivez, si m'en croyez, n'attendez à demain ;
Cueillez dès aujourd'hui les rose de la vie.
* Pierre de Ronsard

Apparently originally a sonnet to a lady named Helen. Which brings to mind Poe's poem to the (same?) person:

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfum'd sea,
The weary way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the beauty of fair Greece,
And the grandeur of old Rome.

Lo ! in that little window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand!
The folded scroll within thy hand —
A Psyche from the regions which
Are Holy land !

T.S. Eliot is said to have remarked that a full appreciation of Poe can only be had by those whose knowledge of English is less than perfect. A cheap shot, sure, but the discerning (read, picky) critic can find fallow ground in the one above.

The two-foot final line makes one think the ultimate lines in all stanzas should be read as having two feet, but the others seemed longer, before reaching the end.

And, the rhyme with roam/Rome - a no-no, no? Identical rhymes are a very poor technique, said not to be rhymes at all, that is.

The finish appears not to be a complete sentence at all, and a later revision shows the last stanza as,

Lo ! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I me thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy-land !

This one changes folded scroll to agate lamp, for reasons not entirely clear.

Lastly, 'long wont' in the second stanza has been criticized for being a 'dangling modifier:

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Excessively meticulous? Yeah, prolly, but it is always fun to malign the masters!

Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: PamAdams (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 07, 2006 01:26PM

Thy hyacinth hair,

All the hyacinths that I know are either pink or purple- maybe Helen is a punk rocker?


Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 07, 2006 01:35PM

Helen Highwater?

Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 08, 2006 07:16AM

According to this site, the Yeats poem was indeed based on the de Ronsard poem, as a very free translation of it:

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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/08/2006 07:18AM by IanB.

Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 08, 2006 08:44AM

We made some comments on Poe's poem to Helen in a 2004 thread:

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The 'long wont' line appears to modify 'me' in the third line of that stanza. I don't know whether that makes it dangle. It's not ungrammatical, but it's in an unnatural position in such a sentence in English. If it were in Latin, the order wouldn't matter so much, as the inflections would show the meaning. Which makes me wonder whether the Poe poem was also a translation or adaptation of some foreign language work, however I don't think it could have been, because it seems to be a poem in which he lost his way after starting with a few striking lines.

That 'revised' last stanza is hardly an improvement! Besides the 'me' 'see' typo, the change of 'A' to 'Ah,' and the hyphenation of 'Holy-land' just get him deeper into the woods of meaninglessness. The anomalous two-beat last line is a sort of last gasp on which he gives up.

I have no idea what Nicean barks of yore he was thinking of. It can't be Odysseus' ship(s). Perhaps, adapting TSE's comment, Poe's classical allusions are best appreciated by readers having the advantage of ignorance of the subject (because their imaginations can soar unconstrained by knowledge).


Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 08, 2006 08:54AM

Helen Highwater?

Was she related to Gail Warning?

Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 08, 2006 12:37PM

I noticed on Ian's link a discussion of Edward Fitzgerald, and his translation of Omar K. This, in turn, reminded me of the juicy one below, by Robert Browning:

To Edward Fitzgerald

I chanced upon a new book yesterday;
I opened it, and, where my finger lay
'Twixt page and uncut page, these words I read -
Some six or seven at most - and learned thereby
That you, Fitzgerald, whom by ear and eye
She never knew, "thanked God my wife was dead."
Aye, dead! and were yourself alive, good Fitz,
How to return you thanks would task my wits.
Kicking you seems the common lot of curs -
While more appropriate greeting lends you grace,
Surely to spit there glorifies your face -
Spitting from lips once sanctified by hers.

Wow! Strong talk! There must be a story in that somewhere, but it is the first I have heard of any enmity between Fitz and Elizabeth B. and/or Robert.

Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: Veronika (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 08, 2006 02:05PM

T.S. was probably alluding to Mallarmé’s love of Poe’s poetry.

As for “Nicean”, I found two different explanations on-line. I am posting both of them below. The second one is rather long, but I nevertheless pasted the entire passage.


The way-worn wanderer was Dionysos or Bacchus, after his renowned conquests. His native shore was the Western Horn, called the Amalthean Horn. And the Nicean barks were vessels sent from the island Nysa, to which in infancy Dionysos was conveyed to screen him from Rhea. The perfumed sea was the sea surrounding Nysa, a paradisal island.


"Like Those Nicean Barks": Helen's Beauty
The accumulated, impressive criticism on "To Helen" has considered every conceivable literary source for Poe's famous epithet "Nicean barks." Milton, Coleridge, Virgil, classical myths (especially the stories of Helen, Bacchus, Psyche, and Ulysses), and classical history (Alexander the Great and Catullus) have been identified as the source for the Nicean barks that carry the wanderer home. [See Edward D. Snyder, "Poe's Nicean Barks," Classical Journal, 48 (1953), 159-169; Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Thomas O. Mabbott (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1969), 1, 166-171; The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Killis Campbell (New York: Gordian Press, 1962), pp. 200201.] This scholarship establishes the range and subtlety of Poe's allusiveness and considerable learning. Edward Snyder asserts that in the composition of this poem there "had drifted [page 27:] through [Poe's] mind many shadowy recollections of his reading and that it is something better than idle speculation to attempt to identify each of the several cruces" [p. 159]. I should like to add to the discussion of one of these "cruces" by suggesting that the "Nicean barks" to which Helen's beauty is compared in a simile may refer to a tradition, or figure, in Grecian art that is called a "Nike." That Poe meant "Nicean" to mean "victorious" and that it is a word formed from 'Nike," that is, "victory," are convincingly argued by Thomas O. Mabbott in his edition of Poe's poems [I, 167, n. 2]. In Greek sculpture and numismatics, a Nike is a beautiful woman standing on a boat prow, or bark. We know that Poe was steeped in classical lore in the years before the publication of "To Helen"; he doubtless saw or knew of the genre of sculpture of Nike on a boat prow. The tradition dates from a coin minted by Demetrius Poliocetes, of the graceful and beautiful Victory on a prow, holding a trumpet and celebrating his naval battle at Salamis. [Grecian coins and statuary were common in the nineteenth century; Poe could have seen any number of them, including the Nikes, and used them in his poetry. In identifying the epithet "hyacinth hair," Mabbott p. 170, n. 3, refers to coins and statues having figures with "hyacinth hair."] The ultimate fulfillment of this tradition in art is, of course, the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
In tracing down the meaning and source of the epithet "Nicean barks," commentators have generally ignored the exact grammatical sense of the first stanza of "To Helen." Helen's beauty is compared in a simile to "those Nicean barks of yore." In what sense are Nicean barks beautiful, and how can they be compared to the supernal beauty of Troy's Helen? Only if the lines refer to the totality of a Nike sculpture or coin relief do they make the figurative sense clear and meaningful. It is a complex allusion. The barks stand for or imply the whole ensemble of some Nike (on a coin or in sculpture) like the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which clearly includes the goddess and the boat prow. The boat prow is inseparable from the Nike; it supports her and is essential to an understanding of the meaning and purpose of this genre of Greek sculpture. Note also that Poe wrote "barks," a detail which might be taken to re-enforce the idea that the numerous Nike sculptures and coin reliefs comprise a genre or tradition of Grecian art which is beautiful in Poe's estimation and which contributes to his view that Greece is the victorious holy realm of art.
Subsequent details in the poem seem to be tied to Poe's Nike and bark. The "Nicean barks" may relate to the "desperate seas" referred to in stanza two and anticipate details of Helen's beauty ("hyacinth hair," "classic face") already implied in the Nike sculpture, a beauty which, like the bark, will deliver the speaker from these desperate seas. Finally the "Nicean barks" may anticipate the "statue-like" bearing of Psyche of stanza three. It seems that Poe's imagination is a quicksand of shifting mythic, historic, artistic, and literary relationships, and that several references to the classical past flow into this provocative, complex poem. As Nike, Helen suggests a triumphancy, statuesqueness, and beauty that refer to the heights of artistic achievement and to ideal form in the Hellenistic Period of Greece. In these ways is Poe's "Nicean barks" an evocative, rich, complex, meaningful figure, or epithet, for Helen's beauty.

Mario L. D'Avanzo, The City University of New York, Queens College


As for the link posted by Ian…

»Most translations of poetry are bad.«

Really? He's read them all? Wow.

»… some famous poets are extremely bad translators, the most obvious case being Robert "Iron John" Bly whose translations of Rilke are embarrassing.«

Would that be when compared to Mitchell's translations – or to the original or …?

»The most famously good translator is Edward FitzGerald.«

Aha. I wonder if Omar would agree. Never mind.


OK. I think this has been discussed here before, so I won't go into it. But I have to say he is oversimplifying it.

»Albanian, like Serbian, is not a laconic language. English now is.«

Do you find English a laconic language?

Need I say more.


Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: PamAdams (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 08, 2006 02:06PM

From a books and writers site:

After her death the writer Edward FitzGerald expressed no sorrow in his famous letter: ''Mrs. Browning's Death is rather a relief to me, I must say: no more Aurora Leighs, thank God! A woman of real genius, I know; but what is the upshot of it all? She and her Sex had better mind the Kitchen and their Children: and perhaps the Poor: except in such things as little Novels, they only devote themselves to what Men do much better, leaving that which Men do worse or not at all.''

Remind me to slap the man.


Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 08, 2006 03:46PM

Go mop or something

and bake me a pie

Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 08, 2006 03:49PM

"the woman, it seems
shouldn't play on our teams
or to take all our jobs in the office"

From the song, The Rectum of Edward FitzGerald

addl verses:

"these girls what they write
is so terrible trite
and amounts to not much more than bitching

Their efforts are best
when they show us a breast
and they keep all their thoughts in the kitchen"

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/08/2006 09:39PM by JohnnySansCulo.

Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: PamAdams (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 08, 2006 07:44PM

JohnnySansCulo Wrote:

Go mop or something

and bake me a pie

-Do you have pie?

Do we have pie?

You're in the pie capital of America.

Well, we want....

We want pie. What have you got?

I got them memorized, okay? Ready?
We got apple, of course...

...banana cream, coconut
cream, sour cream raisin.

Chocolate cream?

Definitely. Chocolate cream...


...strawberry rhubard pie and...


...and lemon meringue.

We want two slices of everything.

And vanilla ice cream on the side.

from Michael of course!


Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 08, 2006 09:39PM

H Simpson

Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 09, 2006 06:52PM

As for “Nicean”, I found two different explanations on-line

Fascinating stuff, Veronika. Thanks.

As for that website about poetry translation, I can only concur with your strictures. I cited it simply as evidence that WBY’s poem was unquestioningly regarded as an adaptation or loose translation of de Ronsard’s work.

Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 09, 2006 10:55PM

There must be a story in that somewhere, but it is the first I have heard of any enmity between Fitz and Elizabeth B. and/or Robert.

First I’d heard of this too.

Though Wikipedia [] describes Edward FitzGerald as a ‘a witty, picturesque and sympathetic letterwriter’, it seems he was inclined to be catty behind a facade of camaraderie.

I posted recently, in the ‘Alfred Lord Tennyson "The Flower" ‘ thread in HA, what he wrote in early 1845 about his supposed long-time friend Tennyson’s then12-year-old struggle to write ‘In Memoriam’: ‘A.T. has near a volume of poems – elegiac – in memory of Arthur Hallam. Don’t you think the world wants other notes than elegiac now? “Lycidas” is the utmost length an elegiac should reach… We have surely had enough of men reporting their sorrows: especially when one is aware all the time that the poet wilfully protracts what he complains of, magnifies it in the imagination … if Tennyson had got on a horse and ridden 20 miles instead of moaning over his pipe, he would have been cured of his sorrows in half the time.’

When he wrote his disparaging letter about EBB, he was probably also high on ego-inflation. She died in 1861, when he was aged about 52. His Rubáiyát translation, which had been published in 1859 to little fanfare, had suddenly in 1860, though not yet revised and improved to the version most often anthologised today, begun attracting high praise from other poets. It seems to have been his one poetic masterpiece. He didn’t (so far as I can find from a quick search on the Internet) write any other poem worth preserving for posterity. For a sample of his forgettable work, see ‘The Meadows in Spring’ [].

He died in 1883. According to that Wikipedia article, the extent of his correspondence didn’t become publicly known until 1889 when Mr W. Aldis Wright, his 'intimate friend and literary executor', published his Letters and Literary Remains in three volumes.

From RB’s mention of a book, and of RF being no longer alive, I presume that is when and how RB, 28 years after his wife's death, came across the offensive letter. There’s no hint of frailty in his riposte, but he died in the same year.


Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 02/10/2006 09:35AM by IanB.

Re: Yeats Pinched 'When You Are Old'?
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: February 10, 2006 09:13AM

I've long admired Browning's poetry - now I admire the man himself for the spirited and stylish defence of his wife - he really made mincemeat of Fitzgerald, who richly deserved it.

Mincemeat brings us back to pies, mince pies are one of my favourites!

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