Archive for ‘translations’

“It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear…”

Mirabile visu: Modern technology comes to “Quid Plura”!

You can now use a spiffy pulldown menu to buy a paperback copy of The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier (here or on the original post) with either your credit card or your Paypal account.

It’s so easy, a Lombard could do it.

Just specify your location, hit “Buy Now,” and order a copy of what Charlemagne surely would have called “an engaging translation of the only chivalric romance where I totally get slapped in the face,” had the Frankish king spoken colloquial modern English and not been above providing marginally humiliating book endorsements.

Select a shipping option:

This translation, which mingles folklore, chivalry, and burlesque humor in a riot of alliteration and rhyme, should appeal to fans of medieval literature, readers who get a kick out of formal narrative poetry, and those of you who come here for the gargoyles. By buying a copy of this literary oddity, you’ll be helping keep “Quid Plura?” afloat while also letting me know there’s a readership for future translations of lesser-known medieval tales.

For more information about The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier (including a PDF preview), check out the original post from January. To order a Kindle copy, proceed post-haste to Amazon. And thanks, as always, for your eyeballs, which make this whole medievalist undertaking entirely worthwhile.

“And he plays at stocks and shares, and he goes to the regatta…”

When I asked the owl on the north nave to contribute a poem to this project, I assumed from his mortarboard, scroll, and book that he’d hand me a pile of self-aggrandizing verse. Instead I got this shamefully loose translation of a pseudo-Ovidian poem written sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries. I guess a gargoyle, like the occasional human, reserves the right to remain enigmatic.


Loudly, the Lombard lopes over the landscape, and stops;
Leery, he lights on the lushest and loveliest crops.
Frabjous he feels, for his fields are not fated to fail—
Then forth springs a spectacle strange and stupendous: a snail.
Cowed and confounded, he quivers and quavers and groans;
Witless, he whitens, as wonderment welters his bones.
Seizing his senses, he summons the sangfroid to say:
“Fie on a felon! My fortune is forfeit today!
No suchlike scoundrel has slithered or skulked here before.
Mark well his message: he musters to meet me in war.
Horns are his heralds; his shield makes his handiwork plain.
Shall I not spurn him? No—better, in sooth, to be slain.
What if I poke and provoke him? Perhaps I’ll prevail!
Minstrels and merchants will mimic my marvelous tale.
What am I saying? To fight with a fiend is uncouth!
Easier warfare abounds; it’s a world-weary truth.
Men will say ’madness!,’ maligning me under their breath:
’It’s not meet and fitting to seek an uncivilized death.’
What if my children should walk by this waelstow and see?
Faced with this fiend, they would fathom his fierceness and flee!
Still, they’d concede that this combat is clearly unfair:
Armed is this beast, but no buckler or broadsword I bear.”
Fretful, he freezes, as Fear grapples fiercely with Shame;
Shame is pugnacious, but Fear keeps his temperament tame.
Competent counsel can kindle a capable life;
Thus he petitions the heavens, and checks with his wife.
Promptly, the gods promise palms for the victor, and praise;
Nervous, he nurtures no trust in their numinous ways.
Thence to his wife; she is timorous, tearful, and true:
“Listen, you lunatic, what are you looking to do?
Scuttle your strife; let your spirit sit safe on a shelf.
Mind no more monsters—and muse over more than yourself.
Spurn not your children and spouse! Let your senselessness stall;
Ill-omened days will bring dolor and doom to us all.
Hector would crumble, and even Achilles would quail;
Fast would the firmness of Hercules fracture and fail!”
Roused, he retaliates: “Rein in your runaway fears!
We who dare Death are undaunted, dear woman, by tears.
Great be the gods, for they grant me a glorious name.
You and the family fare well! For I follow my fame.”
Forth to the field, where he faces the fiend in the fray;
Stalking around him, he steadies his stomach to say:
“Beast, you are feral, unnatural, immoral, and vague!
Monster of monsters, as mean as the mortalest plague,
Hold high your horns! I am horrified hardly at all.
Show me your shield! Into no stealthy shell shall you crawl.
Righteous, I raise my right hand! Now your ruthless reign stops!
Savagely sully no more my salubrious crops!”
Swinging and swatting and shaking and sticking his spear,
Panting, he presses; the palm of the victor is near.
For heroes who rate such renown, what reward is supplied?
The matter is lofty; their lawyers will likely decide.

(For all the entries in this series, hit the “looking up” tag.)

“The circuit boards are linking up in rhyme…”

The people have spoken!

The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier is now available for the Amazon Kindle.

The crack staff of editorial kobolds here at “Quid Plura?” headquarters made every effort to tailor the Kindle version to the quirks of the device rather than simply upload it and let the formatting fall where it may. Since the poem survives only in an early printed edition, a version for the first generation of serious e-readers does seem entirely appropriate. (At least to the kobolds, who end up trying to think way too deeply when they don’t have any proofreading to do.)

To download a copy for the Kindle, go here. To read more about this translation, or to order a shiny new paperback copy, go here.

Everyone else, stay tuned! More medieval madness, Charlemagniana, and gargoyle goodness is on the way.

“…and every one of them words rang true, and glowed like burning coal…”

[UPDATE: As of December 2012, information on purchasing The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier as either a paperback or an e-book can be found here.]

In 2007, I posted my translation of the 15th-century romance “The Taill of Rauf Coilyear,” a 972-line Middle Scots poem about the kerfuffle that ensues when Charlemagne, separated from his entourage by a snowstorm, seeks refuge in the home of a proud and irascible collier (a sort of medieval Tommy Saxondale). Combining folklore motifs with burlesque humor and elements of chansons and chivalric romances, “Rauf Coilyear” is a lively but rarely-read tale of courtesy, hospitality, and knighthood. To my knowledge, it’s also the only medieval romance in which Charlemagne totally gets slapped in the face.

Because enough people found the earlier version both readable and entertaining, I’m pleased to make The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier available as a snazzy 56-page paperback. The translation—which imitates the form of the original in 75 thirteen-line rhyming, alliterative stanzas—is freshly polished and lightly annotated, and the bibliography is current. I’m offering this little book as a literary curiosity, an experiment in self-publishing, and a way to help defray the costs of maintaining this blog.

To preview this book, you can see a low-res PDF of sample pages or view larger images of the front and back cover.

No one else has ever translated “Rauf Coilyear” into rhyming, alliterative, modern English verse, and I doubt anyone else will be nutty enough to try—so whether you’re a longtime reader of this blog, a student of medieval literature, or a collector of truly obscure manifestations of Charlemagniana, I hope you’ll find this translation a satisfying read. Despite what Mamillius claimed, sometimes a sad tale isn’t best for winter after all.

“Turn the clock to zero, honey…”

From time to time, I dig through the poetry of Theodulf, ninth-century bishop of Orleans, looking for nuggets to translate. Theodulf was a wit, so I’ve had fun making modern English versions of his Latin verses about pilgrimages, libations, wildlife, stolen horses, and children’s dreams. But what, I wondered, could Theodulf do for me on New Year’s Day?

I shouldn’t have worried; the old Goth didn’t let me down. In the middle of a dull poem about faith, hope, and charity (Dümmler, MGH Poetae I, 466-467), I found four lovely lines of Latin, and I plucked ’em:

Nam pia dona spei tereti signatur in ovo,
Tegmine obumbratum quod vehit intus habens:
Ut pullum ova tegunt, sic spem praesentia celant,
Hic patet exutus, illa futura parat.

With the reckless optimism of a Leyendecker baby, I give you this translation:

To see the blessed gift of hope, behold
The egg that keeps a secret in its shell:
The present, hiding hope, conceals it well;
The future cracks it: tiny wings unfold.

Those of you who read Latin are shaking your heads at this rather free rendering of the original. So be it! It’s a new year! Old habits limp to their graves, ashamed! Besides, I did some research and found that these four Latin lines have been translated repeatedly throughout the centuries, often by poets who took far greater liberties than I did.

For example, here’s a little-known translation by Langston Hughes:


The sunny side
An egg supplied
Upon t’morrow gambled.
It hides in a shell
That poached it well
And never got it scrambled.
The present keeps our dreams deferred.
The future hatches: out pops a bird.

And here—dear reader, I was as astonished to discover it as you surely are—is a translation of Theodulf by none other than T.S. Eliot:


The sea-birds race inland from the storm
Above the subtile chicken seeking quiet in the barn
Where she dares not hope
“Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate“—
But for the egg:
The shell conceals our tatterdemalion past—
The shell incubates our necessitous future
—and hope becomes a farmer
With shards of egg in his desquamative palm
Forgetting the recrudescent monotony of the plow, straining
To hear the eager peeping in the straw.

My translation isn’t looking quite so loose now, is it?

On behalf of Theodulf, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, and a room full of imaginary chickens, I wish you a happy and recklessly hopeful new year.

“…with kitchen prose and gutter rhymes.”

[UPDATE: As of January 2010, information on purchasing or downloading The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier can be found here.]

Last December, I posted a PDF of “The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier,” a translation of a 972-line Middle Scots romance from the 15th century. This translation was, in part, an attempt to prove to myself that I could turn 75 of those complex, thirteen-line, rhyming, alliterative stanzas into modern English poetry.

Sharp-eyed readers sent me useful comments, and although I hadn’t expected anyone to be looking for a translation of this obscure poem, quite a few people do regularly search for it and find it via Google. As a result, I’ve corrected two typos, made minor edits, and posted a second revision of the text. You can download the new low-res PDF (for free!) from this page.

For students of medieval literature, “Ralph the Collier” has much to recommend it: combat, class warfare, burlesque humor, inclement weather, Yuletide feasts, politically incorrect proselytizing—plus it rhymes and alliterates. As another Christmas hero named Ralph observed, “sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.” The hard-earned but ultimately comic lessons learned by Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier suggest that sometimes, a sad tale’s not best for winter after all.

“Keeping versed and on my feet…”

As Today in Literature reminds us, yesterday, April 18, was the day Chaucer’s pilgrims set out for Canterbury. Appropriately, my block was packed with pilgrims passing to and fro, some of them heading to the zoo, the hooly blisful pandas for to seke, others hiking up the hill to our friendly neighborhood Gothic cathedral.

The cathedral grounds were in full bloom today: camera-toting tourists, elderly couples asleep in the grass, wedding parties, flirting lovers, romping puppies, children fleeing bees, even bagpipers, as if to lead us grandly out of town. Beauty intermingled with chaos; Chaucer no doubt would approve.

But not every medieval poet took the path of the pilgrim for granted. Writing six centuries before Chaucer, that old wit Theodulf, bishop of Orleans during the reign of Charlemagne, rolled his eyes at peregrinatory pretensions:

Qui Romam Roma, Turonum Turonove catervas
Ire, redire cupis cernere scande, vide.
Hinc sata spectabis, vites et claustra ferarum;
Flumina, prata, vias, pomiferumque nemus.
Haec dum conspicies, dum plurima grata videbis,
Auctoris horum sis memor ipse dei.

Here, inspired by an afternoon on the green alongside the Bishop’s Garden, is a shamefully loose translation:

You clamor for the crowd, for something more;
So take your tour of Rome, and roam to Tours.
The tender crops are all we gather here,
By berries, brooks, and barns, and byways clear.
So go—for if you stay, you’ll just recall
In simple sights the one who made it all.

I know! Spring fever is my only defense. The tulips made me do it.

In denying the pilgrimage instinct, Theodulf fought, with snide futility, the tide of human nature. Geoffrey Chaucer better understood his fellow man—in fact, I think Geoffrey better understood a great many other truths as well—but Theodulf was right about one thing: Some days, whatever it is you’re looking for, that unnamed source of fulfillment and beauty which seems like it ought to be elsewhere, may turn up outside your own door.

“One more drop of poison and you’ll dream of foreign lands.”

Theodulf was an oenophile, as the below translation makes clear. Had I a router and any discernible woodworking skill, I’d make this poem into a little plaque and market it as home decor. (Take that, “Footprints” prayer!)

I was tempted to translate the second word in the title as “drinkatorium.” Theodulf might have liked that.


Qui latices quondam vini convertit in usum,
Et fontis speciem fecit habere meri,
Ipse piis manibus benedicat pocula nostra,
Et laetum faciat nosmet habere diem.


May He who water changed to needful wine
And vintage drink from vessels bade to pour
With hands so holy bless our cups once more,
And grant our day be joyful and divine.

“Jumpin’ fences, dodgin’ trees, and tryin’ to get away…”

Since it’s turning into “Theodulf Week” here on Quid Plura?, I thought I’d make another hasty translation from the poetic corpus of the bishop of Orleans.

Back in June, I wrote about the fox I keep seeing here in my neighborhood. I enjoy spotting this critter, but Theodulf’s poem about an incident at the monastery of Charroux reminds me that what I consider an example of amusing urban fauna is a creature that often infuriated medieval people.

As with my other exercises in Theodulfiana, this is a loose translation, and I’ve only rendered the core anecdote. I’ve left out both the beginning—a brief ode to the monastery—and the little benediction at the end. I’m sure I haven’t done justice to Theodulf’s tone. He’d no doubt scold me for that, were he not twelve centuries dead.


A fox there was; that thief was wont to steal
The food the brothers needed for their meal.
The thousand-colored beast with outstretched wing
She gobbled in her jaws, that wicked thing.
The monks abiding there had scarcely guessed
The nature of this chaos-bringing pest—
Until that hen she stole, perchance to eat,
Thus making clear the way of her deceit.
Her burden made her sluggish, they could see:
She lingered deep within their alder-tree—
She lingered there, forlorn in her deceit,
For every pathway led to her defeat.
The chicken’s head she’d swallowed—but, in fact,
Its every other limb remained intact,
And you, the trickster’s foot, were on a bough
No higher than a hedge; it did allow
Her rightmost paw to touch a trace of wall
Whose stones were stacked so steeply and so tall.
Thus hung the wretched thief, that wicked pest;
She flailed her neck and thrashed her head, distressed.
The faithful monks erupted in delight:
They saw God’s wondrous portents in this sight.

“Put it all down to chemistry…”

Yesterday, I posted one of the more humorous poems of Theodulf of Orleans. Here’s another one, loosely translated from quantitative meter into rhyming couplets. Those of you with kids may get a kick out of it.


Grande habet initium cum res vilissima dictu,
Tunc gignis murem, magne elephante, brevem.
Sic patri quidam retulit sua somnia natus,
Depromens animo frivola dicta suo:
“O pater, in somnis dicam quae mira videbam,
Moverunt animum talia visa meum.
Bos dabat humanas nostras hac nocte loquelas,
Ille loquebatur, nos stupebamus,” ait.
Tum pater attonitus rem sic inquirit ab illo:
“Dic, quod dicebat,” intulit ille: “Nihil.”


When momentous beginnings mere trifles espouse,
Then you, mighty elephant, bring forth a mouse.
A son told his father his dreams; thus he heard
What fell from his thoughts, every frivolous word:
“Father, I’ll say what I see in my mind.
The most troubling visions in sleep do I find:
An ox who could speak I encountered tonight.
He talked! We were rather amazed at the sight.”
Inquired the father, “What news did he bring?”
Answering him, he replied, “Not a thing.”