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Forum Home > Poetry > The Dancing Girl of Syria

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 135

(Originally posted by Johanna Harrison 30/4/11)


I found this poem in an old book of Medieval Latin Lyrics, considered to by part of the juvenilia of Virgil (70-19BC). I absolutley love it, would be curious to see what you think.

Translated by Helen Waddell.

Dancing Girl of Syria

Dancing girl of Syria, her hair caught up with a fillet;

Very subtle in swaying those quivering flanks of hers

In time to the castanet’s rattle: half-drunk in the smoky tavern,

She dances, lascivious, wanton, clashing the rhythm.

And what’s the use, if you’re tired, of being out in the dust and the heat,

When you might as well lie still and get drunk on your settle?

Here’s tankards and cups and measures and roses and pipes and fiddles,

And a trellis-arbour cool with its shade of reeds,

And somewhere somebody piping as if it were Pan’s own grotto,

On a shepherd’s flute, the way they do in the fields.

And here’s a thin little wine, just poured from a cask that is pitchy,

And a brook running by with the noise and gurgle of running water.

There’s even garlands for you, violet wreaths and saffron,

And golden melilot twining with crimson roses,

And lilies plucked where they grow by the virgin river,

-Achelois brings them in green willow baskets-

And little cheeses for you that they dry in baskets of rushes,

And plums that rioen in the autumn weather,

And chestnuts, and the cheerful red of apples.

In brief, here’s Ceres, Love, and rowdy Bacchus

-And red-stained blackberries, and grapes in bunches,

And hanging from his withe seagreen cucumber.

And here’s the little god who keeps the arbour,

Fierce with his sickle and enormous belly.

Hither, O pilgrim! See, the little donkey

Is tired and wistful. Spare the little donkey!

Did not a goddess love a little donkey?

It’s very hot.

Cicadae out in the trees are shrilling, ear-splitting,

The very lizard is hiding for coolness under his hedge.

If you have sense you’ll lie still and drench yourself from your wine cup,

Or maybe you prefer the look of your wine in crystal?

Heigh ho, but it’s good to lie here under the vines,

And bind on your heavy head a garland of roses,

And reap the scarlet lips of a pretty girl.

-You be damned, you there with your Puritan eye-brows!

What thanks will cold ashes give for the sweetness of garlands?

Or is it your mind to hand a rose wreath upon your tombstone?

Set down the wine and the dice, and perish who thinks of to-morrow!

-Here’s Death twitching my ear, ‘Live’, says he, ‘for I’m coming.’

June 29, 2011 at 3:45 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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