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A Note on Construes

Our construes are literal translations exhibiting, as closely as possible, the verbal meaning, order of disclosure, and relationship of parts in a given Latin or Greek poem by Herbert. Designed to help readers, even those with "small Latin and less Greek," to discern the syntax and word order of the original text, these construes follow wherever possible the original, line by line, including the punctuation of the Latin or Greek text. Since 1627 capitalizes the beginning of each line, so do the construes, even though at times the words capitalized in the construe do not translate the capitalized word in 1627.

In both Latin and Greek, possessive adjectives are commonly left out, adjectives used as substantives, and words and phrases omitted. For this reason, we have often found it necessary to supply words in order to make the English coherent. Words that do not appear in the original text but have been supplied always appear in brackets. So, for example, the construe of the title Memoriae Matris Sacrum is To the Memory of [my] Mother, a Sacred [offering], with the brackets disclosing that there is no possessive adjective in the Latin and that a noun must be supplied with "Sacred," since it is an adjective used as a substantive and takes on an independent idiomatic meaning as a noun.

In addition, word order in inflected languages is very flexible because the relationship between words is indicated by word endings rather than position, and, at times, we were unable to translate a particular line into comprehensible English without incorporating words found in later lines. For such words, we have used parentheses and given the line numbers in which those words appear. For instance the construe of Poem 2, Non illa soles terere comptu lubricosis, is "(10) That woman did not (strive: line 12) to wear away the fleeting suns with hair adornment." The parenthesis indicates that the verb for the clause in line 10 is delayed until line 12.

Occasionally, when the word order is so complicated that we are unable to translate line by line, the construes indicate that more than one line has been translated. For instance, the construe of Poem 6, Quin cerne vt erres, inscie, brachium / Tentando sanum: si calet, aestuans, is "(13-14) But indeed, see how you err, ignorant man, by touching my healthy arm: if [the healthy arm] is inflamed, agitated." [End Page 55]



To the Memory / Of [my] Mother, A Sacred [offering].


Sacrum is the neuter of the adjective sacer, used in the title as a substantive. Its literal meaning is "a sacred thing," and can be used of a temple, sacrifice, or a religious ritual in ancient Roman religion. It also means "a religious dedication" or "a dedicatory offering" when it is found in inscriptions on many classical Roman funerary monuments. For instance, Dis Manibus Sacrum ("A Sacred Offering to the Gods of the Underworld") is so often used that frequently only an abbreviation of the phrase is inscribed: D M S. Sacrum is also often found in conjunction with memoriae with the name of the deceased in Roman inscriptions (see, among others, iuventuti et / memoriae / Parthenopaei / sacrum ("a sacred offering to the youth and memory of Parthenopaeius" [Dessau, 2: 865 (8040)]). The formulaic phrase Memoriae Sacrum continued to be used in Christian tombstones and inscriptions. The Latin phrase as well as its English translation, "Sacred to the memory of," is common in many English epitaphs (Scodel 288).

Until Hutchinson's edition, this collection of poems was known as the Parentalia ("Parental Poems"). The title page of 1627 does not include a title for the sequence, merely the phrase, "other Commemorations of Her; by her Sonne G. Herbert." In a footnote, Hutchinson says of the title of this sequence, "The only title given by Herbert to his elegiac verses is Memoriae Matris Sacrum; the word Parentalia, which does not occur in 1627, probably originated with Oley's description (Remains, sig.b.7)" (595). Oley's famous description of this sequence in 1652 asserts, "those many Latin and Greek verses, the obsequious Parentalia he made and printed in her memory: which, though they be good...