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LAMENT FOR DAMON The Epitaphium Damonis of Milton lr~nslated by HELEN WADDELL Editor's Note .Like its more famous predecessor Lycidas (1638), the Epitaphium Damonis (1640) stands in the tradition of the European pastoral elegy, which extends from Theocritus' Lament for Daphnis to Matthew Arnold's Thyrsis and includes, among other poems, Bion's Lament for Adonis, Moschus' Lament for Bion, Virgil's Daphnis, Castiglione's Alcon, Ronsard's Angelot, ·and Shelley's .Adonais. In the Renaissance such poetry was written either in Latin or in the vernacular. The pastoral elegy demands f~r its perfection, first, a genuine emotional content (which may range all the way from simple grief f~r the departed, as in the Epitaphium, to the more complex feelings associated with the hazards of life and death...in general, as in Lycidas), and, second, an artistry which can draw on the riches of the tradition and weave from them an l:!-ppropriate aesthetic pattern. In her original preface, Miss Waddell quotes from Johnson's notorious dismissal of Lycidas: "Where there is room for fiction, there is little grief." She rightly sees in the Epitaphium the complete refutation of this charge: «The truth is, rather, that 'fiction,' con~ention, makes room for grief. The traditional language, the ancient-symbols, become a kind of liturgy that releases emotion even while it controls it." Charles Diodati had been Milton's closest friend since they were schoolboys together at St. Paul's. With a common devotion to virtue, to learning _and to poetry, the gayer Diodati seems to have played L'Allegro to Milton's .II Penseroso. He was confidant as well as friend, and to him were addressed Milton's more intimate epistles in Latin prose and verse. It was during Milton's absence in Italy that the bright brief life of Diodati came to an end. On his return Milton wrote the Epitaphium Damonis, whose "argumentum " is thus rendered in the Columbia Milton: uThyrsis and Damon, shepherds of the same countryside} and interested in the same pursuits, were from boyhood inseparable friends. Thyrsis, going abroad for purposes of study} received the news of Damon's death. When later he returned home, and found that it was really so, he bemoans himself and his loneliness in the following elegy. Damon here stands for Charles Diodati, Italian in so far as his father's family came from the Tuscan city of Lucca, but in all other respects English: a young man distinguished, during his brief life, for his talents, learning and all other notable virtues." The Epitaphium has been several times translated, for example, in verse by Cowper and in prose.by William Vaughan Moody. Miss Waddell's new rendering was privately printed in England in 1943, dedicated "To the Memory of George Frederick Waddell Martin, Major R.E., Served in the 341 342 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY defence of Tobruk 1941, Killed Mar.ch 17, 1942, Aged 23; And of the men, his brothers-in-arms, who died young." We are grateful to Miss Waddell for. her permission to print her translation in these pages and thus to ensure to it a different audience. * * * * * ·* * LAMENT FOR DAMON 0 nymphs that haurzt the old Sicilian stream, Himera's stream, you that do still remember Daphnis and Hylas, and the death of Bion · Lamented these long years, · Sing dirge .beside these English river towns, Sing by the Thames, as once in Sicily, The. low lament, the ceaseless bitter weeping That broke the quiet of the··caves, River andf01~est ride qnd fleeting water, . Where Thyrsis went, bewailing his lost Damon, Walking at dead of night,in the silent places Uncomforted, alone. It is the second year. Twice has the green corn come to ear, And twice the barns are filled with golden grain, Sinc_ e the ending day that took him to the shadows, And I not there. I was in Tuscany, Making my verses. But ·now, my mind assuaged and the old task calling, Now that I am come home, Sitting again beneath the familiar elm, Now, now, I know him gone, And know how vast my grief. Away, my lambs, unfed :your shepherd heeds you not. 0...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 341-348
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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