The translation is fairly loose, by modern standards. It’s more of an imitation, an attempt to reproduce the textual enargeia of Passerat’s piece, to reconfigure the core identity of the text within a different matrix of phrasis. In other words, it’s lazy. But I’ve tried to render the central conceit of the Latin (that NIHIL is to be understood simultaneously non-substantively and substantively) without departing too far from the original – something, by the way, that is nigh on impossible in French. I’ve omitted line 27 (because I thought it superfluous) and 34-35 (because I couldn’t for the life of me understand the allusion).
Anyway, here’s my translation. Feel free to offer corrections/suggestions/ information about the rules of metre in English and where I’ve gone wrong.
Original text here: http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/pass
The two-faced god begins the year anew
But I’m undone: my tribute’s overdue.
Castalia’s in drought, the Muses fled
And I’m fresh out: all inspiration’s dead,
The Janitor expects to find me keen
And I seek what is nowhere to be seen.
My Muse looks ev’rywhere for a refrain
And NOTHING’s there, her efforts are in vain.
But that’s a thing mirac’lous to behold
For NOTHING’s of more worth than jewels and gold.
So listen hard and good: don’t frown or pout:
‘Cause what I’m here to say is without doubt
A novelty that’s ne’er before been heard.
You smile, dear reader? tell me that’s absurd?
That ancient bards made ev’ry word cliché
And after them there’s NOTHING left to say?
Well: whereso Ceres surveys her domain
Or Father Ocean clasps the wat’ry main
There’s NOTHING e’er that lacks an end or source
And NOTHING lives beyond its nat’ral course.
So if we worship Him who ends our days,
Why don’t we deem THIS worthy of our praise?
The warmth of Springtime NOTHING can surpass,
And NOTHING beats the smell of fresh-cut grass
Or is more welcome than the Zephyr’s breath.
In wartime NOTHING sacred dodges death,
In peacetime NOTHING’s fair and NOTHING’s just
And what is more, if you Tibullus trust,
The man who NOTHING has is bless’d indeed;
He fears not ambush, fears not knavish greed.
And if you study lessons Zeno gave
Then NOTHING you’ll desire, and NOTHING crave.
Socratic scholars on this point agree:
That knowing NOTHING is his sole decree.
It’s what the kids in school would love to learn
To win the wealth and fame for which they yearn.
The alchemists’ Mercurial pursuit
By secret arts base metals to transmute
Is all-consuming. In the end, they’re spent
They’ve pissed away their fortunes and lament
A big fat NOTHING’s all that they’ve produced
And its dimensions cannot be deduced.
The man who counts the sand grains on the beach
In Lib-ee-a finds THIS beyond his reach.
Th’Olympian god that plays the golden lyre
Leaves NOTHING out; than stars there’s NOTHING high’r.
You’re clever, right? In percentile the first?
In mysteries and secrets you’re well-versed?
Then let me say, dear reader, by your leave,
You’re ignorant of NOTHING, I believe.
It’s clearer than the sun or purest flame
Try touching NOTHING: please do test my claim
That without body NOTHING’s been touched yet;
Try seeing NOTHING: and I’ll gladly bet
That without colour NOTHING is perceiv’d.
Mute NOTHING speaking’s easily conceiv’d
And NOTHING can fly wingless; legless, pace;
Dimensionless, can traverse time and space.
There’s NOTHING of more use to man and beast
Than medicine; no mage or pagan priest;
Idalian wands or herbs from Thessaly
That druids find at t’summit of Dict-ee.
And NOTHING soothes the wounds of Cupid’s darts;
Not even those that practise Circe’n arts
The passenger of Chiron shuns th’abyss,
But NOTHING’ll bring him back from fiery Dis
Th’infernal Lord takes NOTHING on the chin;
The Fates will stop for NOTHING as they spin.
Found Titans routed on Phlegraean fields:
The thunderbolt to NOTHING eas’ly yields.
The Gods fear NOTHING; do you get the gist?
There’s NOTHING else. Need I complete this list?
More striking or more splendid NOTHING is
Than Jove, and NOTHING, in the end, is his.
No, that’s enough: this poem’s uninspir’d
Of NOTHING, I’ve no doubt, you’re sick and tired.
Next entry: more on my design for a perpetual-motion wanking machine.