Saturday, June 12, 2010

Elene, part VII

Here is the seventh part of Elene for your Old E delectation. This section features Judas's great metaphor of the man confronted by a loaf and a stone in the desert. This stanza felt very complicated and difficult: I had to render its idioms into more modern ones, perhaps choosing the stone of my own. I'll only know until I have chewed on it for a bit. Please let me know how you like it...



The words of speeches multiplied, and men counseled
about either half, some hither, some thither, deliberating
and pondering. Then came a company of thanes
to that warlike assembly. The heralds called out,
the messengers of Caesar: “The queen invites you
warriors to the hall, so that you may rightly relate
your assembly’s judgment. There is need of your advice
at the moot-hall, your heart’s wisdom.”
They were ready, sad-souled princes of the people,
when they were invited by hard commandment;
to go to the house, to prove the power of their craft. (547-58a)

Then the queen began to address the Hebrew men with words,
asking the soul-weary about their ancient writings, how in the world
their prophets sang before, ghost-holy men, about the Child of God,
where the Prince suffered, the True Son of the Maker, for the souls’ love.
They were stiff, harder than stone—they did not wish to make known
that mystery nor speak any answer to her, her bitter enemies,
of anything she asked them, yet they gave exception to every word,
fixed in their purpose, which she asked them. They said that they
had never heard, early or late, any whit of such things in their lives. (558b-72)

Elene spoke and said to them in wrath: “I wish to speak a truth
unto you all, and this will never become a lie upon my life:
if you who stand before me persist longer in these lies,
with shameful untruths, a blazing pyre will grasp you on the hilltop,
the hottest of battle-flames, and the bouncing fires will destroy
your raw flesh. Your lies must lead you unto a world’s-parting.
Nor can you prove these words that you have for a while now
unrightly covered beneath an unclean corner, nor can you
conceal these deeds, nor obscure their deep power.” (573-84a)

Then they were anticipating their deaths, their pyre and their life’s-end,
and there they handed over one of them ready-witted of lore—
he was named Judas by his kinsmen— him they gave unto the queen,
saying that he was exceptionally wise: “He can make known the truth
to you, draw back the mystery of events, just as you wordfully ask him,
the law from its beginning forth unto the end.
He is on earth of noble kindred, wise of word-craft
and a prophet’s son, bold in assembly. It is innate to him
that he has keen answers and skill in his breast.
He will reveal to you before this mingling of men,
the gift of wisdom, through great power, just as your mind desires.” (584b-97)

Elene allowed everyone to seek their own homes in peace,
and held Judas alone as a hostage, and then eagerly commanded
him to rightfully teach her about that cross that had been long secreted
in its grave, and she called him apart on his own. Elene spoke
to that lone man, the glory-blessed queen: “There are two ways ready for you,
either life or death, just as whichever you prefer to choose.*
Now quickly reveal to which condition do you wish to consent.” (598-608)

Judas spoke with her—he could not avoid that sorrow
nor avert the lady’s malice, for he was in the queen’s power—
“How can it be for one treading the wilderness,
miserable and meat-lacking in the wasteland,
pressed by hunger, and then he happens upon a loaf
and a stone both together in his sight, hard and soft,
so that he grabs the stone to be a comfort against his hunger,
heeding not the bread, turning toward starvation,
and renouncing the meal, scorning the better of the two,
when he has both at hand?” (609-18)

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