My translation of a poem from the Latin by the ancient Roman Propertius, who is best known to modern readers from the free translations done in the early 20th century by Ezra Pound, part of my translations of Roman Erotic Elegy at:
Notes: A Roman funeral procession, among the more distinguished families, included a display of the masks of one’s ancestors. The laurel was sacred to Apollo and thus is a symbol of poetry. The "bloodstained tomb" is reference is to the sacrifice of the Trojan princess Polyxena at the tomb of Achilles (the "Phthian hero") after the fall of Troy. For women to unbind their hair, as Venus did on the death of her lover Adonis when he was killed by a wild boar, was a sign of mourning among the ancients. Other references can easily be looked up in standard print or on-line sources.
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And therefore, whensoever death shall close my eyes,
I charge you thus to solemnize my doom:
let there be then no long ancestral parade of masks,
nor empty cry of trumpet for my end,
nor spread me a catafalque inlaid with ivory,
nor lay my corpse out on a cloth-of-gold;
no ranks of acolytes with incense heaped on trays:
the plain last rites of a common man be mine.
Grand enough my cortege, if it bears a few slim books,
my ultimate offering to Persephone.
But you, your naked breast all torn, shall follow after,
nor ever weary of calling out my name,
and press your final kisses upon my frigid lips,
while Syrian unguent pours from the onyx jar.
Then last, when the fire kindled beneath has burned me to ash,
consign my relics to a fragile urn,
and plant a laurel spreading over my simple tomb,
to shade the burnt-out cinders of my pyre,
and write: HERE LIES A MOUND OF COARSE, IGNOBLE DUST,
THAT ONCE WAS VASSAL TO A SINGLE LOVE.
My sepulcher shall then achieve no less renown
than has the Phthian hero’s bloodstained tomb.
You also, when your fate draws near, remember me,
and come white-haired to these memorial stones;
meanwhile, have care lest you be faithless to my grave:
this earth will not be wholly dead to truth.
If only in my cradle one of the Sisters Three
had ruled that then I should yield up my soul!
What use to cherish so life’s too precarious breath?
Seek Nestor, who lived three long ages: dust.
Yet if his doom of lingering age had been revoked
on Ilium’s rampart by some Carian’s spear,
he never would have seen Antilochus’s corpse entombed,
nor cried, “O death! Why come to me so late?”
Yet you sometimes shall mourn the lover you have lost:
love lasting is the meed of vanished men;
as, when the savage boar smote delicate Adonis
while hunting once, high on Idalium’s crown,
they say that in those marshes his beauty was laid low,
and that you, Venus, came with loosened hair;
but Cynthia, vainly you will summon back my ghost:
what answer could my crumbled bones return?