Paul Stevens


"Faunus!" is a transcreation (rather than a translation) of Horace's Ode xviii from Book III (Faune, nympharum fugientium amator). I vaguely followed the original sapphic stanzas (though not the metre) and Horace's Ode structure remains. But I have used a more colloquial diction than the original to make it seeem more immediate and lively, attempting to enact the vigorous rustic life that Horace observes from his Sabine villa, ending on the emphatic beat of the peasant's dance.

'The Relics' was inspired by the archaeological discovery of the bones of a neolithic couple apparently embracing. The story and a picture is here. The picture immediately made me think of John Donne's "The Relique" somehow blended with his The Extasie:

          As 'twixt two equall Armies, Fate
          Suspends uncertaine victorie,
          Our soules (which to advance their state,
          Were gone out,) hung 'twixt her, and mee.

          And whil'st our soules negotiate there,
          Wee like sepulchral statues lay;
          All day, the same our postures were,
          And wee said nothing, all the day.

The question of whether or not the skeletons represented lovers, relatives, or friends intrigued me. I used loose four-line stanzas as Donne had, but with ten-syllable lines rather than eight; and went for a falling rhythm in the early part of the poem, with a rising rhythm becoming more dominant as it progresses.





Faunus, you're hot for those babes who are doing a runner:
but please, walk softly through my farm, and on through
the sun-baked countryside, then kindly head off
          from my tender flock,

and at year's end we'll kill a fresh young goat,
pour rich wine in the bowl, to stir up Venus,
and, from the ancient altar, fumes will rise,
          thick and fragrant.

The whole herd capers in grassy paddocks -
December the Fifth comes again, to honour you!
Bumpkins arse about in fields, along-
          side the unyoked ox.

The wolf is hanging out with cheeky lambs;
trees shower you with wild leaves; the peasant,
drunk as a lord, stamps out his three-step dance
          on his old enemy, Earth.

(Translation of Horace, Odes, III, xviii)



The Relics

      Archaeologists in Italy have unearthed two skeletons thought to be
      5,000 to 6,000 years old, locked in an embrace. Their sex has not yet
      been determined. (BBC)

Mother to daughter, softly touching, is it?
Sister to sister's delicate embrace?
Friend to friend, companions past corruption?
Brother to brother, face to well-loved face?

The wheat crop rippled in the heat, the cattle
grazed sweet grass, milk splashed in bowls of clay;
all turned to dust; from dust these rise, recovered
as brush and trowel lift slow time away.

Lover to lover, holding all that's dear,
they gaze into each other's eyes, long blind,
stripped back to bony gesture: stubborn relics,
so much of earth, so much of human kind.




Paul Stevens was born in Yorkshire, but lives in Australia. He has an  Honours  Degree  in  English  from  the  University of Sydney, and teaches  Literature and Ancient History. His recent poetry is in The Barefoot  Muse, WORM, Lily, The Argotist, The New Formalist, The Centrifugal Eye, Shattercolors and Contemporary Sonnet. He is the Poetry Editor (with Nigel Holt) of The Shit Creek Review + II.