Early Works of Karl Marx: Book of Verse

The First Elegy

Ovid's Tristia
Freely Rendered


Go, little book, make haste away,
Go to the joyful victory seat.
I go not with you, I must stay,
    For by Jove's lightning I was hit.


Go, poorly clad and indigent!
    Put on your Master's mourning dress,
As is befitting banishment,
    And as commands this time of stress.


On you must shine no purple veil
To make in violet's blood its show.
Longing and hope without avail
Cannot wear joy's exalted glow.


In shameful silence hide your name,
And let no scent of cedar waft,
Nor silver knob shine bright to shame
The blackness of your crooked staff.


To works by Fortune blessed is due
Such decoration, rare and bright.
Only my pain shall mate with you,
Only my sorrow's darkest night.


Shaggy and rough you may appear,
Like one whose hair unkempt hangs down,
Not rendered wondrous soft and fair
By smoothing block of pumice-stone.


If darker is your pallid face,
    It is because by me 'twas stained.
Oh, how my tears have flown apace
And hotly down on you have rained.


Go, book, and greet those places, greet
The hallowed spot so dear to me.
Dreams take me there on pinions fleet
Of magic word and fantasy.


If someone, seeing you, at last
    Should find his memory stirred, and pester
With questions flying thick and fast
Of him who sent you there, your Master;


I'm still alive--that you may say,
And that I hope for rescue soon,
And if my pulse still beats away,
It is a mercy, not a boon.


If someone asks you further questions,
Mind each and every spoken word.
Beware of thoughtless indiscretions,
In word and tone be on your guard.


Many will scold you and berate you,
Reminding you I was to blame.
As my accomplice they will rate you,
You will cast down your eyes in shame.


To insults and to condemnation
    Listen, but keep your mouth closed tight.
Fire will not quench a conflagration,
Two wrongs will never make a right.


Yet some there'll be, as you will find,
Who speak to you with melting sighs.
A flow of gentle tears will blind
The light of longing in their eyes.


Then tender words will flow and mild
Forth from the bosom agitated.
"Could Caesar but be reconciled,
The punishment be mitigated...."


Who says with kind solicitude,
"May God be merciful on high,"
For him I pray with gratitude,
"May thunder ever pass him by!"


Would his desire might be fulfilled:
    Oh, let me die there in that seat
Which the Gods in their keeping hold.
    May Caesar's lightning lose its heat!


When thus my greetings you've conveyed.
They may lay charges at my door
That no sweet form has been displayed,
And that my spirit fails to soar.


But let the critic be aware
During what times the work was done,
And if his judgment's sound and fair,
You need not fear--the danger's gone.


For poetry's magic fullness flows
    Out of a breast stirred with elation,
But oh, a pall of darkest woes
    Covers the brow, kills inspiration.


And then his lyrics all bewail
    The singer's exile, harsh and dread,
And storm, and sea, and winter flail
Around his all-unheeding head!


Fear must not clutch with icy grip
If splendid song is to be heard,
A lonely outcast here, I weep--
Look, yonder gleams the murder-sword!


         Whatever I have so far done
    Has won the fairer critic round,
And he will pass my message on,
Bearing my grievous plight in mind.


Give me Maeonides, for one, (Homer)
Plunge him in misery, like me,
His magic powers will be gone,
Danger is all his eyes will see.


Go, book, go forth upon your way,
Heed not the voice of evil fame.
If scornful folk cast you away,
Do not be overwhelmed by shame.


'Tis not that Fortune's gentle waves
Bear me so lovingly along
That praise or prize my spirit craves,
That I seek recompense for song.


When with desire I still was bedded,
Then inspiration welled in me,
To thirst for glory I was fettered,
The world's race for celebrity.


But if the Lyre sounds as before,
And if the urge still burns as strong,
Surely my heart need ask no more,
Seeing my downfall came from song?


Go--it is not prohibited
That you should see Rome's pomp for me.
If only I might go instead,
Watched by a God indulgently!


Do not imagine that you'll wend
Your way unrecognised through Rome,
That to the public you will bend
Your steps unheeded and unknown.


Though you lack title, witnesses,
Your colour will betray your name.
If you deny me nonetheless,
You'll show yourself up just the same.


Slip quietly through the gates and watch
My songs inflict on you no hurt.
No more they sing love's praises which
So much delight the drunken heart.


Who turns you cruelly away
Because you were born of my labours,
And sternly says you lead astray
Innocence with voluptuous dangers--


To him say, "Only read my name.
No longer do I teach sweet love.
Alas, the Gods to council came
And passed stern judgment from above."


Seek not to climb to that great hall
Which proudly dares to Heaven aspire.
Approach not Caesar's pack at all
There, where his column soars still higher.


Those sanctified and sacred spots
Your Lord and Master now disown.
The lightning from the castle shoots,
The Higher Judgment strikes me down!


Though Gods great, merciful and mild
Abide within those halls up there,
When the Spring's image comes with wild
And furious storms, we shrink with fear.


Alas, the dove with frightened sound
Will tremble, though but Zephyr stir,
While she is kissing dry the wound
Inflicted by the hawk on her.


The frightened lamb that gets away
From the wolf's fangs, will not again
Ever feel safe, unless it lie
Huddled inside the low-walled pen.


If Phaethon were alive today,
To Aether's vaults he would not soar,
Nor would he drive so recklessly
The coveted chariot team of four.


Jove's weapons I indeed do dread,
And from his sea of flame I flee.
When Heaven thunders overhead,
I think he hurls his spear at me.


No sailor of the Argive fleet
Who fled the Capharean shore,
Will ever turn his sails to meet
Euboea's surging flood once more.


My bark, tossed by the tempest's force,
Dares not draw nearer to that ground;
It veers off on a different course,
For much more distant places bound.


And so, my book, be wise and sane,
Mind how you go and take good care.
No need to seek the Higher Fame
When common people lend an ear.


Icarus dared to soar on high,
Audaciously he spread his wings.
His name was destined not to die,
In the swift ocean wave it sings.


Whether to pull hard on the oars,
Or leave the sails gently to swell-
Postpone it for another hour-
Time and the place will quickly tell.


And when his brow is clear at last,
When kindness beams upon his face,
When all his rage is of the past,
Quiescent, gone without a trace;


When you, that still in terror stand
And dare not yet approach from fright,
Are proffered friendly word and hand,
Then go--to day now yields the night.


More softly tolls the hour of Fate,
Unlike your Master you rejoice
The torments of your wound abate,
And Mercy speaks with gentle voice.


The hurt can only be made less
By him who caused it in his rage.
Achilles wounded Telephus;
The pain he caused he then assuaged.


Be sure not to spread any poison
When trying to set matters right.
Hope, ever bright and airy vision,
Terror can turn you into night!


Take care lest from its quiet repose
Wrath in a violent storm should rise,
Piling upon me yet more woes
That you have caused by deeds unwise.


But if within the Muses' shrine
A happy welcome should await,
Bright in that house then you may shine
Where Literature and Glory mate.


And there you may be sure to see
Drawn up in line the brothers, those
Whom I beget in ecstasy
After the day had reached its close.


All bear with open pride their names,
In consciousness of victory:
Like hope upon their brews it flames,
And like the joy of poetry.


Three only form a group apart,
On every side by darkness pressed.
They swell, luxurious with "Love's Art",
(ars amandi)
And gaiety bubbles in each breast.


Flee them, or bravely dare to call
For counsel fraught with curse and doom;
Remember Oedipus' dread fall,
Telegonus' appalling crime!


Songs lately granted their salvation
From violent death by fire and flame,
Tell you their tales of Transformation
And of worlds under Spirit-reign.


Now tell the story of the change
That's overcome my Fate at last,
How it's turned into something strange,
And how the form has been recast.


Once it was different, when I sucked
Warmth from the red lips of Success.
Where the Immortals sealed their pact,
The tears now flow of deep distress.


That you would ask what more I need
Is plainly written on your face.
Meanwhile, the graceful Horae speed
Onward their rushing waves apace.


And if with you I were to send
All that seethes in my bosom now,
Oh, I would never reach the end;
The weight would make the bearer bow.


The road is long. No time to spare,
O book. Remotest of all lands
Here with the Scythians I must share;
Estranged from all the rest it stands.