The Vigil Of Venus

A poem by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch

The Pervigilium Veneris--of unknown authorship, but clearly belonging to the late literature of the Roman Empire--has survived in two MSS., both preserved at Paris in the Bibliothèque Nationale.

Of these two MSS. the better written may be assigned (at earliest) to the close of the seventh century; the other (again at earliest) to the close of the ninth. Both are corrupt; the work of two illiterate copyists who--strange to say--were both smatterers enough to betray their little knowledge by converting Pervigilium into Per Virgilium (scilicet, "by Virgil"): thus helping us to follow the process of thought by which the Middle Ages turned Virgil into a wizard. Here and there the texts become quite silly, separately or in consent; and just where they agree in the most surprising way--i.e. in the arrangement of the lines--the conjectural emendator is invited to do his worst by a note at the head of the older Codex, "Sunt vero versus xxii"--"There are rightly twenty-two lines."

This has started much ingenious guess-work. But no really convincing rearrangement has been achieved as yet; and I have been content to take the text pretty well as it stands, with a few corrections upon which most scholars agree. With a poem of "paratactic structure" the best of us may easily go astray by transposing lines, or blocks of lines, to correspond with our sequence of thought; and I shall be content if, following the only texts to which appeal can be made,[1] my translation be generally intelligible.

It runs pretty closely, line for line, with the original; because one may love and emulate classical terseness even while despairing to rival it. But it does not attempt to be literal; for even were it worth doing, I doubt if it be possible for anyone in our day to hit precisely the note intended by an author or heard by a reader in the eighth century. Men change subtly as nations succeed to nations, religions to religions, philosophies to philosophies; and it is a property of immortal poetry to shift its appeal. It does not live by continuing to mean the some thing. It grows as we grow. We smile, for instance, when some interlocutor in a dialogue of Plato takes a line from the Iliad and applies it seriously au pied de la lettre. We can hardly conceive what the great line conveyed to him; but it may mean something equally serious to us, though in a different way.

[1] Facsimiles of the two Codices can be studied in a careful edition of the Pervigilum by Mr Cecil Clementi, published by Mr B.H. Blackwell of Oxford, 1911.


Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet.
Ver novum, ver jam canorurn, vere natus orbis est;
Vere concordant amores, vere nubunt alites,
Et nemus comam resolvit de maritis imbribus.
Cras amorum copulatrix inter umbras arborum
Inplicat casas virentes de flagello myrteo:
Cras Dione jura dicit fulta sublimi throno.
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet.

To-morrow--What news of to-morrow?
Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love anew!
It is Spring, it is chorussing Spring; 'tis the birthday of Earth, and for you!
It is Spring; and the Loves and the birds wing together and woo to accord
Where the bough to the rain has unbraided her locks as a bride to her lord.
For she walks--she our Lady, our Mistress of Wedlock--the woodlands atween,
And the bride-bed she weaves them, with myrtle enlacing, with curtains of green.
Look aloft! list the law of Dione, sublime and enthroned in the blue:
Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love anew!

Tunc liquore de superno spumeo et ponti globo,
Cærulas inter catervas, inter et bipedes equos,
Fecit undantem Dionen de maritis imbribus.
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quiqiie amavit cras amet.

Ipsa gemmis purpurantem pingit annum floribus,
Ipsa surgentes papillas de Favoni spiritu
Urget in toros tepentes; ipsa roris lucidi
Noctis aura quem relinquit, spargit umentes aquas.
Et micant lacrimæ trementes de caduco pondere:

Time was that a rain-cloud begat her, impregning the heave of the deep,
'Twixt hooves of sea-horses a-scatter, stampeding the dolphins as sheep.
Lo! arose of that bridal Dione, rainbow'd and besprent of its dew!
Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love anew!

She, she, with her gem-dripping finger enamels the wreath of the year;
She, she, when the maid-bud is nubile and swelling winds--whispers anear,
Disguising her voice in the Zephyr's--"So secret the bed! And thou shy?"
She, she, thro' the hush'd humid Midsummer night draws the dew from on high;
Dew bright with the tears of its origin, dew with its weight on the bough,

Gutta præceps orbe parvo sustinet casus suos.
En, pudorem florulentæ prodiderunt purpuræ:
Umor ille quern serenis astra rorant noctibus
Mane virgineas papillas solvit umenti peplo.
Ipsa jussit mane ut udas virgines nubant rosæ;
Fusa Paphies de cruore deque Amoris osculis
Deque gemmis deque flammis deque solis purpuris,
Cras ruborem qui latebat veste tectus ignea
Unico marita nodo non pudebit solvere.
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet.

Misdoubting and clinging and trembling--"Now, now must I fall? Is it now?"
Star-fleck'd on the stem of the brier as it gathers and falters and flows,
Lo! its trail runs a ripple of fire on the nipple it bids be a rose,
Yet englobes it diaphanous, veil upon veil in a tiffany drawn
To bedrape the small virginal breasts yet unripe for the spousal of dawn;
Till the vein'd very vermeil of Venus, till Cupid's incarnadine kiss,
Till the ray of the ruby, the sunrise, ensanguine the bath of her bliss;
Till the wimple her bosom uncover, a tissue of fire to the view,
And the zone o'er the wrists of the lover slip down as they reach to undo.
Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love anew!

Ipsa nymphas diva luco jussit ire myrteo:
It puer comes puellis. Nee tamen credi potest
Esse Amorem feriatum, si sagittas vexerit.
Ite, nymphæ, posuit arma, feriatus est Amor;
Jussus est inermis ire, nudus ire jussus est,
Neu quid arcu, neu sagitta, neu quid igne Iæderet;
Sed tamen nymphse cavete, quod Cupido pulcher est;
Est in armis totus idem quando nudus est Amor!

Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit eras amet.

Conpari Venus pudore mittit ad te virgines:

"Go, maidens," Our Lady commands, "while the myrtle is green in the groves,
Take the Boy to your escort." "But ah!" cry the maidens, "what trust is in Love's
Keeping holiday too, while he weareth his archery, tools of his trade?"
"Go! he lays them aside, an apprentice released; ye may wend unafraid.
See, I bid him disarm, he disarms; mother-naked I bid him to go,
And he goes mother-naked. What flame can he shoot without arrow or bow?"
Yet beware ye of Cupid, ye maidens! Beware most of all when he charms
As a child: for the more he runs naked, the more he's a strong man-at-arms.

Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love anew!
"Lady Dian"--Behold how demurely the damsels approach her and sue--

Una res est quam rogamus: cede, virgo Delia,
Ut nemus sit incruentum de ferinis stragibus.
Ipsa vellet ut venires, si deceret virginem:
Jam tribus choros videres feriatos noctibus
Congreges inter catervas ire per saltus tuos,
Floreas inter coronas, myrteas inter casas:
Nee Ceres nee Bacchus absunt, nee poetarum Deus;
De tenente tota nox est pervigilia canticis:
Regnet in silvis Dione; tu recede, Delia.
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet.

Hear Venus her only petition! Dear maiden of Delos, depart!
Let the forest be bloodless to-day, unmolested the roe and the hart!
Holy huntress, thyself she would bid be her guest, could thy chastity stoop
To approve of our revels, our dances--three nights that we weave in a troop
Arm-in-arm thro' thy sanctu'ries whirling, till faint and dispersed in the grove
We lie with thy lilies for chaplets, thy myrtles for arbours of love:
And Apollo, with Ceres and Bacchus to chorus-- song, harvest, and wine--
Hymns thee dispossess'd, "'Tis Dione who reigns! Let Diana resign!"
O, the wonderful nights of Dione! dark bough, with her star shining thro'!
Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love anew!

Jussit Hyblæis tribunal stare diva floribus;
Præses ipsa jura dicit, adsederunt Gratiæ.
Hybla, totos funde floras quidquid annus adtulit;
Hybla, florum rumpe vestem quantus Ætnæ campus est.

Ruris hic erunt puellæ, vel puellæ montium,
Quæque silvas, quæque lucos, quæque fontes incolunt:

Jussit omnes adsidere mater alitis dei,
Jussit et nudo puellas nil Amori credere.

Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet.
She has set up her court, has Our Lady, in Hybla, and deckt it with blooms:--
With the Graces at hand for assessors Dione dispenses her dooms.
Now burgeon, O Hybla! put forth and abound, till Proserpina's field,
To the foison thy lap overflowing its laurel of Sicily yield.
Call, assemble the nymphs--hamadryad and dryad-- the echoes who court
From the rock, who the rushes inhabit, in ripples who swim and disport.
"I admonish you maids--I, his mother, who suckled the scamp ere he flew--
An ye trust to the Boy flying naked, some pestilent prank ye shall rue."
Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love anew!

Et rigentibus virentes ducit umbras floribus:
Cras erit quum primus Æther copulavit nuptias,
Et pater totum creavit vernis annum nubibus,
In sinum maritus imber fluxit almæ conjugis,
Unde fetus mixtus omnes aleret magno corpore.
Ipsa venas atque mentem permeanti spiritu
Intus occultis gubernat procreatrix viribus,
Perque coelum, perque terras, perque pontum subditum
Pervium sui tenorem seminali tramite

She has coax'd her the shade of the hazel to cover the wind-flower's birth.
Since the day the Great Father begat it, descending in streams upon Earth;
When the Seasons were hid in his loins, and the Earth lay recumbent, a wife,
To receive in the searching and genital shower the soft secret of life.
As the terrible thighs drew it down, and conceived, as the embryo ran
Thoro' blood, thoro' brain, and the Mother gave all to the making of man,
She, she, our Dione, directed the seminal current to creep,
Penetrating, possessing, by devious paths all the height, all the deep.
She, of all procreation procuress, the share to the furrow laid true;

Inbuit, jussitque mundum nosse nascendi vias.
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet.

Ipsa Trojanos nepotes in Latinos transtulit,
Ipsa Laurentem puellam conjugem nato dedit;
Moxque Marti de sacello dat pudicam virginem;
Romuleas ipsa fecit cum Sabinis nuptias,
Unde Ramnes et Quirites proque prole posterum
Romuli matrem crearet et nepotem Cæsarem.
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet.

She, she, to the womb drave the knowledge, and open'd the ecstasy through.
Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love anew!

Her favour it was fill'd the sail of the Trojan for Latium bound;
Her favour that won her Aeneas a bride on Laurentian ground,
And anon from the cloister inveigled the Virgin, the Vestal, to Mars;
As her wit by the wild Sabine rape recreated her Rome for its wars,
With the Ramnes, Quirites, together ancestrally proud as they drew
From Romulus down to our Caesar--last, best of that bone, of that thew.
Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love anew!

Rura fecundat voluptas: rura Venerem sentiunt:
Ipse Amor puer Dionse rure natus dicitur.
Hunc ager, cum parturiret ipsa, suscepit sinu:
Ipsa florum delicatis educavit osculis.
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras, amet.

Ecce jam super genestas explicant tauri latus,
Quisque tutus quo tenetur conjugali foedere:
Subter umbras cum maritis ecce balantum greges;
Et canoras non tacere diva jussit alites.

Pleasure planteth a field; it conceives to the passion, the pang, of his joy.
In a field was Dione in labour delivered of Cupid the Boy;
And the field in its fostering lap from her travail received him: he drew
Mother's milk from the delicate kisses of flowers; and he prosper'd and grew--
Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love anew!

Lo! behold ye the bulls, with how lordly a flank they besprawl on the broom!--
Yet obey the uxorious yoke, and are tamed to Dione her doom.
Or behear ye the sheep, to the husbanding rams how they bleat to the shade!
Or behear ye the birds, at the Goddess' command how they sing unafraid!

Jam loquaces ore rauco stagna cycni perstrepunt;
Adsonat Terei puella subter umbram populi,
Ut putes motus amoris ore dici musico,
Et neges queri sororem de marito barbaro.
Ilia cantat, nos tacemus. Quando ver venit meum?
Quando fiam uti chelidon, ut tacere desinam?
Perdidi Musam tacendo, nec me Apollo respicit;
Sic Amyclas, cum tacerent, perdidit silentium.
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit cras amet.

Be it harsh as the swannery's clamour that shatters the hush of the lake,
Be it dulcet as where Philomela holds darkling the poplar awake, 85
So melting her soul into music, you'd vow 'twas her passion, her own,
She plaineth--her sister forgot, with the Daulian crime long-agone.
Hark! Hush! Draw around to the circle ... Ah, loitering Summer! Say when
For me shall be broken the charm, that I chirp with the swallow again?
I am old; I am dumb; I have waited to sing till Apollo withdrew-- 90
So Amyclae a moment was mute, and for ever a wilderness grew.
Now learn ye to love who loved never--now ye who have loved, love anew,

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