A happy love-life is but seldom an inspiration for interesting poetry. Fortunately for us the relation between Propertius and Cynthia had its ups and downs and the next poem describes a very deep crisis: Cynthia has been unfaithful. In the loneliness of a wood Propertius is desperately wondering why: did Cynthia think he has a new girl (nova puella l.10)? Certainly not! Was there something in his appearance from which she could have inferred something (l.170? Didn’t he show his love and faithfulness enough (l.18)?
He even tells he stood in vain weeping for her closed door (l.24). And though not stated, I think Cynthia was having fun with her new lover, while Propertius was waiting for her to open the doors - which she of course didn’t. Still, he wants her dearly back. Well, I would have turned away from her and look for a new girlfriend. Thus far no love poetry has appeared from my hand.
Haec certe deserta loca et taciturna querenti,
et vacuum Zephyri possidet aura nemus.
hic licet occultos proferre impune dolores,
si modo sola queant saxa tenere fidem.
unde tuos primum repetam, mea Cynthia, fastus? 5
quod mihi das flendi, Cynthia, principium?
qui modo felices inter numerabar amantes,
nunc in amore tuo cogor habere notam.
quid tantum merui? quae te mihi crimina mutant?
an nova tristitiae causa puella tuae? 10
sic mihi te referas, levis, ut non altera nostro
limine formosos intulit ulla pedes.
quamvis multa tibi dolor hic meus aspera debet,
non ita saeva tamen venerit ira mea,
ut tibi sim merito semper furor, et tua flendo 15
lumina deiectis turpia sint lacrimis.
an quia parva damus mutato signa colore,
et non ulla meo clamat in ore fides?
vos eritis testes, si quos habet arbor amores,
fagus et Arcadio pinus amica deo. 20
ah quotiens vestras resonant mea verba sub umbras,
scribitur et teneris Cynthia corticibus!
ah tua quot peperit nobis iniuria curas,
quae solum tacitis cognita sunt foribus!
omnia consuevi timidus perferre superbae 25
iussa neque arguto facta dolore queri.
pro quo continui montes et frigida rupes
et datur inculto tramite dura quies;
et quodcumque meae possunt narrare querelae,
cogor ad argutas dicere solus aves. 30
sed qualiscumque's, resonent mihi 'Cynthia' silvae,
nec deserta tuo nomine saxa vacent.
queror questus sum: to express grief
Zephyrus: Western wind
nemus nemoris (n.): wood grove
profero: to bring forward, utter
si modo: if only
queo quivi quitum: to be able
repeto repetivi repetirum: to find, uncover (i.e. the reason for her disdain (fastus, -us m,)
principium: reason, cause
habere notam: a nota is a mark which the censores put at a name on the list of civilians , when someone had misbehaved, hence: punishment
mihi: concerning me
crimina: another reading is carmina (spells) adopted in the translation belw
causa tristitiae (unfriendliness) is predicate to nova puella
referas te: you can bring yourself back = you can return
non altera ulla: not any other (girl)
quamvis…lacrimis: whatever this anguish of mine owes for you many painful things (i.e. in return for your fastus) my anger will still never become that raging, that I am rightly always (an object of) fury for you and that through crying your eyes will be ugly by falling tears.
mutato colore: by a change of complexion (some editors read: mutato calore : by a change of (love-) fire.)
et…fides: i.e. that you cannot read my faithfulness in my face
fagus (f.): beech-tree
Arcadio deo: Pan, for whom the pine-tree (pinus) was sacred
cortex cortices (f. and m.): bark
pario peperi partum: to bring forth, give birth
iniuria: unfaithful actions
tacitis foribus: to your silent doors (Propertius is thinking of standing in front of the house of Cynthia)
consuevi: I am used (the perfect tense implies a long period, still valid for the present)
tacitis foribus: to the silent doors (of Cynthia’s house)
superbae: of you, haughty girl
neque..queri: nor to complain your deeds by loud grief
pro quo: as reward of that
continui montes (dantur): the manuscripts are corrupt here and various reading have been proposed: a range of mountains, divini fontes or dumosi (bushy) montes
rupes rupes (f.): rock
inculto tramite: on an untrodden path (trames, f.)
argutas aves: note that argutus has here a different meaning than in arguto doloro `twittering birds’
qualiscumque's: whatever you are
tuo nomine vacent: will be free of your name
Translation by A.S. Klyne.
Truly this is a silent, lonely place for grieving, and the breath of the West Wind owns the empty wood. Here I could speak my secret sorrows freely, if only these solitary cliffs could be trusted.
To what cause shall I attribute your disdain, my Cynthia? Cynthia, what reason for my grief did you give me? I, who but now was numbered among the joyous, now am forced to look for signs of your love. Why do I merit this? What spell turns you away from me? Is some new girl the root of your anger? You can give yourself to me again, fickle girl, since no other has ever set lovely foot on my threshold. Though my sorrow’s indebted to you for much grief my anger will never be so fierce with you that rage could ever be justified in you or your weeping eyes be disfigured with falling tears.
Is it because I show few signs of altered complexion, and my faith does not cry aloud in my face? Beech-tree and pine, beloved of the Arcadian god, you will be witnesses, if trees know such passions. Oh, how often my words echo in gentle shadows and Cynthia is carved in your bark!
Oh! How often has your injustice caused me pains that only your silent threshold knows? I am used to suffering your tyrannous orders with diffidence, without moaning about it in noisy complaint. For this I win sacred springs, cold rocks, and rough sleep by a wilderness track: and whatever my complaint can tell of must be uttered alone to melodious birds.
Yet whatever you may be, let the woods echo ‘Cynthia’ to me, and let not the wild cliffs be free of your name.