It confirms my low opinion of the folk.
Citizen or criminal: and which is which?
There is no way to know beforehand,
And they can change, and one become the other
In a moment, as the mood, as the greed strikes.
Property is theft, the radix malorum,
And wealth unshared is an evil stockpiled.
But why share wealth in a den of thieves?
What virgin would keep her virtue intact
When the rapist offers a daily dowry?
The other prophet sounds just like you.
How is this explained? said Marguerite.
The prophetic voice will be subject, I said,
To similar stresses and similar strains,
But, more important, I must paraphrase
Each of these sentences I represent.
It's part of parrot work to do so,
To modernize the antiquated speech
That most serious prophecy imposes
Or act as metaphrast for lower castes
Condemned to speak their humble thoughts in prose.
I perform the task as a matter of course,
And Elijah spake, as did I, in manner
Like that of blinking, newly freed djinn,
With unintelligible menace and grace,
With meanings that belong to another age.
We spoke in old style, in hexameters,
Elegant juice, elegaic couplets
That slipped from lips as sighs and drifted down
And spun in air like liquified sun.
These must be recast into modern lines,
With crippled feet, at one remove from prose,
Into the new style iambic lite,
Lest my recitaton put you asleep
Duplicating ancient monotonies,
Lullaby you into distracted dreams
With now-nonsensical nursery rhymes.
But doesn't this do injustice to truth,
To fully authentic representation?
I've heard such things argued, I replied,
But from the same pious, self-righteous folk
Who like their antiquated music played
Through warped trumpets that bleat like duckcalls.
Let them celebrate the good old days,
Applaud childish compositions performed
On decomposing lutes and harpsichords
Rescued from some medieval midden heap.
Release them in the forest to forage nude,
To gnaw uncooked roots in driving snow.
Let them read and re-read in cuneiform
The epic Gilgamesh until they gag.
But what about the modern monotonies
That result from your translation? she replied.
Learn to live with it, I advised. I have.
In due course it becomes automatic.
Elijah's thoughts, however, disturbed me.
These are dangerous ideas, I said.
Surely the Godhead does not endorse them.
Ever since Eden's garden was sectioned,
Its land subdivided, fruits apportioned,
Livestock penned and peoples enslaved,
God has presided over the process
That entrenches power, that ennobles greed,
That defrauds the defenseless of their birthright.
He has perfumed corruption with sanctity
And cloaked the wicked in robes of righteousness.
Liber Jonae Contents