In an earlier post on this blog (‘The Latin “Ad Vilmum Axiologum” (1807): Coleridge and Ariosto’) I talked about how Coleridge, stung by what he had seen—or perhaps, by what he had hallucinated—on the morning of Boxing Day 1806, ran out of the house and into a nearby tavern, where he spent the day drinking and scribbling-out his agony into his notebook under the portentous title ‘THE EPOCH’. What had he seen? Wordsworth in bed, naked, with Sara Hutchinson, Wordsworth's wife's sister, and the object of STC's profound and unreciprocated desire. Coleridge later tore-out most of these pages and destroyed them, but references to the events recur in his notes and poems for many years. How could Wordsworth cheat on his wife? How, more importantly, could Wordsworth betray him? How could Asra?
The main focus of that earlier blogpost was one such later reaction to ‘THE EPOCH’, the Latin ‘Ad Vilmum Axiologum’ (‘To William Wordsworth’), a blistering poem of hurt and rebuke aimed at his friend.
Me n'Asrae perferre jubes oblivia? et AsraeHere's how I translated this poem, in that original blogpost:
Me aversos oculos posse videre meae?
Scire et eam falsam, crudelem, quae mihi semper
Cara fuit, semper cara futura mihi?
Meque pati lucem, cui vanam perdite amanti, 
Quicquid Naturae est, omne tremit, titubat?
Cur non ut patiarque fodi mea viscera ferro,
Dissimulato etiam, Vilme, dolore jubes?
Quin Cor, quin Oculosque meos, quin erue vel quod
Carius est, si quid carius esse potest! 
Deficientem animam, quod vis, tolerare jubebo,
Asrae dum superet, me moriente, fides
At Fidis Inferias vidi! et morior!—Ratione
Victum iri facili, me Ratione, putas?
Ah pereat, qui in Amore potest rationibus uti! 
Ah pereat, qui, ni perdite, amare potest!
Quid deceat, quid non, videant quihus integra mens est:
Vixi! vivit adhuc imraemor ASRA mei.
You command me to endure Asra's neglect? and Asra'sIn that earlier blog I showed that this poem is not an original composition, but appropriates and reworks Ariosto's early 16th-century poem, ‘Ad Petrum Bembo’ (‘To Pietro Bembo’). What I'm doing in this blog is digging a little deeper into that.
eyes turned from me, something I see very well for myself?
To know her to be false, cruel, who to me has always
been dear, who always will be dear to me?
I must endure this light: I've vainly loved a false woman, 
at which the whole of Nature trembles and stutters?
Why not order my own bowels stabbed with a sword,
and then pretend, William, that it does not hurt?
Why not tear out my heart, or my own eyes, or something else
that is even dearer, if anything is dearer! 
I'd command my weary soul to endure anything,
if only Asra, though it killed me, remained faithful.
But I've seen the funeral of her fidelity! and I'm dying!—Reason
is too easily defeated, you really think Reason can help me?
Ah, perish the man who can subordinate love to reason! 
Ah, perish any man who does not love to perdition!
What's decent, what's not, let the sane decide on that:
My life is over! Though ASRA lives on, unmindful of me.
Me tacitum perferre meae peccata puellae?
Me mihi rivalem praenituisse pati?
Cur non ut patiarque fodi mea viscera ferro
dissimulato etiam, Bembe, dolore iubes?
Quin cor, quin oculosque meos, quin erue vel quod 
carius est, siquid carius esse potest.
Deficienteni animam quod vis tolerare iubebo,
dum superet dominae me moriente fides.
Obsequiis alius faciles sibi quaerat amores,
cautius et vitet tetrica verba nece; 
qui spectare suae valeat securus amicae
non intellecta livida colla nota;
quique externa toro minimi vestigia pendat,
dum sibi sit potior parvo in amore locus.
Me potius fugiat nullis mollita querelis, 
dum simul et reliquos Lydia dura procos.
Parte carere omni malo, quam admittere quemquam
in partem; cupiat Iuppiter, ipse negem.
Tecum ego mancipiis, mensa, lare, vestibus utar;
communi sed non utar, amice, toro. 
Cur ea mens mihi sit, quaeris fortasse, tuaque
victum iri facili me ratione putas.
Ah! pereat qui in amore potest rationibus uti!
Ah! pereat qui ni perdite amare potest.
Quid deceat, quid non, videant quibus integra mens est; 
sat mihi, sat dominam posse videre meam.
Am I to endure in silence my girl's cheating?
To permit my rival outshining me?
Why not order me to stab my guts with an iron knife
all the while hiding, Bembo, my agony?
Why not rip-out my heart, or my eyeballs, or 
something dearer to me (if anything is dearer)?
I'd order my drooping spirit to bear up,
if only my mistress stayed true til I died.
Let another man easily surrender to his lover,
dodging harsh words like death to keep love alive; 
watching with eyes, trusting his lover, though he
can't comprehend the strange lovebites on her neck;
overlooking signs a stranger has shared her bed,
so long as he feels she loves him more, or as much.
Fine if she blanks me, if my begging doesn't soften her— 
hard-hearted Lydia—if she avoids her other men too.
I'd rather lose the whole, than to let anyone else
have any part; if Jupiter himself desired her, I'd say no.
I'll share my slaves, my table, house, my clothes;
with you my friend, but not my bed! 
Why do I say so, you ask? You might think you could
cool my anger with a piece of your clever logic.
Ah! may the man perish who measures love by logic!
Ah! may he perish if love doesn't absolutely slay him!
Let the clear-sighted concern themselves with propriety; 
for me, all I care about is seeing my mistress.
The speaker, adopting the role of praeceptor amoris, advises the addressee, who is to be identified with the poet Pietro Mellini, to stop accusing or suspecting his lover of infidelity. For if he does not do so, he will lose her (lines 1-4). The central section of the poem (5-12) expands upon this advice. Puellae [girls] are by nature infirmae [weak] and can be seduced by blandae preces [smooth or beguiling entreaties]. Men should recognize that fact, but pretend to be unaware of it. That is how a love affair lasts. In the concluding four lines the speaker brings his own situation into the poem. “If I saw my girl friend being unfaithful,” he says, “I would not want to admit to it.” And he closes by addressing Mellini again as he had at the beginning, urging him to follow his example and comforting him with the assurance that he is worrying needlessly; the situation he fears will not arise. [John N. Grant, ‘Propertius, Ovid and Two Latin Poems of Pietro Bembo’, International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 1:4 (1995), 51]This smoothly cynical attitude to love and sex provokes Ariosto's impassioned retort.
Quinti, si tibi vis oculos debere CatullumCatullus is begging Quintus not to steal his girl. You might as well (he says) rob me of my eyes, or of my balls, which are of course even more important than my eyes! The joke here is: being cuckolded is emasculating, a kind of castration. I mean I say that: older commentators (E T Merrill et al), a little prudishly, suggest that the thing that is more valuable to Catullus than his eyes is his love, Lesbia. That's not what the poem actually says, though (it says his eyes are dear to him, the things that are dearer to his eyes are dearer, and Lesbia is dearer still than both). Plus it's surely funnier the first way.
aut aliud si quid carius est oculis,
eripere ei noli multo quod carius illi
est oculis seu quid carius est oculis.
Quintus, if you want Catullus to owe you his eyes
or another thing (if there is one) dearer than his eyes,
do not steal from him that which he holds dearer
than his eyes or the things dearer even than eyes.
That said: I don't get that Catullian vibe from Coleridge's poem. There's nothing ribald, even in a coded way, about this expression of his anguish over Asra, here, I'd say.