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This review is taken from PN Review 35, Volume 10 Number 3, January - February 1984.

VIDES UT ALTA STET Horace, The Complete Odes and Epodes with the Centennial Hymn, translated by W. G. Shepherd, with an introduction by Betty Radice (Penguin) £1.95

Up to 1936, we are told in Betty Radice's introduction to this volume, there had been over a hundred translations into English of the complete odes of Horace. No doubt the last fifty years have added to the number. One supposes that W. G. Shepherd, who has produced this new version for Penguin Classics, wisely ignored most of them. From the tone and texture of his pages one can easily believe his statement that he found his task as translator 'engrossing and profoundly satisfying' and that it was 'some of the hardest work' he has ever undertaken. He has evidently wrestled with his text and tried to make sense of it in, as he says, 'the sort of verse he is best at', and no translator can do more than that. W. G. Shepherd's own poems are available from Anvil.

The mal-adaptation of verse forms for transfer from one language to another is a matter of fact which is not always appreciated by the puveyors of 'poetry in translation', yet not to appreciate it is to ignore a basic secret of poetry - its historic subservience to the genius of particular streams of speech. There is no English equivalent to the classic French line; German comes close to demanding obedience to its accentual system, though our own accentual system has been more muted, at least since Chaucer. W. G. Shepherd understands considerations of this sort. 'Classical metres are of course quantitative and as such cannot,' he says, ...


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