Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
The land stretches out like a rumpled felt blanket washed out by the sky. The land is like the lake with ship-horses turning their manes to billow in the constant wind. It looks like home, if you pretend the horses are dragons and grasses are water and the tall men with flashing eyes have brighter heads and wider smiles. It looks nothing like her. Sister… my sister… my heart’s own friend born from another land’s womb. Kin bound by love deeper than blood. She never looked foreign to my eyes, and there is none of her in what I see here, except perhaps in the starkness of the brittle air.
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem.
Quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum.
Heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi,
And here I am at last at the moment I’ve dreamed nightly. Finally there will be ceremony and fanfare and resolution of pain. I don’t know what I expected. To see you in your mother’s face, perhaps, or be struck by your father. A part of me even expects you to come and take this burning coal of guilt from my gut. But no. There is no ending here, and I am nothing but an arse. Selfish, as Thragan said. Her poor parents can no more speak for her than the wind or the stars or the flowing waters between the worlds. Ashes can’t talk back. It isn’t you. It isn’t you.
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.
And so we have these limping rites half-done and half-truths half said. Truth has teeth here that will tear healing wounds wide. We say words that are always said about every dead comrade, meaning nothing more than the grief they carry out to sea. They flow with tears grey as rivers that wash paths in the deep soil of pain and coal-black guilt. I cannot give you justice, and you cannot give me absolution. So I give you this: the only gift the living can give the dead. I give you my tears, and I open my hands as you fly before me.
For the last time I greet you and forever I bid you ….
Author’s note: The framing poem is Catullus 101 – my personal favorite. My translation here fails to do it justice. It was written when, after some years, he was finally able to visit his brother’s grave in a land far from home.
Through many nations and many seas I come,
Brother, to this poor excuse for a funeral.
So that I can perform your last rights of death,
and converse in vain with mute ash,
Since fate has taken you from me yourself.
Alas for my poor brother, unfairly taken from me!
But now, in the meantime, nevertheless, accept the rites
handed down from our parents as a sad duty to the dead
now dripping hot with a brother’s tears.
And forever, brother, I bid you hail, and farewell.