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rhyme the better), when they present as good a means as can be found for faithful and rhythmical translations; and heroic couplets which to us take the place of the longer lines to the Greek ear are generally dull. There is no denying that. Take up any book of unbroken couplets, and it will certainly prove less inviting than it could possibly have done in any other form, blank verse included. It is true that in English literature heroic couplets do best clothe the epigram; but then we must bear this in mind — what is nearest to our sympathies in the work of these so-called
epigrammatic' poets is not, as we now speak, epigrammatic at all. Many of the verses are rhetorical exercises, jokes and so forth ; but even of these (as Mr. Symonds has shown in his Greek Poets) most, though they have the point of an epigram, have not its sting, Meleager's wreath of songs' was a collection of lyrics, most of them short and nearly all memorable, but their incisiveness is very different from the precision we look for in an epigram; they are not forced or witty, many of them just idylls. In our English with its wide vocabulary, and if he had been writing for print and not for graving, it is not perhaps impertinent to suppose that he and his fellows, if not his predecessors, would have chosen the sonnet form. For the sonnet with its beautiful order, its strict rules, any one of which broken is an offence to the cultivated ear, and with the manifold changes of tone, the simplicity and the neatness which it admits, is really our best equivalent for the eight or ten hexameters and pentameters in which most of our favourite Greek epigrams are contained. As it is, a translator cannot render these into sonnets without a little undue expansiveness; but where the epigram is of fourteen lines or even twelve, he may fairly cast it into a sonnet, as I shall hope to show in one or two examples by-and-by.
To rondels and other moulds, so to speak, for English verse, we are not accustomed. I am afraid, if I were to try these, I should not be simple enough for a translator. The charm of a rondel is its artificial grace, delighting the eye and ear. The charm of a translation in verse is that the verse should neither load the sense nor tangle it. So I have not inserted any rondels, the most delicate webs of love-song possible.
We need not hesitate over the story of the Anthology as it has come down to us; Mr. Symonds has made it all interesting already, and what matters to us is that we have the poems in their original form. Being fugitive pieces, they will speak for themselves. We don't want to say, “ Now all this was a man's diathesis, and here is his heart-beat, but • Here is this man's heart-beat: judge his diathesis.'
The first collection that was made of Greek epigrams was Meleager's, just before the Christian era, and his way of collecting them is quite the most charming of all. He gathers the songs into a wreath, as he calls it, giving to each poet a symbolic flower; and though he gives all sorts of flowers, for health, and rest, and pleasuring, he gives no poppy to any one, which we must take to mean that they are none of them dull. This is how he introduces them: I have put the preface into blank verse, to preserve the quantities for any one who cares to read it, not because among so many names strange to us we can hope to see all the pretty touches of the poem.
For whom the fruitage of this strain, my Muse,
This is Dioscorides'. We must find one epigram of his, at all
And Hegesippus' maddening grape-cluster