Du Bellay in Rome
You who arrive to look for Rome in Rome
And can in Rome no Rome you know discover:
These palaces and arches ivied over
And ancient walls are Rome, now Rome’s a name.
Here see Rome’s overbearing overcome—
Rome, who brought the world beneath her power
And held sway, robbed of sway: see and consider
Rome the prey of all-consuming time.
And yet this Rome is Rome’s one monument.
Rome alone could conquer Rome. And the one element
Of constancy in Rome is the ongoing
Seaward rush of Tiber. O world of flux
Where time destroys what’s steady as the rocks
And what resists time is what’s ever flowing.
from Les Antiquités de Rome
A note on Seamus Heaney’s “Du Bellay in Rome” by Paul Muldoon
Seamus Heaney’s translation of a sonnet by Joachim du Bellay (1522–1560), one of the last poems he wrote before he died this past August, is timely in several senses. Du Bellay’s witty engagement with paradoxes about permanence and immanence, fixity and flux, raises questions not only about those great themes but, coincidentally, about the nature of literary fame. Du Bellay is hardly a household name, yet his impact on Spenser and Shakespeare, to name but two renowned poets, is absolutely crucial. Seamus Heaney’s translation of du Bellay’s sonnet is all the more poignant, of course, given the fact that, shortly after completing it, he would himself become a victim of what Shakespeare terms “devouring time.” In the face of this terrible loss, we may take some comfort in our profound sense that, like the Tiber, Seamus Heaney’s work will continue to be a constant in our lives.
Vol. 34, No. 2 (2013)