Len Krisak, translation from the Latin of lines from “Pharsalia” by Lucan

Der-Hovanessian Award, selected by Chloe Roberts-Garcia
Honorable mention: Len Krisak, translation from the Latin of lines from “Pharsalia” by Lucan


LUCAN: PHARSALIA (The Civil War), Book III, 1-35

As Auster bellied out the sails, it sent the ships
Off knifing through the deep, the eyes of all the men
On lookout for the waters of Ionia’s sea.
Pompey the Great alone kept Italy in view—
Its homeland ports and disappearing harbors, too,
Along with cloud-clad hills and misted mountains he
Was sailing from and knew he’d never see again.
At length his body fails him and his spirit slips

Down into sleep. There, through a cleft gashed in the earth:
The dismal face, the dire image, of his wife,
As Julia blazes like a Fury from her pyre.
“After this civil war began, they dragged me from
The blessèd fields, the region of Elysium,
To Styx, to join the guilty. There I saw the fire
Of the Furies’ torches, lit to kindle strife.
There, Charon on the burning banks prepares a berth

To Acheron, where endless souls make Hell expand
To take them in. The Parcae’s hands can barely hold
The threads that weary them; the work will not abate.
Magnus, married to me, you triumphed as a prince.
But with your new mate, Fortune turned. And ever since
Cornelia got you—as a mistress marked by Fate—
She’s rushed to bring you down, my pyre not yet cold.
Let her cling to your flag, at war on sea or land,

As long as I can roil your sleep with stress and strife.
And let there be no time for Love, which shall forget you,
As Caesar owns your day and Julia your night.
Husband, despite what the erasing banks of Lethe
Have done, your memory will live; the kings of death
Still let me haunt you. While you’re in the war’s worst fight,
You’ll see me in its midst. Magnus, my ghost won’t let you
Ever forget that Caesar’s daughter is your wife.

Your useless sword will never cut our marriage ties,
And civil war will make you mine.” Her spirit flies
Off, melting through the vain embrace her Pompey tries.


Len Krisak
Len Krisak’s latest book is a complete translation of Rilke’s New Poems. With work in the Hudson, Sewanee, and Antioch Reviews, he is the recipient of the Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, and Robert Frost Prizes, and a four-time champion on Jeopardy!