Year: 
2022

These are my modern English translations of the great Scottish poet William Dunbar.

Sweet Rose of Virtue
by William Dunbar (c. 1460-1530)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sweet rose of virtue and of gentleness,
delightful lily of youthful wantonness,
richest in bounty and in beauty clear
and in every virtue men hold most dear,
except only that you are merciless.

Into your garden, today, I followed you;
there I found flowers of freshest hue,
both white and red, delightful to see,
and wholesome herbs, waving resplendently,
yet nowhere, one leaf nor petal of rue.

I fear that March with his last arctic blast
has slain my fair rose and left her downcast;
whose piteous death does my heart such pain
that I long to plant love’s root again—
so comforting her bowering leaves have been.

Published by Poet’s Corner, A Long Story Short, Poetry Magnum Opus, StoryMirror (top 20 sonnets of all time), PoemAnalysis (top 10 romantic poems of all time),Varying Blasts (best romantic love poems), Acamedsia-Cinquième, Vajhu, The Asian Age (circulation one million), Sri Lanka Guardian, Lezenswaard (Belgium), PoetBay, Poemist, Timeless Poetry, Lyrics Translate, A Winter Fairytale, Orange Turtle, and turned into a YouTube video by Sarah Ahmed of the Livingstone Sonnet Project, and into a rap/singing YouTube video by Jenna Thiel and Jake Owens

***

Lament for the Makaris (“Lament for the Makers, or Poets”)
by William Dunbar (c. 1460-1530)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

i who enjoyed good health and gladness
am overwhelmed now by life’s terrible sickness
and enfeebled with infirmity;
the fear of Death dismays me!

our presence here is mere vainglory;
the false world is but transitory;
the flesh is frail; the Fiend runs free;
how the fear of Death dismays me!

the state of man is changeable:
now sound, now sick, now blithe, now dull,
now manic, now devoid of glee;
and the fear of Death dismays me!

no state on earth stands here securely;
as the wild wind waves the willow tree,
so wavers this world’s vanity;
and the fear of Death dismays me!

Death leads the knights into the field
(unarmored under helm and shield)
sole Victor of each red mêlée;
and the fear of Death dismays me!

that strange, despotic Beast
tears from its mother’s breast
the babe, full of benignity;
and the fear of Death dismays me!

He takes the champion of the hour,
the captain of the highest tower,
the beautiful damsel in full flower;
how the fear of Death dismays me!

He spares no lord for his elegance,
nor clerk for his intelligence;
His dreadful stroke no man can flee;
and the fear of Death dismays me!

artist, magician, scientist,
orator, debater, theologist,
all must conclude, so too, as we:
“the fear of Death dismays me!”

in medicine the most astute
sawbones and surgeons all fall mute;
they cannot save themselves, or flee,
and the fear of Death dismays me!

i see the Makers among the unsaved;
the greatest of Poets all go to the grave;
He does not spare them their faculty,
and the fear of Death dismays me!

i have seen Him pitilessly devour
our noble Chaucer, poetry’s flower,
and Lydgate and Gower (great Trinity!);
how the fear of Death dismays me!

since He has taken my brothers all,
i know He will not let me live past the fall;
His next victim will be —poor unfortunate me!—
and how the fear of Death dismays me!

there is no remedy for Death;
we must all prepare to relinquish breath,
so that after we die, we may no more plead:
“the fear of Death dismays me!”

Keywords/Tags: Dunbar, William Dunbar, Scotland, Scot, Scottish, poet, Scots dialect, rose, virtue, lament, makaris, makers, poets, elegy, eulogy, death

Author of original: 
William Dunbar
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