Paraklausithyron is a term used to refer to Ancient Greek and Latin poems based on the conceit of a jilted lover complaining to his mistress’s locked door as if it were a human gate-keeper. Sextus Propertius, in poem 16 of his first book of elegies, inverts this trope and gives voice to the door.
Translating Propertius is a long-standing project of mine. I feel that his ironically political elegies, overshadowed by recent wars and scarred by romantic strife, speak to our own age in a special way. I have already posted one of my older attempts to translate him on this blog https://oudeis2005.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/poetry-rehab-101-away. I wrote a lot of Propertius-based poems at the time of the 2003 Iraq war.
This is a new ‘translation’ of Propertius I.xvi that I knocked off tonight in response to Andy Townend’s Poetry 101 rehab challenge prompt on the theme of Partition. https://wordpress.com/read/post/feed/31982590/769502657
My work in this medium tends to employ a chorus of voices, not all of them very nice—most of them, in fact, not very nice at all. I feel, therefore, that I should both apologize to those who may be offended by them, pleading that they are not my own, and, at the same time, plead my right (duty even) to include disturbing voices in my verse.
Propertius himself liked to play with quotations within quotations, one character quoting another quoting another, creating a sort of disturbingly distorted discursive hall of mirrors. I try to echo this in my own take on his work.
Paraklausithyron (after Propertius I.xvi)
My old door, once thrown open in joy
for heroes returning home from wars
or wept on by red-handed servant-girls
leaving in disgrace, is now battered
at by belligerent drunks, the stoop
littered with used condoms, needles and cans.
The whore on the third floor is beyond
redemption, the screeching arguments
& cars parked outside blaring out rap
worse than the smut you see these days on TV.
“You got some nerve, you fucking tight-assed
cold-hearted bitch, shutting me out.
I’ll thump you down. Daddy gonna bed down
here in the snow, rain twinkling in the streetlamp
lit night, cuddling a gun, listening out
for your shrill hinges’ creak. I’ll knock over
the nosey cow peeking out, slip through
the crack, up the stairs, shouting, dissing
you. You melt, sugar, at the sound
of Daddy’s voice & don’t mind that I
knock you about a bit for your own good;
turf the sissy boy you’re shacked up with
out, in my blizzard-of dreams. It’s you
door-keeper, nosey cow, I blame,
as the dawn chorus starts up
& the hangover kicks in; you who
can’t be won over with cheap perfume
or a punch. I sing to you
with the rhythm of a pneumatic drill
digging up the street.”
I poke my nose through
the crack in the chained door
& dial 911 again, wondering
about the girl upstairs,
what I could have done,
where it all went wrong.