Part of Ascensus Casusque Sigii Sidorum et Aranearum Martis, a project to translate Ziggy Stardust into Latin

Forward to Soul Love


Five Years

by David Bowie

Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones, opera house, fav'rite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TVs
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people,
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I'd need so many people.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn't pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don't think you knew you were in this song.
And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you're beautiful, I want you to walk

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we got

We've got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we got

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we got

We've got five years, what a surprise
We've got five years, stuck on my eyes
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we've got




Quinque Anni

ab D. Bovio

Pellens cum per forum, tantae matres suspirantes
Iam famam audivimus, quinque annos manebant flendo
Praeco flebat nosque dixit, mundus vero morebatur
Tantum flevit ut vultus rigatus, tunc sensi eum non mentiri

Nuntios, theatros, dilectum melos audivi
Pueros, ludos, electricos ferros vidi
Mens apothecam ut doluit, spatio parcere non habebat
Multum farcire egevi ut ibi condam
Omnesque obsesi-macri, omnesque alti-breves,
Omnesque nemini, omnesque aliqui
Numquam cogitabam ut tantis egeam

Puella annorum meorum insaniit, puerosque ferivit
Cogito si niger non avellivissit, eos necavissit
Miles cum bracchio fracto, rotas currus intuebatur
Centurio geni pedes flaminis basium dedit, speciete insolitus vomuit

Cogito in taberna te viderim, frigida et longa bibens
Subridens salutansque valensque bene, te in carmine non sciveris
Et algebat et pluebat actoremque sentivi
Et matris putavi, et volui ibi revenire
Tuus vultus, tuus gens, tuus loquandi modus
Te oscular, es pulchra, volo ut ambularis

Quinque annos habemus, in oculis fixum
Quinque annos, quanta miratio
Quinque annos habemus, mens magnopere dolet
Quinque annos, omnes quos habemus

Quinque annos, quanta miratio
Quinque annos habemus, in oculis fixum
Quinque annos habemus, mens magnopere dolet
Quinque annos, omnes quos habemus

Quinque annos habemus, in oculis fixum
Quinque annos, quanta miratio
Quinque annos habemus, mens magnopere dolet
Quinque annos, omnes quos habemus

Quinque annos, quanta miratio
Quinque annos habemus, in oculis fixum
Quinque annos habemus, mens magnopere dolet
Quinque annos, omnes quos habemus


Translation notes

I would said my main focus in this song wasn't so much preserving the vividness of the language, as with other songs on the album, so much as preserving the sound of the song. What I mean by this is that capturing the rhythm and rhyming in the original song was my focus. I didn't try too very hard with rhyme, as I'm not sure that it was ever a consideration in Classical writing, but there are traces of it. You can see this in my attempts to rearrange word order to have words with the same endings occurring in vaguely the same places in adjacent lines.

The first time that this becomes really obvious is in the second stanza (line 5). If you know the original song, my translation feels very similar rhythmically. If I were to come up with what the rhythm and emphasis sounds like in this song, I would probably say a marching beat of some sort (think snare drums at the opening of a dramatic battle scene in X Pre-Modern War Movie). Here's the opening of that stanza, with emphasized syllables in bold. There are dramatic pauses at each comma.

I heard telephones, op'ra house, fav'rite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TVs
Nuntios, theatros, dilectum melos audivi,
Pueros, ludos, electricos ferros vidi
So not a perfect adaptation, but certainly a strong resemblance.

I also ran into what became a standard problem in this project: reference to modern inventions. Telephones and an opera house became summons and a theater (line 5); electric irons and TVs became simply electric irons (line 6) — by removing the television reference, I eliminated a pretty much untranslatable word and was able to make the line match the one before rhythmically and in almost rhyming. In the next stanza, I replaced the Cadillac with a chariot (line 14) and the kneeling policeman with a centurion on his knees.

The next stanza I spent a good long time playing with, as it has two lines (20 & 21) that really deserved attention in order to bring out the tone of the song. I feel that if the desperation and longing that Bowie's word choice and order evoke aren't conveyed in the Latin the song would lose a dimension:

Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you're beautiful, I want you to walk!

Frankly, I don't think I succeeded with those two lines, which I find profoundly disappointing. Too much is implicit in the English that couldn't have been left implicit in the Latin; I was acquiring extra syllables left and right trying to make a translation that matched the original just right. Instead, I made sure I kept the meaning and the overall rhythm (same as the marching beat I mentioned above), and hope for the best.

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