Natural Exhaustion ["Dum Diane vitrea" Fourth Stanza] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Teasing Meaning from Images
It’s all about Sleep
Closing

{An idyllic windmill scene. Image found on JA Tappero’s Main Page.}

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Abstract

The poet waxes on about satisfying (?) post-coital sleepiness.

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Translation

“Morpheus then draws forth
an urge in the mind
Like gentle wind over mature corn,
clear shoreside river murmurings,
the circuitous orbit of mill arms,
he who steals sleep from clear eyes.”
(“Dum Diane vitrea” Stanza 4)

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Recordings

The entire poem will be recorded once it’s all been posted. This recording will then be posted with a final, full edition of my translation.

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Teasing Meaning from Images

What this stanza describes sounds unequivocally like post-coital sleepiness. The way it’s described with rustic, idyllic even, similes strengthens this reading, too.

After all, If love is often romanticized in classical literature as the affection between a shepherd and a shepherdess, why not also romanticize the urge to sleep afterwards with a bunch of natural imagery? Though it definitely needs to be noted that this stanza’s imagery isn’t entirely natural.

Corn may grow on its own, but it’s made into fields by human hands, just as much as a windmill is something of human design and construction. Yet, associating these things with sleep makes sense on many different levels.

There’s the obvious level of their soothing nature, and that of all three working together to paint a very calm and relaxed scene. And relaxed is the best word for this scene, since all of these actions are passive. The corn merely bends in the wind, the water is just running to lower ground, and the mill’s arms turn as gusts go by.

Further, the first and third of these images are visual cues of something invisible but audible: wind, while the second of the three is an aural representation of something very visual. This synaesthetic description of the sweeping desire to sleep is incredibly effective if you think about the last time you felt utterly exhausted. Alternatively, you could compare this stanza’s main image to the gradual release of tension in a yogic meditation or that you might experience if you just lay in bed, close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing.

But why, if the poet wanted to depict an idyllic country scene, did he use these three things? Why does the poet choose the wind in a cornfield, the babbling of a river, and the wind through the arms of a windmill? These are all things found in the countryside, sure. But why these three? How do they work together? And why move from wind to water to wind?

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It’s all about Sleep

It’s possible that this arrangement offers further reflection on the medieval biphasic sleep pattern.

The wind could be the gentle and effortless rest that sleep affords, while the water, coming in between wind images, could be the awake phase in between sleep periods (or sex itself, depending on how far you want to take the flow of the river).

What’s more, shifting the wind image to that of a mill after that middle water image works perfectly well within an interpretation of this stanza as the medieval sleep pattern in miniature. After all, a windmill would often be used to grind grains (corn included) into meal or flour, and medieval associations between this flour and male potency (or more generally the active principle) are many.

So reading these three images as a representation of the night as a whole is certainly possible within context. What’s especially significant about such a reading though is that it shows the poet’s associating this sleep pattern with human use of nature, and the way that nature and humanity interact. On the surface, this kind of idea sounds tame enough, but through such a series of associations, the poet could well be asserting that sex is merely something natural.

Maybe the poet is even trying to go so far as to bring sex, something contemporarily thought of as dangerous and needing control (a natural, base urge), into the more civilized and human realm. Moreover, because of the cyclical nature of this series of images, the poet seems to suggest that sex is just another part of a natural cycle that can be put under human control, or under human use (as water and its flow can be).

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Closing

Of course, all of this is speculation – go right ahead and share your own in the comments!

Also, don’t miss Thursday’s Beowulf entry – Beowulf is firmly cut from the story, as its focus moves over to the grieving Wiglaf.

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