Psychomachia Preface

Here’s a first draft of my poetic translation of the preface of Prudentius’ “Psychomachia”. Sorry for all the variation in forms, and no, this isn’t anything like the disciplined meters of Old English or even the Middle English alliterative verse revival. But I did try to stick close to the literal meaning and be lively at the same time.

The Preface serves as a sort of scriptural justification of the whole Virtue/Vice war concept, showing any dubious fellow Christians the connection between interpreting the scriptures spiritually and writing allegorical poetry, by showing Abraham’s battle to rescue his nephew as a type of the battle that the soul wages (filled by God’s power) against its own weaknesses and sins. But don’t focus too much on the function; this is poetry, which always works better for the reader if he’s not fixated on the girders and rivets.

PREFACE (Translated by Maureen S. O’Brien, 1/5/08)

The faithful old man who’d be first to believe in the Way,
Abram, the father come lately of seed that was blessed,
whose name was made greater by that syllable that was added
(called “Abram” by his parents, “Abraham” by God);
who called the pledge of his old age a victim;
leading to altar for sacrifice whatever’s wanted;
who had a sweet heart, who was awestruck, who to the One God
offered in trust what was trusted to him — he urged us
to fight with our own unholy, unhallowed nations;
so the advisor sets himself up as example.

Not even the marital offspring
begotten by mother of virtue’s
born pleasing to God — till the Spirit,
warloving, by many a slaughter,
has conquered the targeted heart to serve Him.

By chance, cruel kings had captured Lot.
He lived in the immoral criminal cities
Gomorrah and Sodom, a foreigner favored
like a kinsman of influence, honored with glory.
By a bearer of bad news, Abram was awoken.
He heard his near kin’s fate was to be warcaptive,
to slave for barbarians in rigid chains.

He armed three hundred and three-times-six servants;
they fell on the enemy’s rear to wreak havoc
on them, hugely hindered by richness of treasure
and parade of the prisoners of high rank they held.

So Abram himself unsheathed iron, and full of God,
drove the proud kings into flight, weighted down with their loot.
He tread them down underfoot, broke the chains, freed the booty:
gold, girls, and little kids, necklaces, dishes and clothing,
herds of mares, heifers.

Lot stood up straight and kneaded his neck,
freed from his broken collar.
Abram, who’d ended the enemy’s parade,
returned with his brother’s famed scion recovered,
lest the faithful bloodline be stolen
for themselves by the wickedest leaders.

Yet fresh from the slaying of so many men,
a priest gave him celestial bread —
the priest of God also a powerful ruler,
the source whose secret unutterable spring
sprang up from nowhere — Melchizedek, whose race
and ancestors none know, knew much of the One God.

Soon shall a triformed trinity of angels
revisit the huts of the hospitable old man,
and already the gift of a son in the shriveled
womb of the mother, Sarah, stuns her.
Blood flees her face, rejoicing in an heir
and repenting her snorted snickers.

Here is predicted the line, in a figure,
for whom our lives are reshaped into infantry.

On watch, our faithful hearts armored. Our bodies
in whole and part captured by filth, POWs,
are slaves to desire.

From the house, men are collected to free us.
We are rich people with plenty of servants —
if the three hundred and the twice nine added
can be recognized as a mystical figure.

Soon Christ Himself, who is the True Priest —
of unutterable Parent but His sole-begotten —
offering his blessed food to the victors,
will enter into the heart’s chaste little cottage
that is giving honor to the guest Trinity.
Then in conjugal embrace, the Spirit makes
the faithful espoused soul, so long without offspring,
fertile to seed everlasting. In labor,
the woman late-dowried then will fill
the house of the Father with a worthy heir.


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