I’ve Been Thinking About the End of the World

 It seemed to me that I had happened upon humanity upon the wane. The ruddy sunset set me thinking of the sunset of mankind. For the first time I began to realize an odd consequence of the social effort in which we are at present engaged . . . .
— H. G. Wells, The Time Machine

An image has haunted me since at least some time after my eleventh birthday when a school chum gave me a lovely one volume copy of The Time Machine and The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells:

A steady twilight brooded over the earth. And the band of light that had indicated the sun had, I now noticed, become fainter, had faded indeed to invisibility in the east, and in the west was increasingly broader and redder. The circling of the stars growing slower and slower had given place to creeping points of light. At last, some time before I stopped, the sun, red and very large, halted motionless upon the horizon, a vast dome glowing with a dull heat. The work of the tidal drag was accomplished. The earth had come to rest with one face to the sun even as in our own time the moon faces the earth.

The Time Machine (1895 version)

This image of the ancient sun, “a vast dome glowing with dull heat” rests forever on my mind and returns for me in readings as an instant image of the last days of a world, if not devoid of life, emptied of living humanity and, most likely, cleansed by time even of human artifact.

Wells, of course, as a man of science, grounded his description in rational predictive extrapolation from known geological and astrophysical principals. But even such a hopelessly unscientific fellow as C. S. Lewis (his Cosmic Trilogy notwithstanding) conjured this same bloated sun when he needed a bit of shorthand for a world on its death-bed. Consider Chapter V of the penultimate Chronicle of Narnia, The Magician’s Nephew:

Much more light than they had yet seen in that country was pouring in through the now empty doorway, and when the Queen led them out through it they were not surprised to find themselves in the open air. The wind that blew in their faces was cold, yet somehow stale. They were looking from a high terrace and there was a great landscape spread out below them.

Low down and near the horizon hung a great red sun, far bigger than our sun. Digory felt at once that it was also older than ours: a sun near the end of its life, weary of looking down upon that world. To the left of the sun, and higher up, there was a single star, big and bright. Those were the only two things to be seen in the dark sky; they made a dismal group. And on the earth, in every direction, as far as the eye could reach, there spread a vast city in which there was no living thing to be seen. And all the temples, towers, palaces, pyramids, and bridges cast long, disastrous-looking shadows in the light of the withered sun. Once a great river had flowed through the city, but the water had long since vanished, and it was now only a wide ditch of grey dust.

So many echoes of Wells. But here is added the dead, empty city. A world at its end, humanity and, indeed, life wiped away, but still humanity’s works stand mighty.

Almost a century before Well’s Time Machine and far in time from Lewis’ dead city under a swollen sun, the poet Shelley and his friend Horace Smith challenged each other to compose a sonnet on the subject of some newly discovered bits of Egyptian statuary. The result of the challenge was, on Smith’s side, a sadly overshadowed and forgotten poem, and on Shelley’s, Ozymandias, one of the world’s greatest elegies to humanity’s doomed striving against entropy. “Look upon my works ye mighty and despair!” Despair indeed, for these great works, intended and expected to last an eternity, have been reduced to dust in a few dozen lifetimes. One can almost see the red giant sun looming over Shelley’s antique land, as it looms over each of us, doomed to age and die on an aging Earth.

And Smith’s sonnet more explicitly tells us to consider our entropic future:

. . . some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London Stood, holding the wolf in Chace,
He meets some fragment huge and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

I think of an inversion of Conrad’s Marlow in Heart of Darkness sitting on the deck of the Nellie and intoning into the London night “This too [again will be] one of the dark places of the earth.” Smith’s hunter stands like John in New York, in Benet’s “By the Waters of Babylon”, like Charlton Heston’s Taylor in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in The Planet of the Apes. So many apocalypses.

Most often at the ends of these worlds there is a survivor to observe “the lone and level sands.” The Time Traveler sees the final snows of Earth’s condensing atmosphere; Polly and Digory look on the bloated sun and empty city of the Witch’s world; Matthew Arnold and his unnamed love stand at the window hearing the “long, withdrawing roar” of the sea of faith in “Dover Beach”. But there is one notable but little-noted work in which not a single human observer survives in the landscape of apocalypse. In 1920, the dark shadow of the trenches still brooding on Europe’s collective mind, Sara Teasdale gave us a beautiful and hopeless little poem usually titled “There will come Soft Rains”:

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

The first septet (save the fence wire) is all wild nature. The wire in line 6 and the war in line 7 are the pivot of the piece. Most of the last three couplets is about absent humanity: “war”, “mankind”, “we”. But “we” are not in the landscape. We have left the landscape to nature, and nature is indifferent. Unlike so many other imaginings of human autumn and winter, Teasdale allows of no survivors in her vision. Where Horace Smith imagined a future hunter, Shelley a traveler from an antique land, Wells a traveler in time, Lewis children with world-jumping magic,, and Arnold a meaningless meaning of faithfulness to a companion in a faithless world, Teasdale does not shy away from a world with neither humanity nor human meaning.

Teasdale’s audacity is a rare thing. Think of Ray Bradbury’s post-nuclear-holocaust story titled after Teasdale’s poem. Bradbury’s 1950 “There will come soft rains”, part of his The Martian Chronicles, tells the story of the final days of an automated house, emptied of humanity by nuclear war. As in Teasdale’s poem, the landscape contains only nature and humanity’s artifacts, no humanity. But Bradbury does not allow himself to fully face humanity’s extinction. In the universe of The Martian Chronicles, humanity survives as a small colony on Mars, and , Bradbury expresses an extreme optimism in the title of the next and final story of the Chronicles: humanity’s stay on Mars will be “The Million Year Picnic”.

Evidently it is a difficult thing to imagine, as Teasdale somehow has, the absolute extinction of ourselves. As I’ve been considering this essay, I’ve looked back at a number of works and I found that complete pessimism is a rare thing. I made a little list of works, each with a flippant précis appended:

“Ozymandias” (Shelley/Smith, 1818) — Fortune’s Wheel turns.

The Last Man (Mary Shelley, 1826) — We are excruciatingly done!

The Time Machine (Wells, 1895) — It’ll be done a long, long, long time in the future and we’ll have an unimaginably long run.

“The Machine Stops” (E. M. Forster, 1909) — There’s light at the end of the tunnel.

“There will come soft rains” (Teasdale, 1920) — We’re done and the birds don’t care.

“Twilight” (John W. Campbell, 1934) — We’ll be done eventually, but we’ll build android replacements for ourselves.

Against the Fall of Night/The City and the Stars (Arthur C. Clark, 1948/1956) — Same tunnel as Forster’s, but a whole lot longer.

“There will come soft rains” (Bradbury, 1950) — We’re done for on Earth, but we’re picnicking on Mars!

The Magician’s Nephew (Lewis, 1955) — It’s done in that other place but we’re okay.

Wall-E (Disney/Pixar, 2008) — Everything’s going to be okay in the end!

I won’t draw any conclusions from the fact that the two totally pessimistic works on my list, the two utterly without the offer of hope, are the two written by women. I expect I could look through my library a moment and find something hopeless by a man and something hopeful by a woman. What I find more interesting is the apparent need to provide light at the end of the existential tunnel.

As I was pondering the end of the world, I came across philosopher John Leslie’s The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction (1996) which discusses at length the likelihood that a particular individual – you or I, for example – would be kicking around closer to the beginning or the end of humanity’s run on the planet. I won’t get into the argument in any detail at all, but basically Leslie demonstrates that we’re most likely living close to the end of our run on earth. But, interestingly, Leslie still seems to find hope for our future, that we will outwit probability. Even after a few hundred pages of careful argument of mathematical probabilities, the philosopher desperately clutches at the straws of optimism.

As I read Leslie’s book I came to realize that his probabilistic argument rests on a continued expansion of human population to 10 billion and it remaining there until 2250. I couldn’t help thinking of the closing pages of Colin Tudge’s The Time Before History (1996) in which he argues that if humanity could drastically reduce its numbers by a voluntary two-children-or-less policy, then humanity’s run on earth could last indefinitely and with a high standard of living for all. Such a future would offer far more individuals a happy life than would continued population increase to the point of crash and/or extinction. Again there is hope, if we can control our disastrous drive to spawn large numbers of children.

I also, sadly, found myself reading Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us (2007), ostensibly a scientifically grounded speculation into what the world would be like if humanity disappeared as in Teasdale’s poem. What a hopeless piece of writing! As well as being rife with factual error and bad writing, this is a book with a social agenda that is not susceptible to argument. It pretends to be “What if?” but is actually, “This, Gentle Reader, is NOW, you selfish pig! You’re the problem! And when it really comes down to it, I don’t care about science!” A toxic Trojan horse of a book. And, to top it off, on page 272, in a typically ill-constructed (and cruelly compulsory) sentence, Weisman paraphrases Tudge, whom he never once cites:

“. . . henceforth limit every human female on Earth capable of bearing children to one.”

Compare Tudge’s hopeful argument, an optimistic argument based not simply upon a dread of Wells’ “huge red-hot dome of the sun” glowing over an empty future earth, but rather on humanity’s better angels:

In practice, common sense plus the experience of the past few decades shows that several preconditions must be met if the two-child family is to become the norm worldwide, all of which are difficult in practice, but are conceptually undramatic. First, all efforts must be made to minimize infant mortality. People must know that two children out of two are liable to survive. Second, everyone worldwide needs a pension, so that they do not need to rely upon their children when they stop working. Third, the trend in rich countries toward earlier and earlier retirement must be reversed, for if people retire earlier and the birth rate goes down, then within a couple of decades or less, we will find there are too few young recruits for the job market and indeed that only a small minority of the population is actually working. . . . As modern family planners say, the point is not to coerce but to empower. Coercion is obviously undesirable, but modern experience shows that it is also unnecessary.

The Time Before History, p. 320.

Tudge’s hopeful vision is awfully attractive: A world in which couples are happy with one or two or no children, where being single carries no stigma, where society smiles equally on all the small, happy, healthy, prosperous families, where humanity and nature both have a long life ahead of them on a green and pleasant Earth.

I hope there will come soft rains to that Earth, falling gently on both birds and humans. And I hope, in that fine future, and in this difficult present, every human will very much mind if any bird or tree perishes utterly, whatever the birds and trees might think about us.


“Lightfinder” by Aaron Paquette: Comparisons Will Inevitably Be Made

(no spoilers ahead!)

Lightfinder by artist Aaron Paquette is a stunning debut novel, an enthralling first instalment of what promises to be an exciting series of novels for young adults (and all sorts of other readers). Comparisons will inevitably be made (I’ll do it myself in a moment), but unlike authors of some of the popular novel series for young adults of the recent and not-so-recent past, Paquette has firmly rooted the adventure in our real world: no Ministry of Magic, no post-Apocalyptic Panem, and although there are magical journeys, they are not to some aborted Medievalist fantasy called Narnia or anything else imaginary. Lightfinder is an adventure in the landscape and geography – and political economy – of Canada – specifically Alberta – today. And it is an adventure through the difficult life of Paquette’s young Cree heroine, Aisling, from the challenge of rising above the generational abuse suffered by her ancestors to simply finish school, through the tragedy of parental alcoholism and death, to the realization that she, and her runaway brother Eric are the keys to the future of Planet Earth.

Aisling, with the help of her Auntie Martha and Kokum Georgia begins on a quest to rescue Eric from the evil influence of the mysterious boy Cor. Quickly it becomes clear that the real quest is nothing less than to save the Earth from destruction by the evil “Raven” (long ago “Raven” wiped life off the faces of both Mars and the Moon). Along the way, Aisling is helped (and hindered) in her quest by a number of humans and individuals from the dream world – “real” world and dream world mingle. There’s the half-Australian Aborigine, Matari; the shy school-friend Jake; the Dreaming figures of Laughing Toad, Standing Coyote, and Walking Man.

And, the comparisons will inevitably come: “The Lightfinder Saga is an Indigenous Harry Potter!” “Lightfinder is a Native Narnia!” “Dune in the Boreal Forest!” “A First Nations Hunger Games!”

I admit, while reading Lightfinder I briefly made all these comparisons as well as the analogy Paquette explicitly makes to Star Wars:

“Do or do not,” her Kokum chimed in with a mischievous smile. “There is no try.” p. 64

I argue, however, that, while such analogies may easily be drawn, and the comparisons may bring fruitful understandings, Lightfinder is not in any significant way derivative of the blockbuster icons which have preceded it.

The Harry Potter series with which J. K. Rowling addicted a generation or more of young people to reading is perhaps the most obvious parallel, obvious not least because the boy wizard and Hogwarts have so penetrated the popular consciousness. But, Rowling’s world is removed from ours, an imaginative but fundamentally unreal pastiche of pretend European magical themes, practices and ideas grafted onto an alternative universe in which all the magic is hidden by the rather unbelievable conspiracy called the Ministry of Magic. Its all good fun, but no matter how well we suspend our disbelief, Privet Drive -never mind Hogwarts – is not a part of our world.

Paquette’s world, on the other hand, is firmly rooted in North American realities, the reality of Indigenous kids forced by history into adulthood before their teen years have begun, the reality of environmental devastation by faceless, unnamed forces, and the reality of vibrant and freshly alive Native spirituality and tradition. Whether or not we believe in the magic of Lightfinder, it is an organic magic of our real world, developed over generations, not the artificial playthings constructed by Rowling for Hogwarts to teach its young charges. Aisling is a girl just like any number you will see each day on Edmonton’s LRT, at school in Maskwacîs, or visiting with her Kokum in Standoff, or Sucker Creek, or Cold Lake or an apartment in Saskatoon. She has no lightening bolt scar. She’s not an only-child orphan of mysterious parents. What is remarkable about her is what is remarkable about any teenage girl: she intends to change her world.

Like C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books, Lightfinder has parallel worlds and talking animals. But, unlike those of Lewis, Paquette’s animals talk because they are part of a real, vast, coherent mythological tradition, not because they are just pulled out of various religious and historic periods or even thin air, as Lewis’ are pulled.

And the world of Lightfinder is harsh and gritty. Wounding and death can and do come to the characters in graphic descriptions never seen by Harry and his friends or the Pevensie kids. Lightfinder owes more to The Orenda than to Narnia. It is this gritty realism that is pretty much Lightfinder‘s only similarity to The Hunger Games.

An analogy could be made between the Messianic trappings of Paul Atriedes in Dune and the two protagonists of Lightfinder. In both books the expected child(ren) arrive too early, upsetting the grand plan somewhat. But Messiahs in world literature are legion, and the environmental concerns of Lightfinder I’m sure owe everything to Paquette’s experience, and nothing to the dry-land ecology of Dune.

Overshadowing all, of course, is J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, another quest by an unlikely hero to save the world from life-sucking evil. The Lord of the Rings, for anyone who has read the nearly-two-dozen posthumous volumes of Tolkien’s writings (I have) will know, is rooted as deep as the lowest depths of the Mines of Moria in the pre-Christian mythology and languages – philology we might say – of Northern Europe (principally Germanic and Finnish). In the author’s bio at the back of the book, and also at the book’s launch in Edmonton, Paquette remembers his mother’s imitation of Gollum as she read The Lord of the Rings to him as a child. I think, here, in The Lord of the Rings, there may be the only really significant influence from Fantasy literature by European Colonial authors. But, again, Paquette’s tale takes place today in readily identifiable places, not in the distant shadowed past of Middle Earth. “Raven” resembles more the god of Pullman’s His Dark Materials than he does Sauron. There is no “Fellowship” of disparate races in Lightfinder. Rather, there is family and (sometimes false) friends.

No. Lightfinder is not a Metis Lord of the Rings.

In the end, although we inevitably note reminders of books we’ve read before, Lightfinder is a brilliantly fresh, enthralling first novel, a novel that I expect will inspire a new generation of young readers both within and far beyond Canada’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities. In fact, I’d venture to say Lightfinder will likely be not only a best seller, but a blockbuster that brings to an international generation an indigenous reality and, just maybe, a change to the world.

It would probably make a good movie, too!

Lightfinder by Aaron Paquette is published by Kegedonce Press.

Two weeks after its release, a second printing was needed.

On First Looking into Humphries’ Latin

I first encountered Rolfe Humphries’ translations from Latin in approximately 1980, perhaps it was first year Comparative Literature, perhaps a Classics class, or maybe that first year Latin class that concluded with journeying to the Underworld with Virgil. Humphries’ Aeneid seemed to be one of the few inexpensive translations in print at the time – Mandelbaum’s appeared about mid-term. A year or two later, when faced with Ovid, I found Rolfe Humphries’ Metamorphoses handy. Again, an alternative, Horace Gregory’s, appeared to late to be of much use.

And then . . .

Late in 2011 I found The Art of Love (actually Amores, Ars Amatoria, Remedia Amoris, and Medicamina Faciei Femineae) at the Book Seller, — one of the great second hand bookshops in Edmonton — not having imagined the boy had done anything other than the Big Two. Read it. Loved it. Was startled by its modernity and honest earthiness, particularly in the context of the straight-laced 1950s when it was published.  These poems — for they are poems, not just translations — remain fresh and alive here in the second decade of the third millenium.  They are as full of life now as they were half a century ago and as they were two thousand years ago.

Back in the 80s I hadn’t known anything of Humphries beyond what was in the blurb on the back of the two books and that one picture of him looking like an undertaker on the back of the Aeneid. But now I had the internet.   I googled the old boy for other works, of which there are many, and I found the story of the Poetry prank in which he pwned the editorial staff of the most important poetry journal in the U.S. and publicly insulted a very wealthy and influential advisor to Presidents.   In retaliation, the Editors banned Humphries from the pages of the magazine, a Pontic exile which lasted two years, although I suspect   Humphries was chuckling through it all.

I simply had to read all of such a wit’s Latin translations.

At this point I’ve read The Art of Love, The Satires of Juvenal and Selected Epigrams of Martial over the last six months and made a start on Humphries’ Lucretius. Soon I will reread his Aeneid and his Metamorphoses, but I simply felt I had to rhapsodize without further delay.

It’s been many years since I last read Humphries Aeneid so I’ll simply mention W. H. Auden’s remark that Humphries, for his Aeneid, should be awarded the highest possible public honour. But, Humphries left us far more than his Aeneid and has far less public honour than he deserves.

Apart from that Latin thing Ovid wrote, the only Metamorphoses I’ve read in more than just snippets is Humphries’, and, again, that was many years ago. For what it’s worth, Ovid and Humphries between them inspired me to cobble together my own verse translations of some passages of Ovid years ago, and to dream of one day, after I’d translated all of Old English poetry, to return to Ovid and translate all of his works. Oh, dreams of youth. I’m bogged down about half way through the Old English stuff.

But, to what I’ve read more recently.

The Art of Love. Published in the 1st century B.C. And 1957 A.D., it describes urban bachelor life and dreams in the heads of  millions of young men in every western city this very evening, it seems to me. For a brief, remarkably stupid moment while reading Humphries’ translation I thought it might be worthwhile to reread C. S. Lewis’ The Allegory of Love to see what he says of Ovid. I quickly dropped Lewis. That tiresome prig seems to have lived in the only time in history in which relations between men and women weren’t at least to some degree a bit of fun. Or maybe it’s just that Lewis hadn’t figured out relations between men and women yet. Either way, Lewis is a road better not taken.

Ovid (and Humphries) writes of a world in which men and women, married to each other or not, but more often not, enjoy the play of physical love — not just sex — and are fully aware of its pitfalls and ephemerality. It is a world of dinner parties with friends, of students struggling to make ends meet while frittering money away at the tavern with the mates or on the wife of a rich man. Lewis dismisses Ovid’s advice to young lovers as satire but to me Lewis seems shockingly insensitive to the love and nostalgia Ovid – he was into his middle age – is expressing about this youthful, reckless, urbane life.  One night a few decades ago in some place on Whyte Avenue (I think it was Yannis), Dave said to me, his belly full of ouzo “We’re sho shuphisticated!” Moments like that are the preludes of Ovidian nights, and Ovid loves that world in all its silliness and absurdity and foolishness.  He is not just satirizing it, Jack.

Humphries is not in the least insensitive:  Humphries gets Ovid. Humphries revels in Ovid’s poetry and helps us to revel in it as well. I am saddened by the sexism which any honest translator must preserve. Ovid’s was a man’s world as was Humphries’, as ours still is in so many ways. Perhaps I’m wishing it on him, but I have a suspicion that Humphries was also saddened by the sexism.

Something that must be mentioned in a discussion of Humphries is anachronism.  Humphries translations read like a sort of amalgam of the classical and modern, Togapunk, if you will.  This  love of anachronism pushes itself to the fore in his Satires of Juvenal into which Humphries inserts at least one spaceship and a very popular singer named Elvius. Juvenal seems to quote Shakespeare, mentions twentieth century race horses by name, discusses secret intelligence about the doings of the Russians and the Chinese (Thracians and Chinese in Latin), and refers to safety deposit boxes. As impossible as it may sound, it works and it works marvellously!  Humphries is translating Juvenal’s comments on Roman society into comments on Western society.  The satire of Rome is retained but there’s another level of modern satire in Humphries translation.  In a sense reproducing the Poetry prank with it’s surface layer of classical reference and the acrostic layer of the contemporary horse’s ass.

In his note to his Selected Epigrams of Martial, while discussing the meters he has chosen, Humphries remarks: “I have had no consistent principle in this matter, nor in my use of anachronism.” We have been fairly warned. A number of the epigrams are translated as limericks:

If you’re passing the baths and you hear,
From within, an uproarious cheer,
You may safely conclude
Maron’s there, in the nude,
With that tool which has nowhere a peer.

[Audeieris in quo, Flace, balneo plausum,
Maronis illic esse mentulam scito]

As impossible as it may seem, what Humphries calls in his introduction to de Rerum Natura his “pigheadded brashnesses” pays off. Humphries’ limerick is far funnier – better, in fact – than Martial’s couplet.  Humphries has Martial at least once refer to a character in the Mikado and Ben Hur even takes a turn around the Circus.  The list of anachronisms in Humphries’ Martial (yes, I made one) would run to many, many pages.  We know  (I hope) the anachronistic references today as well as Martial’s audiences knew the references Humphries has replaced. We know that “Elvius” signifies a Roman who was the Elvis of the time.  And we also know that Martial regularly used false names for contemporaries mentioned in his epigrams, names which suggested the nature and character of the person in question.  Why shouldn’t Humphries choose new names which will have similar resonances for a modern audience?

I hope I’ve not given the impression that Humphries is some sort of Bowdlerizer or popularizer. He is not. Nor is he a students’ crib. These works are frequently very challenging, always charming, very serious poetry in their own right. Humphries has a marvellous handle on what the Latin poets were aiming at, and he is unerring in hitting those same targets for a 20th and 21st century audience. If Martial had lived in 1966, he would have certainly written at least a few limericks. Lucretius in 1968 would have chosen blank verse.

As an undergraduate I was annoyed that Humphries did not hew to the lines of the original (like Lattimore’s Homer) but rather followed the sense as he saw it and put line number references at the top of the page (like Homer by Fitzgerald) or, left out the numbers altogether, as he did in the Aeneid. But now I am an oldster with a share of my own translations under my belt: Humphries is the Man!

Nowadays, if I want a crib, I go to the Loeb. But if I want to read poetry on a quiet evening (and who doesn’t?) I’ll pull out Humphries (or Fitzgerald for Homer) and keep a copy of the original at my side for those times I come across a Gilbert and Sullivan reference about two thousand years out of place. And I’ll chuckle or laugh out loud, charmed again by the wit of a poet — of two poets — far too unknown today. And in coming days I will seek out Humphries translations of Lorca, and, most excitedly, the many volumes of his own poetry.

The breadth of poetic tones Humphries confronts in his translations and the apparent effortlessness of his execution is nothing short of breath-taking. From the high dignity of Virgil, through the hilarious vulgarity of Martial and back to the Wordsworthian philosophizing (without the Wordsworthian pomposity) of Lucretius. From Ovid’s serious and finally tragic playfulness to all the well-placed grumpiness of that curmudgeon Juvenal. Humphries achieved a feat of poetic translation I would argue unequalled in English since the age of Dryden and Pope – if even then – and, unlike the heroic-couplet masters, Humphries did it all on his own. I stand in awe, wondering what he might have done with Catullus. And, if ever a scrap of paper is turned up in the storage rooms of Amherst College with idle bits of a translation of Tibullus’ first elegy, I’ll be at the head of the line for my copy when it’s published, squealing like it’s 1964 and the Beatles – or Elvius — have stepped off the plane.