Many thanks to Steve Lubman for sending me links to Forty-three translations of Hadrian’s “Animula, Vagula, Blandula” (at and Lev Oborin’s LJ post collecting a few Russian versions. Of the English translations, my favorites are the first two:

Minion soul, poor wanton thing,
The body’s guest, my dearest darling,
To what places art thou going?
Naked, miserable, trembling,
Reaving me of all the joy
Which by thee I did enjoy.
—Molle (1625)

My soul, my pleasant soul and witty,
The ghest and consort of my body,
Into what place now all alone
Naked and sad wilt thou be gone?
No mirth, no wit, as heretofore,
Nor Jests wilt thou afford me more.
Henry Vaughan (1652)

I don’t know if “Molle” is the John Molle, or Mole, who died in January 1639 in an Inquisition prison in Rome where he had been kept for decades, but if so, he certainly had sufficient personal experience to underlie his excellent version; the only flaw for me is the final rhyme, but I presume it was perfectly OK in his day to rhyme “joy” and “enjoy.” The nineteenth-century versions are pretty much uniformly awful (again, from my point of view); I would single out as an exception this one:

Wandering, gentle little sprite,
Guest of my body and its friend,
    Whither now
    Goest thou?
Pale, and stiff, and naked quite,
All thy jests are at an end.
—W. A. S. Benson

It would be nice if someone were to collect later versions (the ones at the post appear to be from this 1876 book, which has translations into other languages as well, including Ancient Greek) — I imagine the twentieth century did a better job. The Russian ones are certainly superior to most of the English ones; I particularly liked Olga Sedakova‘s:

Душенька, беженка, неженка,
дружок и гостья бренности,
куда теперь отправишься,
голодная, сирая, босая?
утехи твои кончились!


  1. Incidentally, Sedakova’s translation is also my favorite. I feel that this is where Russian translation from Latin should be easier with its diminutive suffixes.

  2. Yes, the same J. Molle. That translation is no. V in Johnston’s book to which you link. He cites the 1625 edition of Molle’s Camerarius, which has additions by his son Henry. But it was identical in the 1621 first edition. Lib. 5. Chap. XVII. Of Pagans devout and profane. Translating this.

  3. I rate the Benson over any of the others at, but really it’s only the best of a bad lot (I think Percy J. M. Rogers stands next). English just doesn’t have the right machinery for this verbally lightweight poem, any more than it does for “O Tannenbaum”. Lord Aberdare nailed it:

    We have no diminutives with which to render such words as animula, vagula, blandula, &c, on which the charm and the interest of the Emperor’s verses largely depend, nor have we anything correspondent which might serve our turn. We can only give with more or less grace or conciseness the general purport of the lines. Their delicacy and tenderness, the sense of utter helplessness which they convey, cannot, me judice, be transferred into another language — at least not into our robust English.

    Perhaps Scots would be a better target? Lord Neaves thought not:

    I think the lines untranslateable [sic], for this reason among others, that their distinctive character depends on the diminutives used. Whatever might be done in Italian, I know of only two modern languages which are very fond of diminutives, viz., the Scotch [sic] and the Dutch. The French use them too, as in Fontenelle’s translation, but with what effect and success I do not know or can’t judge. The Scotch can only be used in its diminutives on the very homeliest subjects, and it would be simply ludicrous to attempt to employ them here.

    Fortunately, Professor Geddes, though he points out that only Scots nouns, not adjectives, have diminutive forms, tackles the poem in all of his languages:

    Wee wanderin’ winsome elf, my saul,
    Thou’s made this clay lang house an’ hall,
    But whar, oh whar art thou to dwall,
       Thy bield now bare?
    Gaun flichterin’, feckless, shiverin’ caul,
       Nae cantrips mair.

    O anam bhìogaich, luaineich, shodalaich,
    Fhir-chòmhnuidh ‘s a chéile mo chuim,
    Cò an tìr d’ am bi nise do thriall,
    Glas-neulach, rag-reòdht’ agus lòm?
    Cha bhi thu ri cleasachd ni ‘s mò.

    Thou wanton, winsome elf, my Soul,
    Guest and companion to this frame,
    Whither away? — to what strange goal?
    Thus pale and palsied, shivering, lone,
    With all thy quips and frolics gone.

    I can’t judge the Gaelic, but the Scots beats the English hands down.

    Here’s Fontenelle’s version, mentioned above:

    Ma petite ame, ma mignonne,
    Tu t’en vas donc, ma fille ? — et Dieu sache ou tu vas ;
    Tu pars seulette, et tremblotante, Helas !
    Que deviendra ton humeur folichonne ?
    Que deviendront tant de jolis ebats?

    And Ronsard’s free rendering:

    Amelette Ronsardelette,
    Mignonnelette doucelette,
    Treschere hostesse de mon corps,
    Tu descens là bas foiblelette,
    Pasle, maigrelette, seulette,
    Dans le froid Royaume des mors :
    Toutesfois simple, sans remors
    De meurtre, poison, […] rancune,
    Mesprisant faveurs et tresors
    Tant enviez par la commune.

    Passant, j’ay dit, suy ta fortune
    Ne trouble mon repos, je dors.

    (The lacuna may be filled with ou or et.)

    There is an Italian version by no less than Christina Rossetti (there are several others, all by Italians):

    Animuccia, vagantuccia, morbiduccia,
       Oste del corpo e suora,
       Ove or farai dimora ?
    Palliduccia, irrigidita, svestituccia,
       Non più scherzante or ora.

    (Are those instances of or right? It exists in Italian as a short form of ora, but really, or’ ora?)

    Lastly, a Dutch version by Robert Prummel, from nl.WP:

    Zieltje, zwervertje, charmeurtje
    gast en metgezel van mijn lichaam,
    dat af moet dalen naar
    donkere, kille en mistige oorden
    daar zul je geen pret meer maken.

    I can’t find any serious 20C English translation at all.

  4. My French is not very good, but I am prejudiced against anything that uses Hélas.
    At least one Hebrew version exists, by Aviad Kleinberg, here:

    ,‏נשמונת שלי, משוטטת קטנה, רכונת
    ,אורחת וידידה לגופי
    ,לאן את הולכת עכשיו
    ,חיוורונת, קשה, ערומונת
    ?לא עוד משעשעת כדרכך

    ‎The translation is fairly literal, and takes advantage of the feminine diminutive -et.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if that poem had never been translated before into Hebrew. Hadrian is remembered as one of the great villains of Jewish history, the man who crushed Bar-Kochba’s revolt, destroyed Jerusalem, repressed the practice of the Jewish religion, and killed the great sages of the age.

  5. I don’t think using hélas (or alas, for that matter) is unreasonable when you are writing in the 16C. The las part is < Latin lassus ‘tired’; it was originally an expression of weariness.

  6. I know where you are now. But do you know?
    Are you here in this word? I have not heard
    you whistling in the dark. Do not allow
    the noun or pronoun or the verb to disturb you.
    Sometimes, I think that death is really no joke
    but then I have died only two or three such times.
    Perhaps there is always someone to attend the
    absconding mountebank. But you, farewelling ghost, poor
    imperial little thing, go you alone?
    Go you alone to the altering? Or am I with you?

    (George Barker, published posthumously)

  7. Sir JCass says

    My French is not very good, but I am prejudiced against anything that uses Hélas.

    You’re not going to like much French poetry then. Some of its most famous lines contain “hélas!”, e.g.

    La chair est triste, hélas ! et j’ai lu tous les livres. (Mallarmé)

    Le vieux Paris n’est plus (la forme d’une ville
    Change plus vite, hélas! que le coeur d’un mortel)… (Baudelaire)

  8. Sir JCass says

    Are those instances of or right? It exists in Italian as a short form of ora, but really, or’ ora?

    “Or ora” is a bona fide Italian phrase.

  9. @John Cowan – Yes, “or ora” is a fairly common expression: “just now” rather than plain “now”.

  10. I note the absence of W.S. Merwin’s recent (2006) version, which I think contradicts Lord Aberdare’s bold assertions :

    Little soul little stray
    little drifter
    now where will you stay
    all pale and all alone
    after the way
    you used to make fun of things

  11. Mind if I have a crack at it? (After forty-three of them Hadrian has to have stopped spinning in his grave by now…)

    Ghostling, fledgling, foundling
    body’s guest and bride
    the place you are bound now
    is greying, numbing, baring
    and your mirth left behind.

  12. Biscia: I like that!

  13. Thanks for this morning’s pleasure, Hatman.

  14. Mifin: Thanks for finding the Merwin version, but in my opinion it’s both heavy-handed and lead-footed.

  15. JCass: all right, maybe it’ll grow on me when I start immersing in French again.

  16. Here’s a French translation of the verses by Marguerite Yourcenar, in her wonderful historical novel MÉMOIRES D’HADRIEN:

    «Petite âme, âme tendre et flottante,
    compagne de mon corps, qui fut ton hôte,
    tu vas descendre dans ces lieux
    pâles, durs et nus,
    où tu devras renoncer aux jeux d’autrefois.»

  17. Most of the Russian translations are rather good. No wonder: Russian is rich in diminutives and assonances; Shvarts and Dashevsky were major poets by any measure; Sedakova is a fine poet, if too rarefied for some tastes; Petrovsky was a prominent classicist and translator from Latin. The Vaksmakher version was a pleasant surprise, given his Soviet background and his specialization, 20th-century French stuff. I don’t care muvh for Olga Martynova’s Russian verse but her German prose has been much praised and prized.

    Grigory Dashevsky’s version deserves to be re-read. Note the whispering ша and the double meaning of шаткий (wobbly and prone to wander) in the first line, reminiscent of Khodasevich (Легкая моя, падучая, // Милая душа моя!). Note the ambiguity of the last line, corresponding perhaps to the grammatical ambiguities inherent in Hadrian’s poem. (Explained here and in part by noctu_vigilus in the original Russian thread.) Dashevsky published this translation on his blog two months before he died at 49 in 2013. Maria Stepanova says he composed it while in the hospital during his last disease.

    All the Russian versions but one date from the 20th or 21st century so their authors must have been aware of Khodasevich’s dualistic, Platonic poems on the soul and its out-of-body forays, of Kuzmin’s two or three “Psyche” poems, of Mandeshtam’s and Tsvetaeva’s Psyches and so on, all the way down to Derzhavin’s The Swallow. For example, a Russian scholar has argued that Sedakova used беженка (“refugee, fugitive”) for vagula because Mandelstam used it for Psyche in his poem When Psyche-Life descends to the shades. M. was probably thinking of Apuleus’ Psyche, possibly in Kuzmin’s translation, which uses беглянка.

  18. While my long comment is awaiting moderation, let me suggest that there must be good German translations out there. The Dutch one sounds encouraging to me (who has no Dutch), at least the first line. “Charmeurtje” must be a touching loan. It reminds me of Berdyaev’s view of Vyacheslav Ivanov: “Это был самый замечательный, самый артистический козёр, какого я в жизни встречал, и настоящий шармёр.” “It was the most remarkable, the most artistic causeur I have met in my life, and a true charmeur.”

  19. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    Caligula, blastula, morula — yep, history and biology have probably destroyed Latin for me.

    Some nicer takes in Polish (googled):

    by Zygmunt Kubiak

    Duszyczko, błądniczko kochana,
    Ciała mego gościu i drużko —
    W jakie ty strony odchodzisz,
    Bledziutka, naga, zziębnięta?
    Już nie będziesz żartować, nie będziesz…

    I particularly like the last line, its mock-reproachful feel.

    A very similar one:

    by Zygmunt Kubiak

    Duszyczko, kochana wędrowniczko,
    Ciała gościu i wspólniczko,
    W jakie ty strony odejdziesz,
    Bladziutka, naga, zziębnięta,
    Gdzie żartować, jak zwykłaś, nie będziesz.

    Another one I found inside an article by one Stanisław Michałkiewicz:

    Duszyczko, wędrowniczko milutka.
    Gościu i towarzyszko ciała!
    W jakie miejsce teraz pójdziesz?
    Bladziutka, zdrętwiała, nagusieńka
    – Gdzie nie będzie ci do żartów?

    This one feels heavier than the one above but the internal rhymes make it sound interesting.

    Well, Russian has the advantage of possessing antepenultimate word stress in some diminutives, which allows it to sound closer to the original.

  20. Grigory Dashevsky’s version deserves to be re-read.

    You’re so right, and I thank you for making me do so. The trouble with reading a whole bunch of translations of the same short poem is burnout; reading it on its own, I can appreciate its brilliance. Here it is, to save people the trouble of clicking through and searching (and of course to preserve it from link rot):

    Душа моя, шаткая, ласковая,
    тела и гостья и спутница,
    в какие места отправляешься,
    застылая, бледная, голая,
    и не пошутишь, как любишь?

  21. Also, thanks for introducing me to Dashevsky; what a shame he died so young!

  22. Indeed Slavic languages, with their rich system of diminutives, do have a massive advantage over French and English when it comes to translating these diminutive-rich Latin verses. German operates under a similar disadvantage, and indeed in a book on Prakrit languages I read in my misspent youth the author, a Swiss scholar, gave a translation of some Sanskrit verses in his native Swiss German dialect, claiming that Swiss German, with its diminutives, was much better than Standard German as a target language for translating these particular Sanskrit verses. I cannot be certain whether this is the only instance of direct translation from Sanskrit into Swiss German in print anywhere, but let’s just say I’d be surprised if there existed any other(s).

  23. @ Ксёнѕ Фаўст: So Kubiak did two translations? I think I like the first one a bit more, but they’re both good.

  24. Greg Pandatshang says

    Not directly related, but I’d like to say that T.S. Eliot’s poem “Animula” is undeniably dear to me. It’s only about a page-and-a-half, so definitely worth the time required to read it at least twice through.

  25. Here‘s the poem for those who are interested.

  26. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    @Hans: it could well be that one of them got misattributed in the internet (in fact one page ascribes one of the translations to his brother Tadeusz, instead). They’re remarkably similar, though.

  27. David Marjanović says

    German operates under a similar disadvantage

    Diminutives are present, and indeed here is a translation (and lengthy critique thereof) that uses the expected Seelchen for animula. But diminutives of adjectives are unknown – with vagula blandula, pallidula and nudula, this translation doesn’t even try. It tries to compensate by rendering iocos as a diminutive.

    While it doesn’t matter in this case, Latin had double diminutives (that would be animella in this case). Those are common in Slavic languages and Sanskrit, but any attempt at making a double diminutive in German sounds like you very desperately needed more syllables to fill out the line…

  28. Steve Lubman sent me a link to Igor Bulatovsky’s translation (on Facebook, with an explanation that «Черная дыра японская» is from a diary entry of Kuzmin’s):

    душка поблядушка побирушка
    бедного тельца кидалачка
    иди ты сама знаешь куда
    в черную дыру японскую
    там и шути свои шуточки

    And that FB thread led to this group of translations (in English, German, and Russian) collected by Julia Grinberg.

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