One way to discover a deeply romantic poem in Latin is to start with a contemporary poem which is outstanding in English.
The life that I have
is all that I have
and the life that I have
The love that I have
of the love that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
Excuse me. Something in my eye…
As you can see, we have a different tone today. If you want to woo your Valentine a little – move them – would you not choose those exact words?
They are the first two stanzas of a the romantic poem that features heavily in Carve Her Name with Pride, the classic film. You most likely recognize it.
The film was based on a true story. Etienne, a French army officer, and Violetta, a secret agent in the SOE, (British secret service, French section), have a whirlwind (three day) romance. Violetta is risking her life assisting the French Resistance. Etienne sends her the above poem shortly before he is suddenly killed. Violetta uses it both as a espionage coding device and as a “means to recall her strength”.* We hear her reciting it in order to steel herself during some of the most moving parts of the film when she has been captured.
If that were not romantic enough, in real life the poem was apparently, (there is some controversy about this)*, written by Leo Marks, who oversaw codes and ciphers for the SOE. He had written it for his Canadian girlfriend, who sadly died. He then made use of it by passing it on to the real-life SOE agents for cipher work. (Apparently, he gave it to the real-life agent who is represented by Violetta in the film).
I have done my best to monopolize the time of Quintus the professional Latin translator recently, but, speedy as ever, Quintus has produced another careful, professional Latin translation, this time of the beautiful stanzas, above.
As I have said before, a puzzle is apt device for a Valentine’s card. You know that successful romance begins with intrigue. Secrecy is a tradition for Valentine’s Day, anyway. Use of this poem, an icon of romance and, well, literal intrigue would be particularly apposite. You don’t need to be literal and break out your enigma machine. Use Latin.
I would just put the Latin version on one side of a card, or even a piece of paper, and the English on the other. I guarantee you will get at least a gulp when your Valentine realises what you have said to them.
Here is Quintus’ fine translation:
Vita quam habeo
nisi vitam quam habeo
et vita quam habeo
Amor quem habeo
amoris quem habeo
est tuus, est tuus, est tuus.
I think people love to love in Latin. Often, the less likely the person, the more they love it.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
P.S. I have a Mp3 (audio file) of the poem in Latin being read by Quintus, if you’d like it. Just leave a comment. I’ll get back to you.
*Daily Telegraph article discussing the Life that I Have, the unabridged version. It has a short film of Virginia Mckenna, the star of movie, reciting the poem.