Penelope's Weavings and Unpickings

The Latin in Murray Gold’s ‘Vale Decem’

Posted by weavingsandunpickings on September 9, 2010

On Monday evening, I watched the one-hour cut-down version of the 2010 Doctor Who Prom broadcast on BBC3. It was a great programme, hosted in effervescent style by Karen Gillan, featuring lots of behind-the-scenes interviews with Steven Moffat, Murray Gold and the cast, and complete with an in-character cameo appearance by the Eleventh Doctor. He did this really sweet scene with a small boy chosen from the audience, who had to help him ‘defuse’ an alien explosive device using invisible psychic wire – and the look of rapture on the boy’s face was absolutely fantastic to see.

The highlight for me, though, was the performance of ‘Vale Decem’ – Murray Gold’s composition to mark the death and regeneration of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, and indeed the whole of the Russell T. Davies era. There are a lot of things to love about this piece for me. I am an unabashed Tenth Doctor fan, so it seemed only appropriate to me that he should be sent off accompanied by the full emotive impact of swirling strings and choirs of angels. I was also very impressed by Mark Chambers, a countertenor who sang the main vocal line with enormous presence and musical sensitivity.

Perhaps best of all, though, the lyrics he was singing are in Latin – and from my perspective as a Classicist, that’s a very cheering example of the language’s ongoing relevance today. In fact, in its original context as soundtrack music for part two of The End of Time, ‘Vale Decem’ was heard by around 10 million people, while another 5000 witnessed the live performance at the Prom in the Albert Hall in July, and 0.5 million watched the same broadcast as I did on Monday evening. It’s also soon to be released on a ‘Specials’ soundtrack CD, taking it into people’s homes and letting them listen to it over and over again. So this is definitely reaching a wide audience.

What’s more, fans across the internet clearly loved the piece from its first airing, and have wanted to engage actively with both the music and the Latin lyrics. At first, this resulted in some rather nonsensical attempts to transcribe the lyrics orally, and then translate them, all apparently done by people who didn’t actually know any Latin. But then Murray Gold himself very thoughtfully posted the sheet music up as a series of Twitpics here, here and here in June. Eager fans were then able to transcribe the actual lyrics, and again have a go at translating them. (There may just possibly be video clips of the Tenth Doctor’s death scene with the same transcription and translation on them out there too, but obviously I am not going to link to those because of how distributing copyrighted material over the internet is Bad and Wrong). But the translation still seems to have been done mainly with the aid of Google-fu and a bit of lucky guesswork:

Murray Gold’s lyrics Fan translation
Vale Decem
Ad aeternam
Di meliora
Ad aeternam
Vale Decem
Di meliora
Beati
Pacifici
Vale Decem
Alis grave
Ad perpetuam memoriam
Vale Decem
Gratis tibi ago
Ad aeternam
Nunquam singularis
Nunquam
Dum spiro fido
Vale…
Farewell Ten
Eternally
Heaven send you better times
Eternally
Farewell Ten
Heaven send you better times
Happiness
Peaceably
Farewell Ten
Heavy with wings
To the perpetual memory
Farewell Ten
I give thanks
Eternally
Never alone
Never
While you breathe, trust
Farewell…

Part of the problem facing would-be translators, even if they do know Latin, is that Murray Gold’s original lyrics don’t actually entirely make sense anyway. Now that they’re available to read, it’s obvious that he (or possibly a lyricist whom he commissioned?) composed them by drawing together a collection of appropriate sayings and phrases to create the right sort of mood, but without really aiming for grammatical accuracy or a coherent narrative thread. The result sounds fantastic, and definitely conveys the right sort of epic, tragic feel that was needed for Ten’s death scene. It’s got all the right sorts of words in it: words that we expect to hear in a piece of soaring choral music, like ‘aeternam’, ‘beati’ and ‘perpetuam memoriam’. But those words and phrases don’t really add up to a meaningful set of lyrics.

There is at least one straightforward mistake in there: the phrase “Gratis tibi ago”, should be spelt “Gratias tibi ago” (meaning “I give you thanks”). More common are phrases which might once have made sense, but seem to have had words chopped off (probably for rhythmical reasons), and no longer do. A good example is the line “Alis grave”, which seems to be a truncated form of the saying “alis grave nil”. That would mean roughly “nothing (is) painful / burdensome / heavy (for those) with wings” – an appropriately consolatory sort of phrase for a character facing death. Except that it’s already a bit epigrammatic, and without the ‘nil’, it pretty much loses its meaning altogether. You just end up with two words meaning “heavy with wings”. Either that’s a clever paradox – or it just doesn’t really mean anything.

Similarly, the line “Ad aeternam” appears to have something missing. ‘Aeternam’ here is an adjective, but it has no noun to modify. The phrase as it stands means “to the eternal” – but we are left asking, “to the eternal what?” Perhaps Gold really meant “to eternity” here, but if so, the Latin he actually wanted would have been “ad aeternitatem”. That would have needed a different rhythmical setting, though, as it’s an extra two syllables – and I’m guessing that a generally appropriate sound mattered more to him than achieving grammatical closure!

Anyway, allowing for the oddities in the original, I thought I would try to have a go at offering a slightly better translation than the ones which have appeared on the internet so far. I’ve done an entirely literal one for those who want to know exactly how Murray Gold’s Latin would actually translate. But I’ve also done a much looser one which captures something more like the mood I think he was actually aiming for, is more meaningful and grammatically coherent, and furthermore could still (more or less) be sung to the same tune:

Murray Gold’s lyrics Literal translation Mood-appropriate translation
Vale Decem
Ad aeternam
Di meliora
Ad aeternam
Vale Decem
Di meliora
Beati
Pacifici
Vale Decem
Alis grave
Ad perpetuam memoriam
Vale Decem
Gratis tibi ago
Ad aeternam
Nunquam singularis
Nunquam
Dum spiro fido
Vale…
Farewell, Ten
To the eternal
(May the) gods (grant you) better (things)
To the eternal
Farewell, Ten
(May the) gods (grant you) better (things)
Blessed
(Are) the peacemakers
Farewell, Ten
Heavy with wings
To perpetual memory
Farewell, Ten
I give you thanks
To the eternal
Never alone
Never
While I breathe I trust
Farewell…
Farewell, Ten
On to eternity
The fates be with you
On to eternity.
Farewell, Ten
The fates be with you.
Oh, blessed he
Who brought us peace.
Farewell, Ten
Lay down your burden
We will remember you forever more.
Farewell, Ten
We give you thanks.
On to eternity
You are not alone
Never
Trust to the last
Farewell…

The one-hour cut-down Prom from Monday is available on iPlayer now, but a fuller version will also be shown on BBC3 on Friday at 7pm. I’d highly recommend watching it – but have your tissues handy for ‘Vale Decem’…

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54 Responses to “The Latin in Murray Gold’s ‘Vale Decem’”

  1. It looks to me like the score actually says “Vale Decem, Ad aeternam, Di meliora, *Ab* aeternam”. But I don’t know Latin! :) How would that change the translation?

    • I’ve just had a look, and you may well be right about that. There’s a slight fold in the score at that point, so it’s hard to tell, but the letter in question could indeed be a ‘b’ rather than a ‘d’. If it is, though, I’m afraid it would constitute another mistake, rather than a different phrase with a different meaning.

      This explanation may mean nothing to you if you’re not familiar with Latin grammar, but the prepositions ‘ad’ and ‘ab’ each require a different form for the noun which follows them, and thus also for any adjective agreeing with that noun (which is what we’ve actually got here – the noun is missing). This means that in Latin, you can only say “ad aeternam” (taking the accusative case) or “ab aeterna” (taking the ablative case), but you cannot say “ab aeternam” – or at least, you can’t if you want people to understand what you’re talking about! And even if the first word at the point you’ve noticed is ‘ab’, the second is still definitely ‘aeternam’ – the ‘m’ is very clear.

      So, in short, if the score does say ‘ab’ at that stage, it’s another mistake in the original Latin lyrics – probably just a transcription mistake as they were written onto the score. Along with the oddities and mistakes I’ve already noticed, this confirms my impression that Murray Gold probably isn’t really very familiar with the finer points of Latin grammar. But hey – his music is wonderful, so I’m happy to let it slide! :-)

      • Erika said

        How do u translate I’m broken in latin?

        • There are various possible ways, as Latin has several different words for ‘break’, each with slightly different meanings. (You can see some of the options here.) But a simple way of translating it, which would probably suit most meanings, is ‘fracta sum‘ (if a woman is speaking) or fractus sum (for a man).

  2. [...] original post here: The Latin in Murray Gold's 'Vale Decem' « Penelope's Weavings and … Click Here For Cheap Concert Tickets Save Money! Share and Enjoy: Posted in Classical, Latin [...]

  3. Sounds excellent – pity I have no TV but I believe the Tenth Doctor was very good.

  4. Thought I should tell you that i love this blog … and also, was wondering if you might want to hold an issue of Carnivalesque here?

  5. AnotherPenelope said

    Thanks so much for this – the lyrics have been driving me mad ever since I first heard them but I couldn’t quite make them out enough to get a transcription. My latin is pretty rusty but I soon realised that the original “translation” that was out on the web was wide of the mark. I think your “mood appropriate translation” is very poetic, moving and entirely appropriate.

  6. Victorious said

    Many thanks for this – like the previous respondent, these lyrics have been driving me quietly nuts, and I enjoyed your translation. Do you have any information on the Ood song lyrics from Series 4 episodes 3 and 13?

    • Cheers, and thanks for raising an interesting question. I had a little Google, and was able to track down this BBC fact-file, which includes the lyrics of the season 4 Ood songs at the bottom of the page, as well as some comments from Murray Gold about why he uses Latin for the Oods’ music. But once again, I can see straight away that the untranslated lyrics aren’t very good Latin, and that the translation doesn’t entirely match what the Latin says. So I shall write up another blog post about those lyrics when I get a moment – hopefully tomorrow evening.

  7. Josianne Morel said

    thank you for the translation :) made me cry.. again….

    We will remember you forever more

  8. Vincent said

    Many thanks for this, I actually knew the title was farewell ten but I wanted to actually know what kind of emotion Murray Gold wanted to convey with the lyrics although after seeing how the Tenth Doctor departs, one can pretty much imagine it. Again, thanks so much for the translation. It made me want to listen to it again.
    Cheers.

  9. Beth said

    I have just cracked the lyrics for we shall farewell… but this is only my ear, so excuse any of my mistakes, if Ive made any :)

    Under the shelters and into our lives
    There is always a path we forfeit to arrive
    That with you in a past, with you by our side
    We shall farewell
    Farewell…
    Farewell…
    Farewell…
    Farewell…
    Farewell…

    • Jen said

      I have listed to the song repeatedly and here’s what I hear.

      “Out of the shadows and into the light,
      There is always a pathway for fear to arrive.
      But if you *BLA BLA BLA*
      *BLA BLA BLA BLA* Side,
      We shall farewell.

      The bla bla blas are where I cannot for the life of me decide what they are saying.

    • Tallulah said

      I hear:

      “Out of the shadows and into the light, there is always a pathway for fear to arrise, but with you in our hearts, with you by our side, we shall fare well, fare well, fare… well….”

      • Jen said

        Later with the help of my sisters we came to that conclusion, thanks for the help! We probably listened to this song 50 times or so on repeat with the sound UP to get that far!

  10. kerry said

    i was a bit broken up at the ninth doctors farewell in the same song along with the other great actors who portrayed the doctor. lets not forget its called doctor who not IM DAVID TENNANT THE ONLY ACTOR TO EVER PLAY THE DOCTOR EVER. and i always felt the same way about baker fans too. i like both doctors i just dont think theyre the be all end all of the show. and i dont think theyre over rated theyre excellent i just wish people didnt disacknowledge or over do tennant and baker praises.

  11. Patrick said

    Just been listening to Vale Decem while reading this. Amazing stuuf, except the second-last line “Dum spiro fido” doesn’t sound right. As far as I can make out, they end the word that is supposed to be “spiro” with an “ee” sound.

    • That particular word sounds like ‘spiro’ (ending in an ‘oh’ sound) to me. But yes – there are a few words which are pronounced or accented slightly strangely. ‘Beati’ is one that struck me.

      • Patrick said

        It is tricky. I found that ‘Beati’ was a little confusing but soon realised that it was “Beah-aah-ah-tee”.

        I listened to it relly carefully again and realised I was hearing the start of “fido”. I was hearing “Dum spee-ree ee-do”, when it’s actually “Dum spee-ro-fee doe”. Great work on this by the way.

  12. Patrick said

    Does anyone have a latin lyrics to Song of Freedom?

    • They’re here (scroll to the bottom of the page), complete with an official BBC translation. But I should warn you that the lyrics for that song make even less sense than the ones for ‘Vale Decem’. Certainly, the Latin doesn’t say what the translation says it says. I’m working on another blog post about those lyrics, which I’ll put up here as soon as I get the time to finish it.

  13. Eviie said

    Ahh… I was wondering why my translation didn’t make sense. XD

  14. andy said

    Vale Decem was the most moving music I’ve ever heard in ANY doctor Who episodes! I must say that, for someone who doesn’t shed tears easily, I DID when this piece was performed. I think they picked the right Doctor to play it on, as David Tennant was my personal favorite.

  15. Obdormio said

    I don’t know Latin, but apparently Gold doesn’t either, so maybe we have similar thoughts on this: If “alis grave nil” means that “there are no burdens for those with wings” (as a googling of the phrase claimed), might cutting of the “nil” be intended to mean “there are in fact burdens for those with wings”?

    Pure speculation of course, but I think the sentiment fits the Doctor well.

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes, that could well have been what Gold meant, and I do see what you mean about it fitting the Tenth Doctor’s character nicely.

      In reality, it doesn’t work grammatically. Part of the problem here is that even with the ‘nil’, a lot of the meaning of this phrase isn’t actually stated, but is understood – something Latin does a lot. The words literally work as follows:

      ALIS = with wings (or ‘for wings’ – could be either)
      GRAVE = heavy (or ‘burdensome’ – again, could be either)
      NIL = nothing

      So the words in the original phrase on their own only mean ‘nothing heavy (or burdensome) with wings’. The extra words are understood in the original Latin, and have to be added in the translation to make a more fluent English phrase: ‘nothing (is too) heavy (for those) with wings’.

      What this means is that when you knock off the ‘nil’, the remaining words can no longer really carry any proper meaning. They just end up meaning ‘heavy with wings’ – but there isn’t enough left to suggest what that might relate to.

      So the phrase that’s ended up in the song doesn’t actually mean “there are burdens for those with wings”. But I definitely like the idea that Murray Gold might have thought it did. :-)

  16. [...] Tradução original (latim-inglês) CategoriasDoctor Who Tags:David Tennant, Mark Chambers, Murray Gold, The End Of Time LikeBe the first to like this post. Comentários (0) Trackbacks (0) Deixar um comentário Trackback [...]

  17. Tygerwolfe said

    I’d just like to say thank you so much for this. I’d finally gotten to the point where listening to this piece of music didn’t make me break down and cry… But knowing what’s being said has put it right back up there with every other song I’ve ever heard that’s made me cry.

    And sincerely, thank you for that.

  18. The person who posted previous to me basically said what I was going to say haha. But indeed, thanks so much for this post! I love your mood appropriate translation, it’s so well written! Cheers!

  19. Nicki D. said

    The 10th Doctor’s regeneration scene always makes me cry, and now that I know what is being sung, it makes the whole last 20 minutes of the episode that much more moving. Thanks for this!

  20. Setsuna said

    Although I realise it isn’t actually what’s being said, I like the “You are not alone.” part of it.

    If you were to actually translate that sentence into proper Latin, what would it be?

    Thanks!

    • Hi! I think the simplest way to say “You are not alone” would be “Non solus es”. But Latin is a rich language with lots of similar ways of phrasing the same idea. For example, another option with slightly different connotations would be “Non secubas”, meaning “You do not sleep (or live) alone”.

  21. [...] Tradução original (latim-inglês) [...]

  22. William Johnson said

    Out of the shadows and into our lives, there is always a pathway for fear to arive (it rhymes). but with you in our hearts, with you by our side, we shall fare well, fare well, fare… well….

  23. Ohm Machre said

    Thank you for a (at least rough) translation of the lyrics, as well as the lyrics themselves. Now I know what I ought to be singing, haha.
    One thing I just want to say is this has such a beautiful chordal structure…. and it modulates frequently to fit the mood, which I love…. it doesn’t stay in one key for too long, and it just fits. It even fits the Doctor a bit, if you think about it….
    But now I know the words, and I can sing to this now. Thank you!

    • Cheers – I’m glad you liked it! I absolutely agree about the structure of the music, too, and I like your point about the changing keys fitting nicely with the character of the Doctor. :-)

      • Ohm Machre said

        I just thought of something even more amazing! :o
        After months of listening to it, I realized that the FINAL CHORDAL STRUCTURE is a half-cadence!!
        The piece is technically incomplete by theory standards!
        This, I believe, is the final and absolute symbolism of the Doctor – his life might be over, but HE is not done yet~! :D

  24. Emily said

    Hi! I am SO glad I found this translation. I listened to the track while reading the translation and it was so moving.
    I understand the latin doesn’t exactly match up, but the non-literal translation you put together is spectaculary like the doctor. :) My question was this: if you actually wanted to write the sentence ‘lay down your burden’ in Latin, how would you do that? Thanks so much! :)

    • Hi Emily! Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you liked my non-literal translation of the lyrics. :-)

      To answer your question, I think the best way to say ‘lay down your burden’ in Latin would be ‘pondus deponas’. Latin puts verbs at the ends of sentences (a lot like Yoda!), so ‘pondus’ there means burden, and ‘deponas’ is the verb advising the person to lay it down. If you want to emphasise that the burden belongs to the person you’re speaking to, you can add ‘tuum’ (‘your’), giving ‘pondus tuum deponas’. But it’s not really necessary, and if you keep it out then ‘pondus deponas’ can still be sung to Murray Gold’s tune in place of ‘alis grave’. So that seems to me the neatest solution.

  25. PinkPanther said

    Hi, I have some remarks to the meaning of the latin.

    – decem means “ten” in plural, the ten Doctors who are nevertheless named as one: there is a difference in the latin plural in “decem” (ten), “beati” (blessed), “pacifici” (bringers of peace) and the singular “vale” (for ten it should be “valete”) and “tibi” (for ten it should be “vobis”) which indicates the ambiguous numbers of the person “the Doctor”. Brilliant, isn’t it ;-)

    – “ad aeternam” should be “ad aeternum” (to the eternal = to eternity), else this would require to fill in some latin “female” word which could be e.g. the “memoriam” below (to eternal memory) or the latin word “rem” (to the eternal things/matters or just again to eternity)

    – and now my favourite “alis grave”. I found a latin phrase “alis grave nil” = nothing is heavy to those who have wings”, and that’s why I’m thinking “alis grave” here means something like: it must be heavy (sad) for one with wings (who you used to fly).

    – “gratis tibi ago”, either it shold be “gratias tibi ago” meaning we thank you (but it doesn’t sound like this) or it could be another phrase with a different meaning: “gratis” (=also a german word meaning “for free”) means “just for your thanks”, i.e. we don’t expect anything in return. Then this phrase could be: “we give anything to you just for your thanks”
    and here again “tibi” is singular in contradiction to the ten ;-)

  26. PinkPanther said

    I am so sorry, I didn’t say thank you for your translations in the first place.
    I heard the song after Ood Sigma’s “We will sing to you, Doctor, the universe will sing you to your sleep” and googled for the text of this very moving song. And then I couldn’t stop trying to translate it myself :-)
    And like Ood Sigma said: This song is ending, but the story never ends…

  27. PinkPanther said

    And I am even more sorry – reading all the contributions I obviously missed some remarks in your very first part where all these things I was proud of having found myself are already described (gratias tibi ago, alis grave nil, ad aetermam, etc.).
    So it’d be ok with me if you like to delete my comments, only you might spend a thought on my slightly different interpretation of these phrases.
    But maybe you are right and we just “overinterprete” some rhythmic conditions :-)

    • No, no – don’t worry. There’s no need to delete anything. I’m just glad you enjoyed engaging with the Latin! :-)

      • PinkPanther said

        o yes, I did :-) I also like the latin, ancient german and french parts (middle ages?) in Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”. And when I watched the Doctor’s episode in Pompeji I was reminded of the letters of Plinius Junior about his uncle’s death during the eruption of the Vesuvius.
        Question concerning Season 5, The Pandorica: The apparently greek letters on the first rock of the universe below the “Hello Sweetie” message from Dr. Song don’t mean anything, do they. It seemed like an unspellable sequence of Theta, Phi, etc. or is really anything ancient greek?

        • Yes, that’s right. Within the story, the Greek letters are just supposed to represent some coordinates left by River for the Doctor. Outside the story, they could also have been made to spell a real ancient Greek word, adding a little extra something for the fans to decode, but that wasn’t done. The first two letters are Theta Sigma, which we learn in the Key to Time stories is the Doctor’s old nickname from the Time Lord Academy. But the rest of it is just nonsense.

  28. E said

    Thank you so much. I was first attempting to translate the lyrics myself, but when I was unable to decipher many of the lines, I looked to the internet. As I should have expected, my first searches yielded only nonsense, so when I came upon your explanation, my spirit lifted. I’m glad that some people on the internet know what they are talking about.

  29. Ioannes said

    I’ve been wanting to do an a cappella arrangement of this, but being something of a Latin nerd, I couldn’t bring myself to do it with these Latin lyrics. They’re just too nonsensical, and the stress often falls in odd metrical places. So, with a few minor rhythmic changes (but no note changes), I came up with the following. I’d like another set of eyes to proof it though, and perhaps offer suggestions where I might have failed on a matter of phrasing or best word choice if you are so inclined:

    Vale, Decem.
    In aeternum—
    dei sint tecum
    in aeternum.
    Vale, Decem.
    Dei sint tecum,
    beatus vir
    qui pacem donavit.
    Vale, Decem.
    Te tenebimus
    perpetua memoria.
    Vale, Decem.
    Gratias tibi ago
    in aeternum.
    Nunquam eris solus,
    nunquam.
    Dum finis, fide illis.
    Vale . . .

    • Ioannes said

      Looking over it myself, “donavit” should probably be “donavisti,” which means it’d probably be better as “dedisti” for the notes and stresses in the music, eh?

  30. […] no great surprise. Film and TV productions are full of mangled Latin phrases – indeed I’ve written about a similar case in Doctor Who before. But it’s when people start offering up incorrect translations of the mangled Latin, which […]

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