THE EPISTLES BOOK I.
I. To Maecenas.
Theme of my earliest Muse in days long past,
Theme that shall be hereafter of my last,
Why summon back, Maecenas, to the list
Your worn-out swordsman, pensioned and dismissed?
My age, my mind, no longer are the same
As when I first was ‘prenticed to the game.
Veianius fastens to Alcides’ gate
His arms, then nestles in his snug estate:
Think you once more upon the arena’s marge
He’d care to stand and supplicate discharge?
No: I’ve a Mentor who, not once nor twice,
Breathes in my well-rinsed ear his sound advice,
“Give rest in time to that old horse, for fear
At last he founder ‘mid the general jeer.”
So now I bid my idle songs adieu,
And turn my thoughts to what is right and true;
I search and search, and when I find, I lay
The wisdom up against a rainy day.
But what’s my sect? you ask me; I must be
A member sure of some fraternity:
Why no; I’ve taken no man’s shilling; none
Of all your fathers owns me for his son;
Just where the weather drives me, I invite
Myself to take up quarters for the night.
Now, all alert, I cope with life’s rough main,
A loyal follower in true virtue’s train:
Anon, to Aristippus’ camp I flit,
And say, the world’s for me, not I for it.
Long as the night to him whose love is gone,
Long as the day to slaves that must work on,
Slow as the year to the impatient ward
Who finds a mother’s tutelage too hard,
So long, so slow the moments that prevent
The execution of my high intent,
Of studying truths that rich and poor concern,
Which young and old are lost unless they learn.
Well, if I cannot be a student, yet
There’s good in spelling at the alphabet.
Your eyes will never see like Lynceus’; still
You rub them with an ointment when they’re ill:
You cannot hope for Glyco’s stalwart frame,
Yet you’d avoid the gout that makes you lame.
Some point of moral progress each may gain,
Though to aspire beyond it should prove vain.
Say, is your bosom fevered with the fire
Of sordid avarice or unchecked desire?
Know, there are spells will help you to allay
The pain, and put good part of it away.
You’re bloated by ambition? take advice;
Yon book will ease you if you read it thrice.
Run through the list of faults; whate’er you be,
Coward, pickthank, spitfire, drunkard, debauchee,
Submit to culture patiently, you’ll find
Her charms can humanize the rudest mind.
To fly from vice is virtue: to be free
From foolishness is wisdom’s first degree.
Think of some ill you feel a real disgrace,
The loss of money or the loss of place;
To keep yourself from these, how keen the strain!
How dire the sweat of body and of brain!
Through tropic heat, o’er rocks and seas you run
To furthest India, poverty to shun,
Yet scorn the sage who offers you release
From vagrant wishes that disturb your peace.
Take some provincial pugilist, who gains
A paltry cross-way prize for all his pains;
Place on his brow Olympia’s chaplet, earned
Without a struggle, would the gift be spurned?
Gold counts for more than silver, all men hold:
Why doubt that virtue counts for more than gold?
“Seek money first, good friends, and virtue next,”
Each Janus lectures on the well-worn text;
Lads learn it for their lessons; grey-haired men,
Like schoolboys, drawl the sing-song o’er again.
You lack, say, some six thousand of the rate
The law has settled as a knight’s estate;
Though soul, tongue, morals, credit, all the while
Are yours, you reckon with the rank and file.
But mark those children at their play; they sing,
“Deal fairly, youngster, and we’ll crown you king.”
Be this your wall of brass, your coat of mail,
A guileless heart, a cheek no crime turns pale.
“Which is the better teacher, tell me, pray,
The law of Roscius, or the children’s lay
That crowns fair dealing, by Camillus trolled,
And manly Curius, in the days of old;
The voice that says, “Make money, money, man;
Well, if so be,—if not, which way you can,”
That from a nearer distance you may gaze
At honest Pupius’ all too moving plays;
Or that which bids you meet with dauntless brow,
The frowns of Fortune, aye, and shows you how?
Suppose the world of Rome accosts me thus:
“You walk where we walk; why not think with us,
Be ours for better or for worse, pursue
The things we love, the things we hate eschew?”
I answer as sly Reynard answered, when
The ailing lion asked him to his den:
“I’m frightened at those footsteps: every track
Leads to your home, but ne’er a one leads back.”
Nay, you’re a perfect Hydra: who shall choose
Which view to follow out of all your views?
Some farm the taxes; some delight to see
Their money grow by usury, like a tree;
Some bait a widow-trap with fruits and cakes,
And net old men, to stock their private lakes.
But grant that folks have different hobbies; say,
Does one man ride one hobby one whole day?
“Baiae’s the place!” cries Croesus: all is haste;
The lake, the sea, soon feel their master’s taste:
A new whim prompts: ’tis “Pack your tools tonight!
Off for Teanum with the dawn of light!”
The nuptial bed is in his hall; he swears
None but a single life is free from cares:
Is he a bachelor? all human bliss,
He vows, is centred in a wedded kiss.
How shall I hold this Proteus in my gripe?
How fix him down in one enduring type?
Turn to the poor: their megrims are as strange;
Bath, cockloft, barber, eating-house, they change;
They hire a boat; your born aristocrat
Is not more squeamish, tossing in his yacht.
If, when we meet, I’m cropped in awkward style
By some uneven barber, then you smile;
You smile, if, as it haps, my gown’s askew,
If my shirt’s ragged while my tunic’s new:
How, if my mind’s inconsequent, rejects
What late it longed for, what it loathed affects,
Shifts every moment, with itself at strife,
And makes a chaos of an ordered life,
Builds castles up, then pulls them to the ground,
Keeps changing round for square and square for round?
You smile not; ’tis an every-day affair;
I need no doctor’s, no, nor keeper’s care:
Yet you’re my patron, and would blush to fail
In taking notice of an ill-pared nail.
So, to sum up: the sage is half divine,
Rich, free, great, handsome, king of kings, in fine;
A miracle of health from toe to crown,
Mind, heart, and head, save when his nose runs down.
II. To Lollius.
While you at Rome, dear Lollius, train your tongue,
I at Praeneste read what Homer sung:
What’s good, what’s bad, what helps, what hurts, he shows
Better in verse than Crantor does in prose.
The reason why I think so, if you’ll spare
A moment from your business, I’ll declare.
The tale that tells how Greece and Asia strove
In tedious battle all for Paris’ love,
Talks of the passions that excite the brain
Of mad-cap kings and peoples not more sane.
Antenor moves to cut away the cause
Of all their sufferings: does he gain applause?
No; none shall force young Paris to enjoy
Life, power and riches in his own fair Troy.
Nestor takes pains the quarrel to compose
That makes Atrides and Achilles foes:
In vain; their passions are too strong to quell;
Both burn with wrath, and one with love as well.
Let kings go mad and blunder as they may,
The people in the end are sure to pay.
Strife, treachery, crime, lust, rage, ’tis error all,
One mass of faults within, without the wall.
Turn to the second tale: Ulysses shows
How worth and wisdom triumph over woes:
He, having conquered Troy, with sharp shrewd ken
Explores the manners and the towns of men;
On the broad ocean, while he strives to win
For him and his return to home and kin,
He braves untold calamities, borne down
By Fortune’s waves, but never left to drown.
The Sirens’ song you know, and Circe’s bowl:
Had that sweet draught seduced his stupid soul
As it seduced his fellows, he had been
The senseless chattel of a wanton queen,
Sunk to the level of his brute desire,
An unclean dog, a swine that loves the mire.
But what are we? a mere consuming class,
Just fit for counting roughly in the mass,
Like to the suitors, or Alcinous’ clan,
Who spent vast pains upon the husk of man,
Slept on till mid-day, and enticed their care
To rest by listening to a favourite air.
Robbers get up by night, men’s throats to knive:
Will you not wake to keep yourself alive?
Well, if you will not stir when sound, at last,
When dropsical, you’ll be for moving fast:
Unless you light your lamp ere dawn and read
Some wholesome book that high resolves may breed,
You’ll find your sleep go from you, and will toss
Upon your pillow, envious, lovesick, cross.
You lose no time in taking out a fly,
Or straw, it may be, that torments your eye;
Why, when a thing devours your mind, adjourn
Till this day year all thought of the concern?
Come now, have courage to be wise: begin:
You’re halfway over when you once plunge in:
He who puts off the time for mending, stands
A clodpoll by the stream with folded hands,
Waiting till all the water be gone past;
But it runs on, and will, while time shall last.
“Aye, but I must have money, and a bride
To bear me children, rich and well allied:
Those uncleared lands want tilling.” Having got
What will suffice you, seek no happier lot.
Not house or grounds, not heaps of brass or gold
Will rid the frame of fever’s heat and cold.
Or cleanse the heart of care. He needs good health,
Body and mind, who would enjoy his wealth:
Who fears or hankers, land and country-seat
Soothe just as much as tickling gouty feet,
As pictures charm an eye inflamed and blear,
As music gratifies an ulcered ear.
Unless the vessel whence we drink is pure,
Whate’er is poured therein turns foul, be sure.
Make light of pleasure: pleasure bought with pain
Yields little profit, but much more of bane.
The miser’s always needy: draw a line
Within whose bound your wishes to confine.
His neighbour’s fatness makes the envious lean:
No tyrant e’er devised a pang so keen.
Who governs not his wrath will wish undone
The deeds he did “when the rash mood was on.”
Wrath is a short-lived madness: curb and bit
Your mind: ’twill rule you, if you rule not it
While the colt’s mouth is soft, the trainer’s skill
Moulds it to follow at the rider’s will.
Soon as the whelp can bay the deer’s stuffed skin,
He takes the woods, and swells the hunters’ din.
Now, while your system’s plastic, ope each pore;
Now seek wise friends, and drink in all their lore:
The smell that’s first imparted will adhere
To seasoned jars through many an after year.
But if you lag behind or head me far,
Don’t think I mean to mend my pace, or mar;
In my own jog-trot fashion on I go,
Not vying with the swift, not waiting for the slow.
III. To Julius Florus.
Florus, I wish to learn, but don’t know how,
Where Claudius and his troops are quartered now.
Say, is it Thrace and Haemus’ winter snows,
Or the famed strait ‘twixt tower and tower that flows,
Or Asia’s rich exuberance of plain
And upland slope, that holds you in its chain?
Inform me too (for that, you will not doubt,
Concerns me), what the ingenious staff’s about:
Who writes of Caesar’s triumphs, and portrays
The tale of peace and war for future days?
How thrives friend Titius, who will soon become
A household word in the saloons of Rome;
Who dares to drink of Pindar’s well, and looks
With scorn on our cheap tanks and vulgar brooks?
Wastes he a thought on Horace? does he suit
The strains of Thebes or Latium’s virgin lute,
By favour of the Muse, or grandly rage
And roll big thunder on the tragic stage?
What is my Celsus doing? oft, in truth,
I’ve warned him, and he needs it yet, good youth,
To trust himself, nor touch the classic stores
That Palatine Apollo keeps indoors,
Lest when some day the feathered tribe resumes
(You know the tale) the appropriated plumes,
Folks laugh to see him act the jackdaw’s part,
Denuded of the dress that looked so smart.
And you, what aims are yours? what thymy ground
Allures the bee to hover round and round?
Not small your wit, nor rugged and unkempt;
‘Twill answer bravely to a bold attempt:
Whether you train for pleading, or essay
To practise law, or frame some graceful lay,
The ivy-wreath awaits you. Could you bear
To leave quack nostrums, that but palliate care,
Then might you lean on heavenly wisdom’s hand
And use her guidance to a loftier land.
Be this our task, whate’er our station, who
To country and to self would fain be true.
This too concerns me: does Munatius hold
In Florus’ heart the place he held of old,
Or is that ugly breach in your good will
We hoped had closed unhealed and gaping still?
Well, be it youth or ignorance of life
That sets your hot ungoverned bloods at strife,
Where’er you bide, ’twere shame to break the ties
Which made you once sworn brethren and allies:
So, when your safe return shall come to pass,
I’ve got a votive heifer out at grass.
IV. To Albius Tibullus.
Albius, kind critic of my satires, say,
What do you down at Pedum far away?
Are you composing what will dim the shine
Of Cassius’ works, so delicately fine,
Or sauntering, calm and healthful, through the wood,
Bent on such thoughts as suit the wise and good?
No brainless trunk is yours: a form to please,
Wealth, wit to use it, Heaven vouchsafes you these.
What could fond nurse wish more for her sweet pet
Than friends, good looks, and health without a let,
A shrewd clear head, a tongue to speak his mind,
A seemly household, and a purse well-lined?
Let hopes and sorrows, fears and angers be,
And think each day that dawns the last you’ll see;
For so the hour that greets you unforeseen
Will bring with it enjoyment twice as keen.
Ask you of me? you’ll laugh to find me grown
A hog of Epicurus, full twelve stone.
V. To Torquatus.
If you can lie, Torquatus, when you take
Your meal, upon a couch of Archias’ make,
And sup off potherbs, gathered as they come,
You’ll join me, please, by sunset at my home.
My wine, not far from Sinuessa grown,
Is but six years in bottle, I must own:
If you’ve a better vintage, send it here,
Or take your cue from him who finds the cheer.
My hearth is swept, my household looks its best,
And all my furniture expects a guest.
Forego your dreams of riches and applause,
Forget e’en Moschus’ memorable cause;
To-morrow’s Caesar’s birthday, which we keep
By taking, to begin with, extra sleep;
So, if with pleasant converse we prolong
This summer night, we scarcely shall do wrong.
Why should the Gods have put me at my ease,
If I mayn’t use my fortune as I please?
The man who stints and pinches for his heir
Is next-door neighbour to a fool, I’ll swear.
Here, give me flowers to strew, my goblet fill,
And let men call me mad-cap if they will.
O, drink is mighty! secrets it unlocks,
Turns hope to fact, sets cowards on to box,
Takes burdens from the careworn, finds out parts
In stupid folks, and teaches unknown arts.
What tongue hangs fire when quickened by the bowl?
What wretch so poor but wine expands his soul?
Meanwhile, I’m bound in duty, nothing both,
To see that nought in coverlet or cloth
May give you cause to sniff, that dish and cup
May serve you as a mirror while you sup;
To have my guests well-sorted, and take care
That none is present who’ll tell tales elsewhere.
You’ll find friend Butra and Septicius here,
Ditto Sabinus, failing better cheer:
And each might bring a friend or two as well,
But then, you know, close packing’s apt to smell.
Come, name your number, and elude the guard
Your client keeps by slipping through the yard.
VI. To Numicius.
Not to admire, Numicius, is the best,
The only way, to make and keep men blest.
The sun, the stars, the seasons of the year
That come and go, some gaze at without fear:
What think you of the gifts of earth and sea,
The untold wealth of Ind or Araby,
Or, to come nearer home, our games and shows,
The plaudits and the honours Rome bestows?
How should we view them? ought they to convulse
The well-strung frame and agitate the pulse?
Who fears the contrary, or who desires
The things themselves, in either case admires;
Each way there’s flutter; something unforeseen
Disturbs the mind that else had been serene.
Joy, grief, desire or fear, whate’er the name
The passion bears, its influence is the same;
Where things exceed your hope or fall below,
You stare, look blank, grow numb from top to toe.
E’en virtue’s self, if followed to excess,
Turns right to wrong, good sense to foolishness.
Go now, my friend, drink in with all your eyes
Bronze, silver, marble, gems, and Tyrian dyes,
Feel pride when speaking in the sight of Rome,
Go early out to ‘Change and late come home,
For fear your income drop beneath the rate
That comes to Mutus from his wife’s estate,
And (shame and scandal!), though his line is new,
You give the pas to him, not he to you.
Whate’er is buried mounts at last to light,
While things get hid in turn that once looked bright.
So when Agrippa’s mall and Appius’ way
Have watched your well-known figure day by day,
At length the summons comes, and you must go
To Numa and to Ancus down below.
Your side’s in pain; a doctor hits the blot:
You wish to live aright (and who does not?);
If virtue holds the secret, don’t defer;
Be off with pleasure, and be on with her.
But no; you think all morals sophists’ tricks,
Bring virtue down to words, a grove to sticks;
Then hey for wealth! quick, quick, forestall the trade
With Phrygia and the East, your fortune’s made.
One thousand talents here—one thousand there—
A third—a fourth, to make the thing four-square.
A dowried wife, friends, beauty, birth, fair fame,
These are the gifts of money, heavenly dame:
Be but a moneyed man, persuasion tips
Your tongue, and Venus settles on your lips.
The Cappadocian king has slaves enow,
But gold he lacks: so be it not with you.
Lucullus was requested once, they say,
A hundred scarves to furnish for the play:
“A hundred!” he replied, “’tis monstrous; still
I’ll look; and send you what I have, I will.”
Ere long he writes: “Five thousand scarves I find;
Take part of them, or all if you’re inclined.”
That’s a poor house where there’s not much to spare
Which masters never miss and servants wear.
So, if ’tis wealth that makes and keeps us blest,
Be first to start and last to drop the quest.
If power and mob-applause be man’s chief aims,
Let’s hire a slave to tell us people’s names,
To jog us on the side, and make us reach,
At risk of tumbling down, a hand to each:
“This rules the Fabian, that the Veline clan;
Just as he likes, he seats or ousts his man:”
Observe their ages, have your greeting pat,
And duly “brother” this, and “father” that.
Say that the art to live’s the art to sup,
Go fishing, hunting, soon as sunlight’s up,
As did Gargilius, who at break of day
Swept with his nets and spears the crowded way,
Then, while all Rome looked on in wonder, brought
Home on a single mule a boar he’d bought.
Thence pass on to the bath-room, gorged and crude,
Our stomachs stretched with undigested food,
Lost to all self-respect, all sense of shame,
Disfranchised freemen, Romans but in name,
Like to Ulysses’ crew, that worthless band,
Who cared for pleasure more than fatherland.
If, as Mimnermus tells you, life is flat
With nought to love, devote yourself to that.
Farewell: if you can mend these precepts, do:
If not, what serves for me may serve for you.
VII. To Maecenas.
Five days I told you at my farm I’d stay,
And lo! the whole of August I’m away.
Well, but, Maecenas, yon would have me live,
And, were I sick, my absence you’d forgive;
So let me crave indulgence for the fear
Of falling ill at this bad time of year,
When, thanks to early figs and sultry heat,
The undertaker figures with his suite,
When fathers all and fond mammas grow pale
At what may happen to their young heirs male,
And courts and levees, town-bred mortals’ ills,
Bring fevers on, and break the seals of wills.
When winter strews the Alban fields with snow,
Down to the sea your chilly bard will go,
There keep the house and study at his ease,
All huddled up together, nose and knees:
With the first swallow, if you’ll have him then,
He’ll come, dear friend, and visit you again.
Not like the coarse Calabrian boor, who pressed
His store of pears upon a sated guest,
Have you bestowed your favours. “Eat them, pray.”
“I’ve done.” “Then carry all you please away.”
“I thank you, no.” “Your boys won’t like you less
For taking home a sack of them, I guess.”
“I could not thank you more if I took all.”
“Ah well, if you won’t eat them, the pigs shall.”
‘Tis silly prodigality, to throw
Those gifts broadcast whose value you don’t know:
Such tillage yields ingratitude, and will,
While human nature is the soil you till.
A wise good man has ears for merit’s claim,
Yet does not reckon brass and gold the same.
I also will “assume desert,” and prove
I value him whose bounty speaks his love.
If you would keep me always, give me back
My sturdy sides, my clustering locks of black,
My pleasant voice and laugh, the tears I shed
That night when Cinara from the table fled.
A poor pinched field-mouse chanced to make its way
Through a small rent in a wheat-sack one day,
And, having gorged and stuffed, essayed in vain
To squeeze its body through the hole again:
“Ah!” cried a weasel, “wait till you get thin;
Then, if you will, creep out as you crept in.”
Well, if to me the story folks apply,
I give up all I’ve got without a sigh:
Not mine to cram down guinea-fowls, and then
Heap praises on the sleep of labouring men;
Give me a country life and leave me free,
I would not choose the wealth of Araby.
I’ve called you Father, praised your royal grace
Behind your back as well as to your face;
You’ve owned I have a conscience: try me now
If I can quit your gifts with cheerful brow.
That was a prudent answer which, we’re told,
The son of wise Ulysses made of old:
“Our Ithaca is scarce the place for steeds;
It has no level plains, no grassy meads:
Atrides, if you’ll let me, I’ll decline
A gift that better meets your wants than mine.”
Small things become small folks: imperial Rome
Is all too large, too bustling for a home;
The empty heights of Tibur, or the bay
Of soft Tarentum, more are in my way.
Philip, the famous counsel, years ago,
Was moving home at two, sedate and slow,
Old, and fatigued with pleading at the bar,
And grumbling that he lived away so far,
When suddenly he chanced his eye to drop
On a spruce personage in a barber’s shop,
Who in the shopman’s absence lounged at ease,
Paring his nails as calmly as you please.
“Demetrius”—so was called the slave he kept
To do his errands, a well-trained adept—
“Find out about that man for me; enquire
His name and rank, his patron or his sire.”
He soon brings word that Mena is the name,
An auction-crier, poor, but without blame,
One who can work or idle, get or spend,
Who loves his home and likes to see a friend,
Enjoys the circus, and when work’s got through,
Hies to the field, and does as others do.
“I’ll hear the details from himself: go say
I’ll thank him if he’ll sup with me to-day.”
Mena can scarce believe it; posed and mum
He ponders; then, with thanks, declines to come.
“What? does he dare to say me nay?” “Just so;
Be it reserve or disrespect, ’tis no.”
Philip next morn finds Mena at a sale
“Where odds and ends are going by retail,
And greets him first. He, stammeringly profuse,
Alleges ties of business in excuse
For not by day-break knocking at his door,
And last, for not observing him before.
“Well, bygones shall be bygones, if so be
You’ll come this afternoon and sup with me.”
“I’m at your service.” “Then ‘twixt four and five
You’ll come: now go, and do your best to thrive.”
He’s there in time; what comes into his head
He chatters, right or wrong; then off to bed.
So, when he’d learnt to nibble at the bait,
At levee early and at supper late,
One holiday he’s bidden to come down
With Philip to his villa out of town.
Astride on horseback, both, he vows, are rare,
The Sabine country and the Sabine air.
Philip looks on and chuckles, his one aim
To get a laugh by keeping up the game,
Lends him seven hundred, gives him out of hand
Seven more, and leads him on to buy some land.
‘Tis bought: to make a lengthy tale concise,
The man becomes a clown who once was nice,
Talks all of elms and vineyards, ploughs and soil,
And ages fast with struggling and sheer toil;
Till, when his sheep are stolen, his bullock drops,
His goats die off, a blight destroys his crops,
One night he takes a waggon-horse, and sore
With all his losses, rides to Philip’s door.
Philip perceives him squalid and unshorn,
And cries, “Why, Mena! surely you look worn;
You work too hard.” “Nay, call me wretch,” says he,
“Good patron; ’tis the only name for me.
So now, by all that’s binding among men,
I beg you, give me my old life again.”
He that finds out he’s changed his lot for worse,
Let him betimes the untoward choice reverse:
For still, when all is said, the rule stands fast,
That each man’s shoe be made on his own last.
VIII. To Celsus Albinovanus.
Health to friend Celsus—so, good Muse, report—
Who holds the pen in Nero’s little court!
If asked about me, say, I plan and plan,
Yet live a useless and unhappy man:
Sunstrokes have spared my olives, hail my vines;
No herd of mine in far-off pasture pines:
Yet ne’ertheless I suffer; hourly teased
Less by a body than a mind diseased,
No ear have I to hear, no heart to heed
The words of wisdom that might serve my need,
Frown on my doctors, with the friends am wroth
Who fain would rouse me from my fatal sloth,
Seek what has harmed me, shun what looks of use,
Town-bird at Tibur, and at Rome recluse.
Then ask him how his health is, how he fares,
How prospers with the prince and his confreres.
If he says Well, first tell him you rejoice,
Then add one little hint (but drop your voice),
“As Celsus bears his fortune well or ill,
So bear with Celsus his acquaintance will.”
IX. To Tiberius Claudius Nero.
Septimius, Nero, seems to comprehend,
As none else does, how you esteem your friend:
For when he begs, nay, forces me, good man,
To move you in his favour, if I can,
As not unfit the heart and home to share
Of Claudius, who selects his staff with care,
Bidding me act as though I filled the place
Of one you honour with your special grace,
He sees and knows what I may safely try
By way of influence better e’en than I.
Believe me, many were the pleas I used
In the vain hope to get myself excused:
But then there came a natural fear, you know,
Lest I should seem to rate my powers too low,
To make a snug peculium of my own,
And keep my influence for myself alone:
So, fearing to incur more serious blame,
I bronze my front, step down, and play my game.
If then you praise the sacrifice I make
In waiving modesty for friendship’s sake,
Admit him to your circle, when you’ve read
These lines, and trust me for his heart and head.
X. To Aristius Fuscus.
To Fuscus, lover of the city, I
Who love the country, wish prosperity:
In this one thing unlike, in all beside
We might be twins, so nearly we’re allied;
Sharing each other’s hates, each other’s loves,
We bill and coo, like two familiar doves.
You keep the nest: I love the rural scene,
Fresh runnels, moss-grown rocks, and woodland green.
What would you more? once let me leave the things
You praise so much, my life is like a king’s:
Like the priest’s runaway, I cannot eat
Your cakes, but pine for bread of wholesome wheat.
Now say that it behoves us to adjust
Our lives to nature (wisdom says we must):
You want a site for building: can you find
A place that’s like the country to your mind?
Where have you milder winters? where are airs
That breathe more grateful when the Dogstar glares,
Or when the Lion feels in every vein
The sun’s sharp thrill, and maddens with the pain?
Is there a spot where care contrives to keep
At further distance from the couch of sleep?
Is springing grass less sweet to nose or eyes
Than Libyan marble’s tesselated dyes?
Does purer water strain your pipes of lead
Than that which ripples down the brooklet’s bed?
Why, ‘mid your Parian columns trees you train,
And praise the house that fronts a wide domain.
Drive Nature forth by force, she’ll turn and rout
The false refinements that would keep her out.
The luckless wight who can’t tell side by side
A Tyrian fleece from one Aquinum-dyed,
Is not more surely, keenly, made to smart
Than he who knows not truth and lies apart.
Take too much pleasure in good things, you’ll feel
The shock of adverse fortune makes you reel.
Regard a thing with wonder, with a wrench
You’ll give it up when bidden to retrench.
Keep clear of courts: a homely life transcends
The vaunted bliss of monarchs and their friends.
The stag was wont to quarrel with the steed,
Nor let him graze in common on the mead:
The steed, who got the worst in each attack,
Asked help from man, and took him on his back:
But when his foe was quelled, he ne’er got rid
Of his new friend, still bridled and bestrid.
So he who, fearing penury, loses hold
Of independence, better far than gold,
Will toil, a hopeless drudge, till life is spent,
Because he’ll never, never learn content.
Means should, like shoes, be neither large nor small;
Too wide, they trip us up, too strait, they gall.
Then live contented, Fuscus, nor be slow
To give a friendly rap to one you know,
Whene’er you find me struggling to increase
My neat sufficiency, and ne’er at peace.
Gold will be slave or master: ’tis more fit
That it be led by us than we by it.
From tumble-down Vacuna’s fane I write,
Wanting but you to make me happy quite.
XI. To Bullatius.
How like you Chios, good Bullatius? what
Think you of Lesbos, that world-famous spot?
What of the town of Samos, trim and neat,
And what of Sardis, Croesus’ royal seat?
Of Smyrna what and Colophon? are they
Greater or less than travellers’ stories say?
Do all look poor beside our scenes at home,
The field of Mars, the river of old Rome?
Say, is your fancy fixed upon some town
Which formed a gem in Attalus’s crown?
Or would you turn to Lebedus for ease
In mere disgust at weary roads and seas?
You know what Lebedus is like; so bare,
With Gabii or Fidenae ‘twould compare;
Yet there, methinks, I would accept my lot,
My friends forgetting, by my friends forgot,
Stand on the cliff at distance, and survey
The stormy sea-god’s wild Titanic play.
Yet he that comes from Capua, dashing in
To Rome, all splashed and wetted to the skin,
Though in a tavern glad one night to bide,
Would not be pleased to live there till he died:
If he gets cold, he lets his fancy rove
In quest of bliss beyond a bath or stove:
And you, though tossed just now by a stiff breeze,
Don’t therefore sell your vessel beyond seas.
But what are Rhodes and Lesbos, and the rest,
E’en let a traveller rate them at their best?
No more the wants of healthy minds they meet
Than does a jersey in a driving sleet,
A cloak in summer, Tiber through the snow,
A chafing-dish in August’s midday glow.
So, while health lasts, and Fortune keeps her smiles,
We’ll pay our devoir to your Grecian isles,
Praise them on this condition—that we stay
In our own land, a thousand miles away.
Seize then each happy hour the gods dispense,
Nor fix enjoyment for a twelvemonth hence.
So may you testify with truth, where’er
You’re quartered, ’tis a pleasure to be there:
For if the cure of mental ills is due
To sense and wisdom, not a fine sea-view,
We come to this; when o’er the world we range
‘Tis but our climate, not our mind we change.
What active inactivity is this,
To go in ships and cars to search for bliss!
No; what you seek, at Ulubrae you’ll find,
If to the quest you bring a balanced mind.
XII. To Iccitus
If, worthy Iccius, properly you use
What you collect, Agrippa’s revenues,
You’re well supplied: and Jove himself could tell
No way to make you better off than well.
A truce to murmuring: with another’s store
To use at pleasure, who shall call you poor?
Sides, stomach, feet, if these are all in health,
What more could man procure with princely wealth?
If, with a well-spread table, when you dine,
To plain green food your eating you confine,
Though some fine day a rich Pactolian rill
Should flood your house, you’d munch your pot-herbs still,
From habit or conviction, which o’er-ride
The power of gold, and league on virtue’s side.
No need to marvel at the stories told
Of simple-sage Democritus of old,
How, while his soul was soaring in the sky,
The sheep got in and nibbled down his rye,
When, spite of lucre’s strong contagion, yet
On lofty problems all your thoughts are set,—
What checks the sea, what heats and cools the year,
If law or impulse guides the starry sphere,
“What power presides o’er lunar wanderings,
What means the jarring harmony of things,
Which after all is wise, and which the fool,
Empedooles or the Stertinian school.
But whether you’re for taking fishes’ life,
Or against leeks and onions whet your knife,
Let Grosphus be your friend, and should he plead
For aught he wants, anticipate his need:
He’ll never outstep reason; and you know,
When good men lack, the price of friends is low.
But what of Rome? Agrippa has increased
Her power in Spain, Tiberius in the East:
Phraates, humbly bending on his knee,
Submits himself to Csesar’s sovereignty:
While golden Plenty from her teeming horn
Pours down on Italy abundant corn.
XIII. To Vinius Asella.
As I have told you oft, deliver these,
My sealed-up volumes, to Augustus, please,
Friend Vinius, if he’s well and in good trim,
And (one proviso more) if asked by him:
Beware of over-zeal, nor discommend
My works, by playing the impetuous friend.
Suppose my budget, ere you get to town,
Should gall you, better straightway throw it down
Than, when you’ve reached the palace, fling the pack
With animal impatience from your back,
And so be thought in nature as in name
Tour father’s colt, and made some joker’s game.
Tour powers of tough endurance will avail
With brooks and ponds to ford and hills to scale:
But when you’ve quelled the perils of the road,
Take special care how you adjust your load:
Don’t tuck beneath your arm these precious gifts,
As drunken Pyrrhia does the wool she lifts,
As rustics do a lamb, as humble wights
Their cap and slippers when asked out at nights.
Don’t tell the world you’ve toiled and sweated hard
In carrying lays which Caesar may regard:
Push on, nor stop for questions. Now good bye;
But pray don’t trip, and smash the poetry.
XIV. To His Bailiff.
Good bailiff of my farm, that snug domain
Which makes its master feel himself again,
Which, though you sniff at it, could once support
Five hearths, and send five statesmen to the court,
Let’s have a match in husbandry; we’ll try
Which can do weeding better, you or I,
And see if Horace more repays the hand
That clears him of his thistles, or his land.
Though here I’m kept administering relief
To my poor Lamia’s broken-hearted grief
For his lost brother, ne’ertheless my thought
Flies to my woods, and counts the distance nought.
You praise the townsman’s, I the rustic’s state:
Admiring others’ lots, our own we hate:
Each blames the place he lives in: but the mind
Is most in fault, which ne’er leaves self behind.
A town-house drudge, for farms you used to sigh;
Now towns and shows and baths are all your cry:
But I’m consistent with myself: you know
I grumble, when to Rome I’m forced to go.
Truth is, our standards differ: what your taste
Condemns, forsooth, as so much savage waste,
The man who thinks with Horace thinks divine,
And hates the things which you believe so fine.
I know your secret: ’tis the cook-shop breeds
That lively sense of what the country needs:
You grieve because this little nook of mine
Would bear Arabian spice as soon as wine;
Because no tavern happens to be nigh
Where you can go and tipple on the sly,
No saucy flute-girl, at whose jigging sound
You bring your feet down lumbering to the ground.
And yet, methinks, you’ve plenty on your hands
In breaking up these long unharrowed lands;
The ox, unyoked and resting from the plough,
Wants fodder, stripped from elm or poplar bough;
You’ve work too at the river, when there’s rain,
As, but for a strong bank,’twould flood the plain.
Now have a little patience, you shall see
What makes the gulf between yourself and me:
I, who once wore gay clothes and well-dressed hair,
I, who, though poor, could please a greedy fair,
I, who could sit from mid-day o’er Falern,
Now like short meals and slumbers by the burn:
No shame I deem it to have had my sport;
The shame had been in frolics not cut short.
There at my farm I fear no evil eye;
No pickthank blights my crops as he goes by;
My honest neighbours laugh to see me wield
A heavy rake, or dibble my own field.
Were wishes wings, you’d join my slaves in town,
And share the rations that they swallow down;
While that sharp footboy envies you the use
Of what my garden, flocks, and woods produce.
The horse would plough, the ox would draw the car.
No; do the work you know, and tarry where you are.
XV. To C. Numonius Vala.
If Velia and Salernum tell me, pray,
The climate, and the natives, and the way:
For Baiae now is lost on me, and I,
Once its staunch friend, am turned its enemy,
Through Musa’s fault, who makes me undergo
His cold-bath treatment, spite of frost and snow.
Good sooth, the town is filled with spleen, to see
Its myrtle-groves attract no company;
To find its sulphur-wells, which forced out pain
From joint and sinew, treated with disdain
By tender chests and heads, now grown so bold,
They brave cold water in the depth of cold,
And, finding down at Clusium what they want,
Or Gabii, say, make that their winter haunt.
Yes, I must change my quarters; my good horse
Must pass the inns where once he stopped of course.
“How now, you creature? I’m not bound to-day
For Cumae or for Baiae,” I shall say,
Pulling the left rein angrily, because
A horse when bridled listens through his jaws.
Which place is best supplied with corn, d’ye think?
Have they rain-water or fresh springs to drink?
Their wines I care not for: when at my farm
I can drink any sort without much harm;
But at the sea I need a generous kind
To warm my veins and pass into my mind,
Enrich me with new hopes, choice words supply,
And make me comely in a lady’s eye.
Which tract is best for game, on which sea-coast
Urchins and other fish abound the most,
That so, when I return, my friends may see
A sleek Phaeacian come to life in me:
These things you needs must tell me, Vala dear,
And I no less must act on what I hear.
When Maenius, after nobly gobbling down
His fortune, took to living on the town,
A social beast of prey, with no fixed home,
He ranged and ravened o’er the whole of Rome;
His maw unfilled, he’d turn on friend and foe;
None was too high for worrying, none too low;
The scourge and murrain of each butcher’s shop,
Whate’er he got, he stuffed into his crop.
So, when he’d failed in getting e’er a bit
From those who liked or feared his wicked wit,
Then down a throat of three-bear power he’d cram
Plate after plate of offal, tripe or lamb,
And swear, as Bestius might, your gourmand knaves
Should have their stomachs branded like a slave’s.
But give the brute a piece of daintier prey,
When all was done, he’d smack his lips and say,
“In faith I cannot wonder, when I hear
Of folks who waste a fortune on good cheer,
For there’s no treat in nature more divine
Than a fat thrush or a big paunch of swine.”
I’m just his double: when my purse is lean
I hug myself, and praise the golden mean,
Stout when not tempted; but suppose some day
A special titbit comes into my way,
I vow man’s happiness is ne’er complete
Till based on a substantial country seat.
XVI. To Quinctius.
About my farm, dear Quinctius; you would know
What sort of produce for its lord ’twill grow;
Plough-land is it, or meadow-land, or soil
For apples, vine-clad elms, or olive oil?
So (but you’ll think me garrulous) I’ll write
A full description of its form and site.
In long continuous line the mountains run,
Cleft by a valley which twice feels the sun,
Once on the right when first he lifts his beams,
Once on the left, when he descends in steams.
You’d praise the climate: well, and what d’ye say
To sloes and cornels hanging from the spray?
What to the oak and ilex, that afford
Fruit to the cattle, shelter to their lord?
What, but that rich Tarentum must have been
Transplanted nearer Rome with all its green?
Then there’s a fountain of sufficient size
To name the river that takes thence its rise,
Not Thracian Hebrus colder or more pure,
Of power the head’s and stomach’s ills to cure.
This sweet retirement—nay, ’tis more than sweet—
Ensures my health e’en in September’s heat.
And how fare you? if you deserve in truth
The name men give you, you’re a happy youth:
Rome’s thousand tongues, agreed at least in this,
Ascribe to you a plenitude of bliss.
Yet, when you judge of self, I fear you’re prone
To take another’s word before your own,
To think of happiness as ’twere a prize
That men may win though neither good nor wise:
Just so the glutton whom the world thinks well
Keeps dark his fever till the dinner-bell;
Then, as he’s eating, with his hands well greased,
Shivering comes on, and proves the fool diseased.
O, ’tis a false, false shame that would conceal
From doctors’ eyes the sores it cannot heal!
Suppose a man should trumpet your success
By land and sea, and make you this address:
“May Jove, who watches with the same good-will
O’er you and Rome, preserve the secret still,
Whether the heart within you beats more true
To Rome and to her sons, or theirs to you!”
Howe’er your ears might flatter you, you’d say
The praise was Caesar’s, and had gone astray.
Yet should the town pronounce you wise and good,
You’d take it to yourself, you know you would.
“Take it? of course I take it,” you reply;
“You love the praise yourself, then why not I?”
Aye, but the town, that gives you praise to-day,
Next week can snatch it, if it please, away,
As in elections it can mend mistakes,
And whom it makes one year, the next unmakes.
“Lay down the fasces,” it exclaims; “they’re mine:”
I lay them down, and sullenly resign.
Well now, if “Thief” and “Profligate” they roar,
Or lay my father’s murder at my door,
Am I to let their lying scandals bite
And change my honest cheeks from red to white?
Trust me, false praise has charms, false blame has pains
But for vain hearts, long ears, and addled brains.
Whom call we good? The man who keeps intact
Each law, each right, each statute and each act,
Whose arbitration terminates dispute,
Whose word’s a bond, whose witness ends a suit.
Yet his whole house and all the neighbours know
He’s bad at heart, despite his decent show.
“I,” says a slave, “ne’er ran away nor stole:”
Well, what of that? say I: your skin is whole.
“I’ve shed no blood.” You shall not feed the orow.
“I’m good and true.” We Sabine folks say No:
The wolf avoids the pit, the hawk the snare,
And hidden hooks teach fishes to beware.
‘Tis love of right that keeps the good from wrong;
You do no harm because you fear the thong;
Could you be sure that no one would detect,
E’en sacrilege might tempt you, I suspect.
Steal but one bean, although the loss be small,
The crime’s as great as if you stole them all.
See your good man, who oft as he appears
In court commands all judgments and all ears;
Observe him now, when to the gods he pays
His ox or swine, and listen what he says:
“Great Janus, Phoebus”—this he speaks aloud;
The rest is muttered all and unavowed—
“Divine Laverna, grant me safe disguise;
Let me seem just and upright in men’s eyes;
Shed night upon my crimes, a glamour o’er my lies.”
Say, what’s a miser but a slave complete
When he’d pick up a penny in the street?
Fearing’s a part of coveting, and he
Who lives in fear is no freeman for me.
The wretch whose thoughts by gain are all engrossed
Has flung away his sword, betrayed his post.
Don’t kill your captive: keep him: he will sell;
Some things there are the creature will do well:
He’ll plough and feed the cattle, cross the deep
And traffic, carry corn, make produce cheap.
The wise and good, like Bacchus in the play,
When Fortune threats, will have the nerve to say:
“Great king of Thebes, what pains can you devise
The man who will not serve you to chastise?”
“I’ll take your goods.” “My flocks, my land, to wit,
My plate, my couches: do, if you think fit.”
“I’ll keep you chained and guarded in close thrall.”
“A god will come to free me when I call.”
Yes, he will die; ’tis that the bard intends;
For when Death comes, the power of Fortune ends.
XVII. To Scaeva.
Though instinct tells you, Scaeva, how to act,
And makes you live among the great with tact,
Yet hear a fellow-student; ’tis as though
The blind should point you out the way to go,
But still give heed, and see if I produce
Aught that hereafter you may find of use.
If rest is what you like, and sleep till eight,
If dust and rumbling wheels are what you hate,
If tavern-life disgusts you, then repair
To Ferentinum, and turn hermit there;
For wealth has no monopoly of bliss,
And life unnoticed is not lived amiss:
But if you’d help your friends, and like a treat,
Then drop dry bread, and take to juicy meat.
“If Aristippus could but dine off greens,
He’d cease to cultivate his kings and queens.”
“If that rude snarler knew but queens and kings,
He’d find his greens unpalatable things.”
Thus far the rival sages. Tell me true,
Whose words you think the wiser of the two,
Or hear (to listen is a junior’s place)
Why Aristippus has the better case;
For he, the story goes, with this remark
Once stopped the Cynic’s aggravating bark:
“Buffoon I may be, but I ply my trade
For solid value; you ply yours unpaid.
I pay my daily duty to the great,
That I may ride a horse and dine in state;
You, though you talk of independence, yet,
Each time you beg for scraps, contract a debt.”
All lives sat well on Aristippus; though
He liked the high, he yet could grace the low;
But the dogged sage whose blanket folds in two
Would be less apt in changing old for new.
Take from the one his robe of costly red,
He’ll not refuse to dress, or keep his bed;
Clothed as you please, he’ll walk the crowded street,
And, though not fine, will manage to look neat.
Put purple on the other, not the touch
Of toad or asp would startle him so much;
Give back his blanket, or he’ll die of chill:
Yes, give it back; he’s too absurd to kill.
To win great fights, to lead before men’s eyes
A captive foe, is half way to the skies:
Just so, to gain by honourable ways
A great man’s favour is no vulgar praise:
You know the proverb, “Corinth town is fair,
But ’tis not every man that can get there.”
One man sits still, not hoping to succeed;
One makes the journey; he’s a man indeed!
‘Tis that we look for; not to shift a weight
Which little frames and little souls think great,
But stoop and bear it. Virtue’s a mere name,
Or ’tis high venture that achieves high aim.
Those who have tact their poverty to mask
Before their chief get more than those who ask;
It makes, you see, a difference, if you take
As modest people do, or snatch your cake;
Yet that’s the point from which our question starts,
By what way best to get at patrons’ hearts.
“My mother’s poor, my sister’s dower is due,
My farm won’t sell or yield us corn enow,”
What is all this but just the beggar’s cry,
“I’m starving; give me food for charity”?
“Ah!” whines another in a minor key,
“The loaf’s in out; pray spare a slice for me.”
But if in peace the raven would have fed,
He’d have had less of clawing, more of bread.
A poor companion whom his friend takes down
To fair Surrentum or Brundisium’s town,
If he makes much of cold, bad roads, and rain,
Or moans o’er cash-box forced and money ta’en,
Reminds us of a girl, some artful thing,
Who cries for a lost bracelet or a ring,
With this result, that when she comes to grieve
For real misfortunes, no one will believe.
So, hoaxed by one impostor, in the street
A man won’t set a cripple on his feet,
Though he invoke Osiris, and appeal
With streaming tears to hearts that will not feel,
“Lift up a poor lame man! I tell no lie;”
“Treat foreigners to that,” the neighbours cry.
XVIII. To Lollius.
You’d blush, good Lollius, if I judge you right,
To mix the parts of friend and parasite.
‘Twixt parasite and friend a gulf is placed,
Wide as between the wanton and the chaste;
Yet think not flattery friendship’s only curse:
A different vice there is, perhaps a worse,
A brutal boorishness, which fain would win
Regard by unbrushed teeth and close-shorn skin,
Yet all the while is anxious to be thought
Pure independence, acting as it ought.
Between these faults ’tis Virtue’s place to stand,
At distance from the extreme on either hand.
The flatterer by profession, whom you see
At every feast among the lowest three,
Hangs on his patron’s looks, takes up each word
Which, dropped by chance, might else expire unheard,
Like schoolboys echoing what their masters say
In sing-song drawl, or Gnatho in the play:
While your blunt fellow battles for a straw,
As though he’d knock you down or take the law:
“How now, good sir? you mean my word to doubt?
When I once think a thing, I mayn’t speak out?
Though living on your terms were living twice,
Instead of once, ’twere dear at such a price.”
And what’s the question that brings on these fits?—
Does Dolichos or Castor make more hits?
Or, starting for Brundisium, will it pay
To take the Appian or Minucian way?
Him that gives in to dice or lewd excess,
Who apes rich folks in equipage and dress,
Who meanly covets to increase his store,
And shrinks as meanly from the name of poor,
That man his patron, though on all those heads
Perhaps a worse offender, hates and dreads,
Or says to him what tender parents say,
Who’d have their children better men than they:
“Don’t vie with me,” he says, and he says true;
“My wealth will bear the silly things I do;
Yours is a slender pittance at the best;
A wise man cuts his coat—you know the rest.”
Eutrapelus, whene’er a grudge he owed
To any, gave him garments a la mode;
Because, said he, the wretch will feel inspired
With new conceptions when he’s new attired;
He’ll sleep through half the day, let business go
For pleasure, teach a usurer’s cash to grow;
At last he’ll turn a fencer, or will trudge
Beside a cart, a market-gardener’s drudge.
Avoid all prying; what you’re told, keep back,
Though wine or anger put you on the rack;
Nor puff your own, nor slight your friend’s pursuits,
Nor court the Muses when he’d chase the brutes.
‘Twas thus the Theban brethren jarred, until
The harp that vexed the stern one became still.
Amphion humoured his stern brother: well,
Your friend speaks gently; do not you rebel:
No; when he gives the summons, and prepares
To take the field with hounds, and darts, and snares,
Leave your dull Muse to sulkiness and sloth,
That both may feast on dainties earned by both.
‘Tis a true Roman pastime, and your frame
Will gain thereby, no less than your good name:
Besides, you’re strong; in running you can match
The dogs, and kill the fiercest boar you catch:
Who plays like you? you have but to appear
In Mars’s field to raise a general cheer:
Remember too, you served a hard campaign,
When scarce past boyhood, in the wars of Spain,
Beneath his lead who brings our standards home,
And makes each nook of earth a prize for Rome.
Just one thing more, lest still you should refuse
And show caprice that nothing can excuse:
Safe as you are from doing aught unmeet,
You sometimes trifle at your father’s seat;
The Actian fight in miniature you play,
With boats for ships, your lake for Hadria’s bay,
Your brother for your foe, your slaves for crews,
And so you battle till you win or lose.
Let your friend see you share his taste, he’ll vow
He never knew what sport was like till now.
Well, to proceed; beware, if there is room
For warning, what you mention, and to whom;
Avoid a ceaseless questioner; he burns
To tell the next he talks with what he learns;
Wide ears retain no secrets, and you know
You can’t get back a word you once let go.
Look round and round the man you recommend,
For yours will be the shame should he offend.
Sometimes we’re duped; a protege dragged down
By his own fault must e’en be left to drown,
That you may help another known and tried,
And show yourself his champion if belied;
For when ‘gainst him detraction forks her tongue,
Be sure she’ll treat you to the same ere long.
No time for sleeping with a fire next door;
Neglect such things, they only blaze the more.
A patron’s service is a strange career;
The tiros love it, but the experts fear.
You, while you’re sailing on a prosperous tack,
Look out for squalls which yet may drive you back.
The gay dislike the grave, the staid the pert,
The quick the slow, the lazy the alert;
Hard drinkers hate the sober, though he swear
Those bouts at night are more than he can bear.
Unknit your brow; the silent man is sure
To pass for crabbed, the modest for obscure.
Meantime, while thoughts like these your mind engage,
Neglect not books nor converse with the sage;
Ply them with questions; lead them on to tell
What things make life go happily and well;
How cure desire, the soul’s perpetual dearth?
How moderate care for things of trifling worth?
Is virtue raised by culture or self-sown?
What soothes annoy, and makes your heart your own?
Is peace procured by honours, pickings, gains,
Or, sought in highways, is she found in lanes?
For me, when freshened by my spring’s pure cold
Which makes my villagers look pinched and old,
What prayers are mine? “O may I yet possess
The goods I have, or, if Heaven pleases, less!
Let the few years that Fate may grant me still
Be all my own, not held at others’ will!
Let me have books, and stores for one year hence,
Nor make my life one flutter of suspense!”
But I forbear: sufficient ’tis to pray
To Jove for what he gives and takes away:
Grant life, grant fortune, for myself I’ll find
That best of blessings, a contented mind.
XIX. To Maecenas.
If truth there be in old Cratinus’ song,
No verse, you know, Maecenas, can live long
Writ by a water-drinker. Since the day
When Bacchus took us poets into pay
With fauns and satyrs, the celestial Nine
Have smelt each morning of last evening’s wine.
The praises heaped by Homer on the bowl
At once convict him as a thirsty soul:
And father Ennius ne’er could be provoked
To sing of battles till his lips were soaked.
“Let temperate folk write verses in the hall
Where bonds change hands, abstainers not at all;”
So ran my edict: now the clan drinks hard,
And vinous breath distinguishes a bard.
What if a man appeared with gown cut short,
Bare feet, grim visage, after Cato’s sort?
Would you respect him, hail him from henceforth
The heir of Cato’s mind, of Cato’s worth?
The wretched Moor, who matched himself in wit
With keen Timagenes, in sunder split.
Faults are soon copied: should my colour fail,
Our bards drink cummin, hoping to look pale.
Mean, miserable apes! the coil you make
Oft gives my heart, and oft my sides, an ache.
Erect and free I walk the virgin sod,
Too proud to tread the paths by others trod.
The man who trusts himself, and dares step out,
Soon sets the fashion to the inferior rout.
‘Tis I who first to Italy have shown
Iambics, quarried from the Parian stone;
Following Archilochus in rhythm and stave,
But not the words that dug Lycambes’ grave.
Yet think not that I merit scantier bays,
Because in form I reproduce his lays:
Strong Sappho now and then adopts a tone
From that same lyre, to qualify her own;
So does Alcaeus, though in all beside,
Style, order, thought, the difference is wide;
‘Gainst no false fair he turns his angry Muse,
Nor for her guilty father twists the noose.
Aye, and Alcaeus’ name, before unheard,
My Latian harp has made a household word.
Well may the bard feel proud, whose pen supplies
Unhackneyed strains to gentle hands and eyes.
Ask you what makes the uncourteous reader laud
My works at home, but run them down abroad?
I stoop not, I, to catch the rabble’s votes
By cheap refreshments or by cast-off coats,
Nor haunt the benches where your pedants swarm,
Prepared by turns to listen and perform.
That’s what this whimpering means. Suppose I say
“Your theatres have ne’er been in my way,
Nor I in theirs: large audiences require
Some heavier metal than my thin-drawn wire:”
“You put me off,” he answers, “with a sneer:
Your works are kept for Jove’s imperial ear:
Yes, you’re a paragon of bards, you think,
And no one else brews nectar fit to drink.”
What can I do? ’tis an unequal match;
For if my nose can sniff, his nails can scratch:
I say the place won’t snit me, and cry shame;
“E’en fencers get a break ‘twixt game and game.”
Games oft have ugly issue: they beget
Unhealthy competition, fume and fret:
And fume and fret engender in their turn
Battles that bleed, and enmities that burn.
XX. To His Book.
To street and market-place I see you look
With wistful longing, my adventurous book,
That on the stalls for sale you may be seen,
Rubbed by the binder’s pumice smooth and clean.
You chafe at look and key, and court the view
Of all the world, disdainful of the few.
Was this your breeding? go where you would go;
When once sent out, you won’t come back, you know.
“What mischief have I done?” I hear you whine,
When some one hurts those feelings, now so fine;
For hurt you’re sure to be; when people pall
Of reading you, they’ll crush and fold you small.
If my prophetic soul be not at fault
From indignation at your rude revolt,
Your doom, methinks, is easy to foretell:
While you’ve your gloss on, Rome will like you well:
Then, when you’re thumbed and soiled by vulgar hands,
You’ll feed the moths, or go to distant lands.
Ah, then you’ll mind your monitor too late,
While he looks on and chuckles at your fate,
Like him who, pestered by his donkey’s vice,
Got off and pushed it down the precipice;
For who would lose his temper and his breath
To keep a brute alive that’s bent on death?
Yet one thing more: your fate may be to teach
In some suburban school the parts of speech,
And, maundering over grammar day by day,
Lisp, prattle, drawl, grow childish, and decay.
Well, when in summer afternoons you see
Men fain to listen, tell them about me:
Tell them that, born a freedman’s son, possessed
Of slender means, I soared beyond my nest,
That so whate’er’s deducted for my birth
May count as assets on the score of worth;
Say that I pleased the greatest of my day:
Then draw my picture;—prematurely grey,
Of little person, fond of sunny ease,
Lightly provoked, but easy to appease.
Last, if my age they ask you, let them know
That I was forty-four not long ago,
In the December of last year, the same
That goes by Lepidus’ and Lollius’ name.
THE EPISTLES BOOK II.
I. To Augustus.
Since you, great Caesar, singly wield the charge
Of Rome’s concerns, so manifold and large,
With sword and shield the commonwealth protect,
With morals grace it, and with laws correct,
The bard, methinks, would do a public wrong
Who, having gained your ear, should keep it long.
Quirinus, Bacchus, and the Jove-born pair,
Though now invoked with in cense, gifts, and prayer,
While yet on earth they civilized their kind,
Tilled lands, built cities, properties assigned,
Oft mourned for man’s ingratitude, and found
The race they served less thankful than the ground.
The prince whose fated vassalage subdued
Fell Hydra’s power and all the monster brood,
Soon found that envy, worse than all beside,
Could only be extinguished when he died.
He that outshines his age is like a torch,
Which, when it blazes high, is apt to scorch:
Men hate him while he lives: at last, no doubt,
He wins affection—when his light is out.
You, while in life, are honoured as divine,
And vows and oaths are taken at your shrine;
So Rome pays homage to her man of men,
Ne’er seen on earth before, ne’er to be seen again.
But this wise nation, which for once thinks true,
That nought in Greece or here can rival you,
To all things else a different test applies,
And looks on living worth with jaundiced eyes:
While, as for ancient models, take the code
Which to the ten wise men our fathers owed,
The treaties made ‘twixt Gabii’s kings and Home’s,
The pontiffs’ books, the bards’ forgotten tomes,
They’ll swear the Muses framed them every one
In close divan on Alba’s Helicon.
But what’s the argument? the bards of Greece
And those of Rome must needs be of a piece;
As there the oldest hold the foremost place,
So here, ‘twould seem, the same will be the case.
Is this their reasoning? they may prove as well
An olive has no stone, a nut no shell.
Soon, flattered by such dexterous logic, we
Shall think we’ve gained the summit of the tree;
In art, in song our rivals we outdo,
And, spite of all their oil, in wrestling too.
Or is it said that poetry’s like wine
Which age, we know, will mellow and refine?
Well, let me grant the parallel, and ask
How many years a work must be in cask.
A bard who died a hundred years ago,
With whom should he be reckoned, I would know?
The priceless early or the worthless late?
Come, draw a line which may preclude debate.
“The bard who makes his century up has stood
The test: we call him sterling, old, and good.”
Well, here’s a poet now, whose dying day
Fell one month later, or a twelvemonth, say:
Whom does he count with? with the old, or them
Whom we and future times alike contemn?
“Aye, call him old, by favour of the court,
Who falls a month, or e’en a twelvemonth short.”
Thanks for the kind permission! I go on,
And pull out years, like horse-hairs, one by one,
While all forlorn the baffled critic stands,
Fumbling a naked stump between his hands,
Who looks for worth in registers, and knows
No inspiration but what death bestows.
Ennius, the stout and wise, in critic phrase
The analogue of Homer in these days,
Enjoys his ease, nor cares how he redeems
The gorgeous promise of his peacock dreams.
Who reads not Naevius? still he lives enshrined
A household god in every Roman mind.
So as we reckon o’er the heroic band
We call Pacuvius learned, Accius grand;
Afranius wears Menander’s robe with grace;
Plautus moves on at Epicharmus’ pace;
In force and weight Caecilius bears the palm;
While Terence—aye, refinement is his charm.
These are Rome’s classics; these to see and hear
She throngs the bursting playhouse year by year:
‘Tis these she musters, counts, reviews, displays,
From Livius’ time to our degenerate days.
Sometimes the public sees like any lynx;
Sometimes, if ’tis not blind, at least it blinks.
If it extols the ancient sous of song
As though they were unrivalled, it goes wrong:
If it allows there’s much that’s obsolete,
Much hasty work, much rough and incomplete,
‘Tis just my view; ’tis judging as one ought;
And Jove was present when that thought was thought.
Not that I’d act the zealot, and desire
To fling the works of Livius on the fire,
Which once Orbilius, old and not too mild,
Made me repeat by whipping when a child;
But when I find them deemed high art, and praised
As only not perfection, I’m amazed,
That here and there a thought not ill expressed,
A verse well turned, should carry off the rest;
Just as an unfair sample, set to catch
The heedless customer, will sell the batch.
I chafe to hear a poem called third-rate
Not as ill written, but as written late;
To hear your critics for their ancients claim
Not charity, but honour and high fame.
Suppose I doubt if Atta’s humorous show
Moves o’er the boards with best leg first or no,
The fathers of the city all declare
That shame has fled from Rome, and gone elsewhere;
“What! show no reverence to his sacred shade
Whose scenes great Roscius and Aesopus played?”
Perhaps with selfish prejudice they deem
That nought but what they like deserves esteem,
Or, jealous of their juniors, won’t allow
That what they learnt in youth is rubbish now.
As for the pedant whose preposterous whim
Finds poetry in Numa’s Salian hymn,
Who would be thought to have explored alone
A land to him and me alike unknown,
‘Tis not that buried genius he regards:
No; ’tis mere spleen and spite to living bards.
Had Greece but been as carping and as cold
To new productions, what would now be old?
What standard works would there have been, to come
Beneath the public eye, the public thumb?
When, having done with fighting, Greece began
To care for trifles that refine the man,
And, borne aloft on Fortune’s full flood-tide,
Went drifting on to luxury and pride,
Of athletes and of steeds by turns she raved,
Loved ivory, bronze, and marble deftly graved,
Hung raptured on a painting, mind and eye,
Now leant to music, now to tragedy,
Like a young child that hankers for a toy,
Then throws it down when it begins to cloy.
With change of fortune nations change their minds:
So much for happy peace and prosperous winds.
At Rome erewhile men rose by day-break, saw
Their clients at their homes, laid down the law,
Put money at good interest out to loan
Secured by names responsible and known,
Explained to younger folk, or learned from old,
How wealth might be increased, expense controlled.
Now our good town has taken a new fit:
Each man you meet by poetry is bit;
Pert boys, prim fathers dine in, wreaths of bay,
And ‘twixt the courses warble out their lay.
E’en I, who vow I never write a verse,
Am found as false as Parthia, maybe worse;
Before the dawn I rouse myself, and call
For pens and parchment, writing-desk and all.
None dares be pilot who ne’er steered a craft;
No untrained nurse administers a draught;
None but skilled workmen handle workmen’s tools:
But verses all men scribble, wise or fools.
And yet this scribbling is a harmless craze,
And boasts in fact some few redeeming traits.
Avarice will scarce find lodging in a heart
Whose every thought is centred on its art;
He lays no subtle schemes, your dreamy bard,
To circumvent his partner or his ward;
Content with pulse and bread of ration corn,
Mres, losses, runaways he laughs to scorn;
Useless in camp, at home he serves the state,
That is, if small can minister to great.
His lessons form the child’s young lips, and wean
The boyish ear from words and tales unclean;
As years roll on, he moulds the ripening mind,
And makes it just and generous, sweet and kind;
He tells of worthy precedents, displays
The example of the past to after days,
Consoles affliction, and disease allays.
Had Rome no poets, who would teach the train
Of maids and spotless youths their ritual strain?
Schooled by the bard, they lift their voice to heaven,
And feel the wished-for aid already given,
Prom brazen skies call down abundant showers,
Are heard when sickness threats or danger lowers,
Win for a war-worn land the smiles of peace,
And crown the year with plentiful increase.
Song checks the hand of Jove in act to smite;
Song soothes the dwellers in abysmal night.
Our rustic forefathers in days of yore,
Robust though frugal, and content though poor,
When, after harvest done, they sought repair
From toils which hope of respite made them bear,
Were wont their hard-earned leisure to enjoy
With those who shared their labour, wife and boy;
With porker’s blood the Earth they would appease,
With milk Silvanus, guardian of their trees,
With flowers and wine the Genius, who repeats
That life is short, and so should have its sweets.
‘Twas hence Fescennia’s privilege began,
Where wit had licence, and man bantered man;
And the wild sport, though countrified and rough,
Passed off each year acceptably enough;
Till jokes grew virulent, and rabid spite
Ran loose through houses, free to bark and bite.
The wounded shrieked; the unwounded came to feel
That things looked serious for the general weal:
So laws were passed with penalties and pains
To guard the lieges from abusive strains,
And poets sang thenceforth in sweeter tones,
Compelled to please by terror for their bones.
Greece, conquered Greece, her conqueror subdued,
And Rome grew polished, who till then was rude;
The rough Saturnian measure had its day,
And gentler arts made savagery give way:
Yet traces of the uncouth past lived on
For many a year, nor are they wholly gone,
For ’twas not till the Punic wars were o’er
That Rome found time Greek authors to explore,
And try, by digging in that virgin field,
What Sophocles and Aeschylus could yield.
Nay, she essayed a venture of her own,
And liked to think she’d caught the tragic tone;
And so she has:—the afflatus comes on hot;
But out, alas! she deems it shame to blot.
‘Tis thought that comedy, because its source
Is common life, must be a thing of course,
Whereas there’s nought so difficult, because
There’s nowhere less allowance made for flaws.
See Plautus now: what ill-sustained affairs
Are his close fathers and his love-sick heirs!
How farcical his parasites! how loose
And down at heel he wears his comic shoes!
For, so he fills his pockets, nought he heeds
Whether the play’s a failure or succeeds.
Drawn to the house in glory’s car, the bard
Is made by interest, by indifference marred:
So slight the cause that prostrates or restores
A mind that lives for plaudits and encores.
Nay, I forswear the drama, if to win
Or lose the prize can make me plump or thin.
Then too it tries an author’s nerve, to find
The class in numbers strong, though weak in mind,
The brutal brainless mob, who, if a knight
Disputes their judgment, bluster and show fight,
Call in the middle of a play for bears
Or boxers;—’tis for such the rabble cares.
But e’en the knights have changed, and now they prize
Delighted ears far less than dazzled eyes.
The curtain is kept down four hours or more,
While horse and foot go hurrying o’er the floor,
While crownless majesty is dragged in chains,
Chariots succeed to chariots, wains to wains,
Whole fleets of ships in long procession pass,
And captive ivory follows captive brass.
O, could Democritus return to earth,
In truth ‘twould wake his wildest peals of mirth,
To see a milkwhite elephant, or shape
Half pard, half camel, set the crowd agape!
He’d eye the mob more keenly than the shows,
And find less food for sport in these than those;
While the poor authors—he’d suppose their play
Addressed to a deaf ass that can but bray.
For where’s the voice so strong as to o’ercome
A Roman theatre’s discordant hum?
You’d think you heard the Gargan forest roar
Or Tuscan billows break upon the shore,
So loud the tumult waxes, when they see
The show, the pomp, the foreign finery.
Soon as the actor, thus bedizened, stands
In public view, clap go ten thousand hands.
“What said he?” Nought. “Then what’s the attraction? “Why,
That woollen mantle with the violet dye.
But lest you think ’tis niggard praise I fling
To bards who soar where I ne’er stretched a wing,
That man I hold true master of his art
Who with fictitious woes can wring my heart,
Can rouse me, soothe me, pierce me with the thrill
Of vain alarm, and, as by magic skill,
Bear me to Thebes, to Athens, where he will.
Now turn to us shy mortals, who, instead
Of being hissed and acted, would be read:
We claim your favour, if with worthy gear
You’d fill the temple Phoebus holds so dear,
And give poor bards the stimulus of hope
To aid their progress up Parnassus’ slope.
Poor bards! much harm to our own cause we do
(It tells against myself, but yet ’tis true),
When, wanting you to read us, we intrude
On times of business or of lassitude,
When we lose temper if a friend thinks fit
To find a fault or two with what we’ve writ,
When, unrequested, we again go o’er
A passage we recited once, before,
When we complain, forsooth, our laboured strokes,
Our dexterous turns, are lost on careless folks,
When we expect, so soon as you’re informed
That ours are hearts by would-be genius warmed,
You’ll send for us instanter, end our woes
With a high hand, and make us all compose.
Yet greatness, proved in war and peace divine,
Had best be jealous who should keep its shrine:
The sacred functions of the temple-ward
Were ill conferred on an inferior bard.
A blunderer was Choerilus; and yet
This blunderer was Alexander’s pet,
And for the ill-stamped lines that left his mint
Received good money with the royal print.
Ink spoils what touches it: indifferent lays
Blot out the exploits they pretend to praise.
Yet the same king who bought bad verse so dear
In other walks of art saw true and clear;
None but Lysippus, so he willed by law,
Might model him, none but Apelles draw.
But take this mind, in paintings and in bronze
So ready to distinguish geese from swans,
And bid it judge of poetry, you’d swear
“Twas born and nurtured in Boeotian air.
Still, bards there are whose excellence commends
The sovereign judgment that esteems them friends,
Virgil and Varius; when your hand confers
Its princely bounty, all the world concurs.
And, trust me, human features never shone
With livelier truth through brass or breathing stone
Than the great genius of a hero shines
Through the clear mirror of a poet’s lines.
Nor is it choice (ah, would that choice were all!)
Makes my dull Muse in prose-like numbers crawl,
When she might sing of rivers and strange towns,
Of mountain fastnesses and barbarous crowns,
Of battles through the world compelled to cease,
Of bolts that guard the God who guards the peace,
And haughty Parthia through defeat and shame
By Caesar taught to fear the Roman name:
‘Tis strength that lacks: your dignity disdains
The mean support of ineffectual strains,
And modesty forbids me to essay
A theme whose weight would make my powers give way.
Officious zeal is apt to be a curse
To those it loves, especially in verse;
For easier ’tis to learn and recollect
What moves derision than what claims respect.
He’s not my friend who hawks in every place
A waxwork parody of my poor face;
Nor were I flattered if some silly wight
A stupid poem in my praise should write:
The gift would make me blush, and I should dread
To travel with my poet, all unread,
Down to the street where spice and pepper’s sold,
And all the wares waste paper’s used to fold.
II. To Julius Florus.
Dear Florus, justly high in the good grace
Of noble Nero, let’s suppose a case;
A man accosts you with a slave for sale,
Born, say, at Gabii, and begins his tale:
“See, here’s a lad who’s comely, fair, and sound;
I’ll sell him, if you will, for sixty pound.
He’s quick, and answers to his master’s look,
Knows Greek enough to read a simple book
Set him to what you like, he’ll learn with ease;
Soft clay, you know, takes any form you please;
His voice is quite untrained, but still, I think,
You’ll like his singing, as you sit and drink.
Excuse professions; they’re but stale affairs,
Which chapmen use for getting off their waves.
I’m quite indifferent if you buy or no:
Though I’m but poor, there’s nothing that I owe.
No dealer’d use you thus; nay, truth to tell,
I don’t treat all my customers so well.
He loitered once, and fearing whipping, did
As boys will do, sneaked to the stairs and hid.
So, if this running off be not a, vice
Too bad to pardon, let me have my price.”
The man would get his money, I should say,
Without a risk of having to repay.
You make the bargain knowing of the flaw;
‘Twere mere vexatiousness to take the law.
‘Tis so with me; before you left, I said
That correspondence was my rock ahead,
Lest, when you found that ne’er an answer came
To all your letters, you should call it shame.
But where’s my vantage if you won’t agree
To go by law, because the law’s with me?
Nay more, you say I’m faithless to my vow
In sending you no verses. Listen now:
A soldier of Lucullus’s, they say,
Worn out at night by marching all the day,
Lay down to sleep, and, while at ease he snored,
Lost to a farthing all his little hoard.
This woke the wolf in him;—’tis strange how keen
The teeth will grow with but the tongue between;—
Mad with the foe and with himself, off-hand
He stormed a treasure-city, walled and manned,
Destroys the garrison, becomes renowned,
Gets decorations and two hundred pound.
Soon after this the general had in view
To take some fortress, where I never knew;
He singles out our friend, and makes a speech
That e’en might drive a coward to the breach:
“Go, my fine fellow! go where valour calls!
There’s fame and money too inside those walls.”
“I’m not your man,” returned the rustic wit:
“He makes a hero who has lost his kit.”
At Rome I had my schooling, and was taught
Achilles’ wrath, and all the woes it brought;
At classic Athens, where I went erelong,
I learnt to draw the line ‘twixt right and wrong,
And search for truth, if so she might be seen,
In academic groves of blissful green;
But soon the stress of civil strife removed
My adolescence from the scenes it loved,
And ranged me with a force that could not stand
Before the might of Caesar’s conquering hand.
Then when Philippi turned me all adrift
A poor plucked fledgeling, for myself to shift,
Bereft of property, impaired in purse,
Sheer penury drove me into scribbling verse:
But now, when times are altered, having got
Enough, thank heaven, at least to boil my pot,
I were the veriest madman if I chose
To write a poem rather than to doze.
Our years keep taking toll as they move on;
My feasts, my frolics are already gone,
And now, it seems, my verses must go too:
Bestead so sorely, what’s a man to do?
Aye, and besides, my friends who’d have me chant
Are not agreed upon the thing they want:
You like an ode; for epodes others cry,
While some love satire spiced and seasoned high.
Three guests, I find, for different dishes call,
And how’s one host to satisfy them all?
I bring your neighbour what he asks, you glower:
Obliging you, I turn two stomachs sour.
Think too of Rome: can I write verses here,
Where there’s so much to tease and interfere?
One wants me for his surety; one, still worse,
Bids me leave work to hear him just rehearse;
One’s ill on Aventine, the farthest end,
One on Quirinal; both must see their friend.
Observe the distance. “What of that?” you say,
“The streets are clear; make verses by the way.”
There goes a builder’s gang, all haste and steam;
Yon crane lifts granite, or perhaps a beam;
Waggons and funerals jostle; a mad dog
Ran by just now; that splash was from a hog:
Go now, abstract yourself from outward things,
And “hearken what the inner spirit sings.”
Bards fly from town and haunt the wood and glade;
Bacchus, their chief, likes sleeping in the shade;
And how should I, with noises all about,
Tread where they tread and make their footprints out?
Take idle Athens now; a wit who’s spent
Seven years in studying there, on books intent,
Turns out as stupid as a stone, and shakes
The crowd with laughter at his odd mistakes:
Here, in this roaring, tossing, weltering sea,
To tune sweet lyrics, is that work for me?
Two brothers, counsellor and pleader, went
Through life on terms of mutual compliment;
That thought the other Gracchus, this supposed
His brother Mucius; so they praised and prosed.
Our tuneful race the selfsame madness goads:
My friend writes elegies, and I write odes:
O how we puff each other! “‘Tis divine;
The Muses had a hand in every line.”
Remark our swagger as we pass the dome
Built to receive the future bards of Rome;
Then follow us and listen what we say,
How each by turns awards and takes the bay.
Like Samnite fencers, with elaborate art
We hit in tierce to be hit back in quart.
I’m dubbed Alcaeus, and retire in force:
And who is he? Callimachus of course:
Or, if ’tis not enough, I bid him rise
Mimnermus, and he swells to twice his size.
Writing myself, I’m tortured to appease
Those wasp-like creatures, our poetic bees:
But when my pen’s laid down, my sense restored,
I rest from boring, rest from being bored.
Bad poets are our jest: yet they delight,
Just like their betters, in whate’er they write,
Hug their fool’s paradise, and if you’re slack
To give them praise, themselves supply the lack.
But he who meditates a work of art,
Oft as he writes, will act the censor’s part:
Is there a word wants nobleness and grace,
Devoid of weight, unworthy of high place?
He bids it go, though stiffly it decline,
And cling and cling, like suppliant to a shrine:
Choice terms, long hidden from the general view,
He brings to day and dignifies anew,
Which, once on Cato’s and Cethegus’ lips,
Now pale their light and suffer dim eclipse;
New phrases, in the world of books unknown,
So use but father them, he makes his own:
Fluent and limpid, like a crystal stream,
He makes Rome’s soil with genial produce teem:
He checks redundance, harshnesses improves
By wise refinement, idle weeds removes;
Like an accomplished dancer, he will seem
By turns a Satyr and a Polypheme;
Yet all the while ’twill be a game of skill,
Where sport means toil, and muscle bends to will.
Yet, after all, I’d rather far be blind
To my own faults, though patent to mankind,
Nay, live in the belief that foul is fair,
Than see and grin in impotent despair.
There was an Argive nobleman, ’tis said,
Who all day long had acting in his head:
Great characters on shadowy boards appeared,
While he looked on and listened, clapped and cheered:
In all things else he fairly filled his post,
Friendly as neighbour, amiable as host;
Kind to his wife, indulgent to his slave,
He’d find a bottle sweated and not rave;
He’d scorn to run his head against a wall;
Show him a pit, and he’d avoid the fall.
At last, when quarts of hellebore drunk neat,
Thanks to his kin, had wrought a cure complete,
Brought to himself again, “Good friends,” quoth he,
“Call you this saving? why, ’tis murdering me;
Your stupid zeal has spoilt my golden days,
And robbed me of a most delicious craze.”
Wise men betimes will bid adieu to toys,
And give up idle games to idle boys;
Not now to string the Latian lyre, but learn
The harmony of life, is my concern.
So, when I commune with myself, I state
In words like these my side in the debate:
“If no amount of water quenched your thirst,
You’d tell the doctor, not go on and burst:
Experience shows you, as your riches swell
Your wants increase; have you no friend to tell?
A healing simple for a wound you try;
It does no good; you put the simple by:
You’re told that silly folk whom heaven may bless
With ample means get rid of silliness;
You test it, find ’tis not the case with you:
Then why not change your Mentor for a new?
Did riches make you wiser, set you free
From idle fear, insane cupidity,
You’d blush, and rightly too, if earth contained
Another man more fond of what he gained.
Now put the matter thus: whate’er is bought
And duly paid for, is our own, we’re taught:
Consult a lawyer, and he’ll soon produce
A case where property accrues from use.
The land by which you live is yours; most true,
And Orbius’ bailiff really works for you;
He, while he ploughs the acres that afford
Flour for your table, owns you for his lord;
You pay your price, whate’er the man may ask,
Get grapes and poultry, eggs and wine in cask;
Thus, by degrees, proceeding at this rate,
You purchase first and last the whole estate,
Which, when it last was in the market, bore
A good stiff price, two thousand say, or more.
What matters it if, when you eat your snack,
‘Twas paid for yesterday, or ten years back?
There’s yonder landlord, living like a prince
On manors near Aricia, bought long since;
He eats bought cabbage, though he knows it not;
He burns bought sticks at night to boil his pot;
Yet all the plain, he fancies, to the stone
That stands beside the poplars, is his own.
But who can talk of property in lands
Exposed to ceaseless risk of changing hands,
Whose owner purchase, favour, lawless power,
And lastly death, may alter in an hour?
So, with heirs following heirs like waves at sea,
And no such thing as perpetuity,
What good are farmsteads, granaries, pasture-grounds
That stretch long leagues beyond Calabria’s bounds,
If Death, unbribed by riches, mows down all
With his unsparing sickle, great and small?
“Gems, marbles, ivory, Tuscan statuettes,
Pictures, gold plate, Gaetulian coverlets,
There are who have not; one there is, I trow,
Who cares not greatly if he has or no.
This brother loves soft couches, perfumes, wine,
More than the groves of palmy Palestine;
That toils all day, ambitious to reclaim
A rugged wilderness with axe and flame;
And none but he who watches them from birth,
The Genius, guardian of each child of earth,
Born when we’re born and dying when we die,
Now storm, now sunshine, knows the reason why
I will not hoard, but, though my heap be scant,
Will take on each occasion what I want,
Nor fear what my next heir may think, to find
There’s less than he expected left behind;
While, ne’ertheless, I draw a line between
Mirth and excess, the frugal and the mean.
‘Tis not extravagance, but plain good sense,
To cease from getting, grudge no fair expense,
And, like a schoolboy out on holiday,
Take pleasure as it comes, and snatch one’s play.
“So ’twill not sink, what matter if my boat
Be big or little? still I keep afloat,
And voyage on contented, with the wind
Not always contrary, nor always kind,
In strength, wit, worth, rank, prestige, money-bags,
Behind the first, yet not among the lags.
“You’re not a miser: has all other vice
Departed in the train of avarice,
Or do ambitious longings, angry fret,
The terror of the grave, torment you yet?
Can you make sport of portents, gipsy crones,
Hobgoblins, dreams, raw head and bloody bones?
Do you count up your birthdays year by year,
And thank the gods with gladness and blithe cheer,
O’erlook the failings of your friends, and grow
Gentler and better as your sand runs low?
Where is the gain in pulling from the mind
One thorn, if all the rest remain behind?
If live you cannot as befits a man,
Make room, at least, you may for those that can.
You’ve frolicked, eaten, drunk to the content
Of human appetite; ’tis time you went,
Lest, when you’ve tippled freely, youth, that wears
Its motley better, hustle you down stairs.”
READ MORE POEMS BY THIS POET:
- Book III: XXIV. Destructive Wealth
- Book I: XV. Nereus’ Prophecy Of Troy
- Book III: IV. Temper Power With Wisdom
- Book III: I. Odi Profanum
- Book I: XXVI. A Garland For Lamia
- Book IV: III. To The Muse
- Book III: XXIX. Fortune
- Epistola Ad Pisones (De Arte Poëtica Liber)
- Book I: II. To Augustus
- Book III: XIV. Augustus Returns