Okay, it’s snob time. Today we have a poem by Quintus Horatius Flaccus. Who he, you ask? Only one of the greatest lyric poets of all time is all. We know him simply as Horace.
Everybody’s heard of Horace. How many people do you know who’ve ever actually read anything by him? Invest a couple of minutes on the lines below and it’ll be you!
Let me set the scene. It’s a spring day in Italy 2,000 years ago, and Horace's friend Lucius Sestius is worried about money, his social position, and his love life. To which Horace replies:
Now the hard winter is breaking up with the welcome coming
Of spring and the spring winds; some fishermen,
Under a sky that looks changed, are hauling their
Down to the water; in the winter stables the cattleAre restless; so is the farmer sitting in front of his fire;
They want to be out of doors in field or pasture;
The frost is gone from the meadow grass in the
Maybe, somewhere, the Nymphs and Graces are dancing,
Under the moon the goddess Venus and her dancers;
Somewhere far in the depth of a cloudless sky
Vulcan is getting ready the storms of the coming summer.
Now is the time to garland your shining hair
With myrtle or with the flowers the free-giving earth
Now is the right time to offer the kid or lamb
In sacrifice to Faunus in the firelit shadowy grove.
Revenant white-faced Death is walking not knowing whether
He's going to knock at a rich man's door or a poor man's.
O good-looking fortunate Sestius, don't put your hope
in the future;
The night is falling; the shades are gathering around;
The walls of Pluto's shadowy house are closing you in.
There who will be lord of the feast? What will it matter,
What will it matter there, whether you fell in love
This or that girl with him, or he with her?
Did you note the translator’s use of “revenant”? Cool word. It means “One who returns” or, more to the point, “One who returns as a spirit after death,” meaning, usually, a ghost. I looked it up for you. Alas, I cannot tell you what Latin word Horace used, but from the context it almost certainly translated roughly as “creepy-scary spirit.” The gamers among you may want to remember this word.
Here’s what poet Robert Hass had to say about Horace:
“He was born when Rome was emerging as a world power. He fought, as a young man in those turbulent years, in the wars that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar, and wrote most of his poems in the age of Augustus.
“With Catullus and Virgil and Ovid, he's one of the four great lyric poets of ancient Rome. For English poets from Shakespeare's time to the end of the 19th century, he was the man. Horace spent most of his life in retirement on a modest farm in the country outside Rome. He wrote immensely civilized, poised, exquisitely polished, and apparently casual poems about the countryside and the Roman seasons, about not living in the Augustan equivalents of the corridors of power and the feeding frenzies of the media and the fevers of the deal. His values were the gentleman farmer's ideals. Balance was what he admired, independence, privacy, friendship, a sensible prosperity, good wine, the fruits of the season.”
And now you’ve read him! Don’t you feel ever so cultured? Trust me, nothing makes you feel scornfully superior to your fellow man like reading the classics.