Thursday, October 16, 2008

731. Horace - Book II. Ode 16

Translated from the Latin by Mark Strand

When storm clouds closing in darken the sea
and cover the moon and hide the stars that might
have guided him across rough waters, the sailor
prays for peace;

the battle-weary Thracians pray for peace,
the Parthians with their fancy daggers
pray for peace, but peace cannot be bought
with purple, gold or gems;

and peace cannot be won with rank or money,
neither one can ease the soul's distress,
the worries and the nagging fears that flit
about in paneled rooms.

A man can please himself with little, a salt dish
handed down for generations can gleam upon
the table, and his sleep will not be ruined by
the sordidness of greed.

So why do we waste our time chasing down
possessions? Why do we leave home and head south
to a foreign land, a foreign sun? Who really
can escape himself?

Trouble leaps aboard the rich man's brigantine,
outruns the fastest horse, the nimblest deer,
is swifter than Eurus, the bad-weather wind
responsible for storms.

We should be happy in the here and now
and unconcerned with what the future holds;
we should blunt the edge of sorrow with a smile.
There is no perfect joy.

Achilles met with death when was young,
Tithonus lived on to be the shadow of
his former self; and fate might give to me
what it withholds from you.

Your fields are filled with lowing herds of prime
Sicilian cattle, and from your stable you
can hear the whinnies of your racing mare;
the clothes you have are made

of wool twice-dyed in African purple, whereas
it is my lot to have a smallish house,
a gift for turning Greek verse into Latin,
and scorn for the envious

Translated from the Latin by Christopher Smart

O Grosphus, he that is caught in the wide Aegean Sea; when a black tempest has obscured the moon, and not a star appears with steady light for the mariners, supplicates the gods for repose: for repose, Thrace furious in war; the quiver-graced Medes, for repose neither purchasable by jewels, nor by purple, nor by gold. For neither regal treasures nor the consul’s officer can remove the wretched tumults of the mind, nor the cares that hover about splendid ceilings. That man lives happily on a little, who can view with pleasure the old-fashioned family salt-cellar on his frugal board; neither anxiety nor sordid avarice robs him of gentle sleep. Why do we, brave for a short season, aim at many things? Why do we change our own for climates heated by another sun? Whoever, by becoming an exile from his country, escaped likewise from himself? Consuming care boards even brazen-beaked ships: nor does it quit the troops of horsemen, for it is more fleet than the stags, more fleet than the storm-driving east wind. A mind that is cheerful in its present state, will disdain to be solicitous any further, and can correct the bitters of life with a placid smile. Nothing is on all hands completely blessed. A premature death carried off the celebrated Achilles; a protracted old age wore down Tithonus; and time perhaps may extend to me, what it shall deny to you. Around you a hundred flocks bleat, and Sicilian heifers low; for your use the mare, fit for the harness, neighs; wool doubly dipped in the African purple-dye, clothes you: on me undeceitful fate has bestowed a small country estate, and the slight inspiration of the Grecian muse, and a contempt for the malignity of the vulgar.

American man of letters Franklin P. Adams (1881-1960) imitated Horace's ode in his collection of light verse In Other Words (1920).

Grosphus, a guy who's sailing in a tempest
On the Aegean when the moon is hidden --
He wants a rest, while stewing in his stateroom,
Weary and seasick.

Weary of war, what do the Thracians yearn for?
What seek the Medes, with quivers full of arrows?
What can't you buy with purple, gold or rubies?
Rest is the answer.

Not Morgan's cash, nor Rockefeller's money,
No blue-and-brass can drive away the willies
Caused by the care of elegant apartments,
Rugs and swell ceilings.

Wise the gazabe upon whose simple table
Old-fashioned truck like salt-and-pepper castors
Yet may be found. His bean is never bothered --
Sleeps like a hallboy.

Why do we fuss for one thing and another?
Why do we hike to Saranac or Newport?
How can a human leave himself behind him?
Answer: He cannot.

Worry can get a guy on the Olympic;
Worry can chase a colonel in the Army;
Swift as the wind, to use a new expression --
Care is some sprinter.

Merry and bright, the citizen who's cheerful
Won't worry much about to-morrow's breakfast.
"No one," he smiles, "who faces Time the pitcher
Wallops one thousand."

There was Achilles, cut off in his twenties,
And, au contraire, Tithonus was a hundred;
I may be lucky; you might be run over
Most any morning.

You've got a farm with fancy sheep and heifers;
You've got a mare all curry-combed and glossy;
Purple silk socks and purple fancy weskits --
You're a swell dresser.

And what has Fate, the undeceitful, slipped me?
Only a small apartment out in Harlem,
And, with a trick of turning snappy Sapphics,
Scorn for the roughneck.