Thursday, March 22, 2007


Spring: Horace, Ode 4.7

A few months before his death, Samuel Johnson translated Horace's Ode 4.7:
The snow dissolv'd no more is seen,
The fields, and woods, behold, are green,
The changing year renews the plain,
The rivers know their banks again,

The sprightly Nymph and naked Grace
The mazy dance together trace.
The changing year's successive plan,
Proclaims mortality to Man.

Rough Winter's blasts to Spring give way,
Spring yields to Summer's sovereign ray,
Then Summer sinks in Autumn's reign,
And Winter chills the world again.

Her losses soon the Moon supplies,
But wretched Man, when once he lies
Where Priam and his sons are laid,
Is nought but Ashes and a Shade.

Who knows if Jove who counts our Score
Will toss us in a morning more?
What with your friend you nobly share
At least you rescue from your heir.

Not you, Torquatus, boast of Rome,
When Minos once has fix'd your doom,
Or Eloquence, or splendid birth,
Or Virtue shall replace on earth.

Hippolytus unjustly slain
Diana calls to life in vain,
Nor can the might of Theseus rend
The chains of hell that hold his friend.
English poet and classical scholar A.E. Housman (1859-1936) regarded this ode of Horace as "the most beautiful poem in ancient literature", in sharp contrast to his contemporary Wilamowitz, who dismissed Odes 4.7 and 4.12 as "insignificant spring poems". Housman's translation is beautiful in its own right:
The snows are fled away, leaves on the shaws
And grasses in the mead renew their birth,
The river to the river-bed withdraws,
And altered is the fashion of the earth.

The Nymphs and Graces three put off their fear
And unapparelled in the woodland play.
The swift hour and the brief prime of the year
Say to the soul, Thou wast not born for aye.

Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring
Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers
Comes autumn with his apples scattering;
Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.

But oh, whate'er the sky-led seasons mar,
Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams;
Come we where Tullus and where Ancus are
And good Aeneas, we are dust and dreams.

Torquatus, if the gods in heaven shall add
The morrow to the day, what tongue has told?
Feast then thy heart, for what thy heart has had
The fingers of no heir will ever hold.

When thou descendest once the shades among,
The stern assize and equal judgment o'er,
Not thy long lineage nor thy golden tongue,
No, nor thy righteousness, shall friend thee more.

Night holds Hippolytus the pure of stain,
Diana steads him nothing, he must stay;
And Theseus leaves Pirithous in the chain
The love of comrades cannot take away.

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