Saturday, November 22, 2008


Seize the Day, Don't Fash Your Thumb

Of all the Odes of Horace, probably 1.11 is the best known. It contains the famous phrase carpe diem (seize the day). I recently happened on a fine version of the Ode by the Scots poet Robert Fergusson (1750-1774). I don't understand a couple of the words used by Fergusson, but my perplexity doesn't hinder my enjoyment. Most of the definitions I owe to the indispensable online Dictionary of the Scots Language.
Ne'er fash your thumb what gods decree
To be the weird o' you or me,
Nor deal in cantrip's kittle cunning
To speir how fast your days are running;
But patient lippen for the best,
Nor be in dowie thought opprest.
Whether we see mair winter's come,
Than this that spits wi' canker'd foam.
Now moisten weel your geyzen'd wa's
Wi' couthy friends and hearty blaws;
Ne'er let your hope o'ergang your days,
For eild and thraldom never stays;
The day looks gash, toot aff your horn,
Nor care ae strae about the morn.
ae: one, a single
blaws: blows (back-slappings?)
canker'd: gusty, stormy
cantrip: magic
couthy: agreeable, sociable
dowie: sad, melancholy
eild: age, time of life
fash: trouble, bother, fret (fash your thumb = care a rap)
gash: pale, dismal
geyzen'd: dried out
kittle: tricky
lippen: trust, have confidence
morn: tomorrow
speir: ask
strae: straw
wa's: ? The context requires something like weasand (Scots weason) = throat, but the only definitions I can find for wa's are walls and ways, from which I can extract no satisfactory sense. Or could it be waes = woes?
weird: fate, destiny

Roger Kuin writes about wa's:
The 'walls' don't bother me: I imagined instantly some dried-out walls of a wattle-and-daub Scots bothie badly in need of moistening by the body heat and the libations of a cheerful party with many wee drams -- some of them thrown at the walls, just out of high spirits (so to speak).

Here is a literal prose translation of Horace's Ode, followed by the Latin original:
Don't ask—it's forbidden to know—what final fate the gods have given to me and you, Leuconoe, and don't consult Babylonian horoscopes. How much better it is to accept whatever shall be, whether Jupiter has given many more winters or whether this is the last one, which now breaks the force of the Tuscan sea against the facing cliffs. Be wise, strain the wine, and trim distant hope within short limits. While we're talking, grudging time will already have fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in tomorrow.

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quicquid erit, pati,
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.

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