Sunday, December 04, 2011


The Praises of a Country-Life

Samuel Johnson, quoted in Boswell's Life (May 17, 1778):
He said, 'The lyrical part of Horace never can be perfectly translated; so much of the excellence is in the numbers and the expression. Francis has done it best; I'll take his, five out of six, against them all.'
Francis is Philip Francis (1708–1773). Karl Maurer sent me a copy of Francis' translation of Horace's second epode, not "the lyrical part of Horace," but a splendid poem nonetheless, from A Poetical Translation of the Works of Horace. With the Original Text, and Critical Notes collected from his best Latin and French Commentators. By the Revd Mr. Philip Francis...The third edition, Vol. 1, p. 422 ff.:
Epode II. The Praises of a Country-Life.

        Like the first Mortals blest is He,
From Debts, and Mortgages, and Business free,
        With his own Team who plows the Soil,
Which grateful once confess'd his Father's Toil.
        The Sounds of War nor break his Sleep,
Nor the rough Storm that harrows up the Deep;
        He shuns the Courtier's haughty Doors,
And the loud Science of the Bar abjures.
        Sometimes his marriageable Vines
Around the lofty Bridegroom Elm he twines,
        Or lops the vagrant Boughs away,
Ingrafting better as the old decay;
        Or in the lengthening Vale surveys
His lowing Herd safe-wandering as they graze;
        Or careful stores the flowing Gold
Prest from the Hive, or sheers his tender Fold;
        Or when with various Fruits o'erspread
The mellow Autumn lifts his beauteous Head,
        His grafted Pears or Grapes that vye
With the rich Purple of the Tyrian Dye,
        Grateful he gathers, and repays
His Guardian Gods on their own festal Days.
        Sometimes beneath an ancient Shade,
Or careless on the matted Grass he's laid,
        While glide the Mountain Streams along,
And Birds in Forests chaunt their plaintive Song;
        Murmuring the lucid Fountain flows,
And with its Murmurs courts him to Repose.
        But when the Rain and Snows appear,
And wintry Jove loud thunders o'er the Year,
        With Hounds he drives, into the Toils,
The foaming Boar, and triumphs in his Spoils:
        Or for voracious Thrushes lays
His Nets, and with delusive Baits betrays;
        Or artful sets the springing Snare,
To catch the stranger Crane, or timorous Hare.
        Thus happy, who would stoop to prove
The Pains, the Wrongs, and Injuries of Love?
        But if a chaste and virtuous Wife
Assist him in the tender Cares of Life,
        Of Sun-burnt Charms, but honest Fame
(Such as the Sabine, or Apulian Dame)
        If, ere her wearied Spouse return,
The sacred Fire with good old Timber burn;
        Or if she milk her swelling Kine,
Or in their Folds his happy Flocks confine;
        If unbought Dainties crown their Feast,
And luscious Wines from this Year's Vintage prest;
        No more should curious Oysters please,
Or Fish, the Luxury of foreign Seas,
        (If Eastern Tempests, thundering o'er
The wintry Wave, shall drive them to our Shore)
        Nor Wild-Fowl of delicious Taste,
From distant Climates brought to crown the Feast,
        Shall e'er so grateful prove to me,
As Olives gather'd from their unctuous Tree,
        Or Herbs, that love the flowery Field,
And chearful Health with pure Digestion yield;
        Or Fatling, on the festal Day,
Or Kid just rescued from some Beast of Prey.
        Amid the Feast how joys he to behold
His well-fed Flocks home hasting to their Fold!
        Or see his labour'd Oxen bow
Their languid Necks, and drag th'inverted Plow,
        At Night his numerous Slaves to view
Round his domestic Gods their Mirth pursue!
        The Usurer spoke; determin'd to begin
A Country-Life, he calls his Money in,
        But, ere the Moon was in her Wane,
The Wretch had put it out to Use again.
It's worth a few minutes to read or re-read the Latin text, together with the appreciation of W.Y. Sellar, The Roman Poets of the Augustan Age: Horace and the Elegaic Poets (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892), pp. 126-129.

In his email Karl Maurer remarked:
It is amazing, isn't it, how universally beloved this poem is? It's very hard to imagine any human creature not liking it. During the 20th century it became fashionable to say that the poem's meaning is in its last 4 lines, and Horace is actually mocking our longing for the country. But I doubt this; the usurer is 'a Wretch', as this translator says.
Telemaco Signorini (1835-1901),
Pascoli a Castiglioncello

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?