Hexametrical Horace

— The stanchest lover of Horace would perhaps be the most prompt to declare that he is essentially untranslatable. Indeed, as to the favorite poet of each of us, we are quite sure to feel, above all else, the charm, the aroma as it were, of a familiar and intimate personality. One instinctively resents any attempt of a third person to repeat, in other tones, the utterances of the beloved voice. And Horace,

“To men grown old, or who are growing old,”

is in a peculiar sense such a well-tried and ever-welcome comrade on the sloping path trodden of all men. Of course the sterner critic of the idealist school will say that the Horatian thought is never either inspiring or novel, and that translation only reveals the naked poverty of the commonplace.

And having thus agreed, from points of view as diverse as may be, that our genial Augustan diner-out, amateur farmer, and versifier is inimitable, we thereupon, with hardly less unanimity and truly human consistency, set about our several versions. For surely every college-bred man or woman in the Club has before this begun trying to recall that dingy fly-leaf on which was scribbled, not the professor’s careful remark upon the peculiar shade of contingency in the subjunctive, and the reference to Andrews and Stoddard, § 242, 6, n. 4 a), but rather some jingling rhyme, much erased, interlined, and corrected, to the effect that

Soracte’s heights are white with snow,
The burdened pines are bending low,
The ice-bound brooks are still,

with the eminently relevant appeal to Thaliarchns to

Heap high the logs, drive out the cold,
And from the Sabine vintage old
A generous beaker fill.

How the dear old class-room in University, long since remodeled and forgotten, the boyish faces, row on row, — now scattered and deep-lined and bearded, if yet they are, — flashed across the imagination, one placid summer day of travel, when Soracte’s unmistakable sweeping curve suddenly shaped itself in green against the Sabine sky ! And now that, too, is a far-off memory

“Of a land beyond the sea.”

But to repine at the lapse of the inevitable years is to expose ourselves to the sharpest thrust of Horatian reproof.

At our time of life, it is chiefly the tolerant wisdom of the gentler satires and the mellow epistles that keeps its hold on our regard. To our boyish enthusiasm for the fiercest of the odes we look back somewhat as the poet himself did on the cruder follies of his own youth.

I to whom delicate robes and anointed hair were becoming.
Who, though with empty hands, was to Cinara dear, the rapacious,
I who tne flowing Falernian quaffed so early as midday,
Now love a simple repast, and a nap on the grass at the brookside;
Not of my follies ashamed, but a shame’t were still to indulge them.

Under our grimmer skies, the siesta, long ere we come to forty year, is best transferred to the study lounge ; but Ponkapog is not the valley of the Vicenza.

My fellow-members will have discovered by this time that my own project is to try how Horace, grown staid and middle-aged, sounds to an English ear in his own rhythm. There is no insufferable audacity in the attempt, at any rate, for two reasons. The hexameter was only less artificial and foreign to the Roman poet than to Kingsley or Clough ; and, moreover, Horace did not himself take it too seriously, and indeed earnestly disclaims any lofty poetic purpose or form.

First, from the number to whom the name of poet is granted,
I would except myself; for merely to keep to the metre
Surely you deem not enough; and if one scribbles, as I do,
Things far nearer to prose, you must not account him a poet.

And again, still alluding to the homely diction of satire, contrasting it with the mouth-filling words and phrases of Ennius’ heroic lines : —

If from the verses that I, now,
Or from those Lucilius made of old, you dissever
Merely the metre and rhythm, restoring our words to their order,
. . . You will descry not even the limbs of a poet dismembered.

Every constant reader of Maga, — and we of the Club surely never leave each others’ leaves uncut, — every lover of literature, I say, remembers Miss Preston’s visit to the site of Horace’s farm. We do not dare take down the bound volume to see if she transcribed there (perchance in the smooth - sliding free iambics that had anglicized the Georgies so gracefully) the glowing description of the Sabine farm from the sixteenth epistle ; for we hope the remorseless shears — the allusion is not a classical one, but merely a timorous glance at the editorial table — will not forbid us to give the lines here in our own fashion. Sir Theodore Martin, the most indefatigable of us all, remarks that this passage is “so vivid that it has been the chief means of identifying the locality.”

Lest you may question me whether my farm, most excellent Quinetius,
Feeds its master with grain, or makes him rich with its olives,
Or with its orchards and pastures, or vines that cover the elm-trees,
I, in colloquial fashion, will tell you its shape and position.
Only my shadowy valley indents the continuous mountains
Lying so that the sun at his coming looks on the right side,
Then, with retreating chariot, warming the left as he leaves it.
Surely the temperature you would praise; and what if the bushes
Bear in profusion scarlet berries, the oak and the ilex
Plentiful food for the herd provide, and shade for the master ?
You would say, with its verdure, Tarentum was hither transported.
There is a fountain, deserving to give its name to a streamlet.
Not more pure nor cooler in Thrace runs winding the Hebrus.
Helpful it is to an aching head or a stomach exhausted.
Such is my ingle; sweet, and, if you believe me, delightful ;
Keeping me sound and safe for you even in days of September.

There are other bits laid aside in our portfolio for this little mosaic, which we reluctantly leave uncopied. But one complete epistle, not long, but rising to a somewhat more earnest tone than usual, will serve to test, quite severely enough, no doubt, this special method of “ perversion ” (“ traduttore traditore ! ”), which is, so far as we are aware, as untried as it is obvious.

“ Honesty is the best policy,” says the business man to his son ; “ I have tried both ways.” And even so it is, after we are ourselves sated with the sight of foreign skies and year-long familiarity with the sounds of alien speech, that we begin to preach persuasively the blessedness of home-keeping contentment. Only our saintly Whittier, of all the rhyming craft, could be consistent as well as wise. His unrepining confession,

“ I know not how, in other lauds,
The changing seasons come and go,”

makes more comforting, if not convincing, his assurance,

“ He who wanders widest lifts
No more of beauty’s jealous veils
Than he who from his doorway sees
The miracle of flowers and trees ”

But Horace was like Longfellow, and indeed like us all, gifted or not to sing. We give the best years of youth eagerly, if we may, to hear

“ The Alpine torrent’s roar,
The mule-bells on the hills of Spain,
The beach at Elsinore,”

and then earnestly advise mankind, and particularly womankind, to rest content at the home fireside, aud

“ turn the world round with my hand,
Reading these poets’ rhymes.”

Horace had himself roamed in Asia, either in students’ vacations from Athens, or later, gathering recruits as Brutus’ lieutenant for that brief and luckless campaign, his only martial experience. The restlessness he reproves in his friend was not unfamiliar to his own soul, as many a burst of frankness reveals. Indeed, perhaps even here Bullatius is in a literal sense the poet’s alter ego. Of Lebedos we know less even than Horace did, but it is evidently an obscure and nearly deserted Asiatic seaport. Ulubræ apparently stood supreme even among the decaying Latian towns for its dullness and loneliness. The epistle is notable above all as containing the line proudly inscribed in an Italian autograph book by “Johannes Miltonius, Anglus,”

“ CæLUM non auimum muto dum trans mare curro. ” But the whole is as true and as helpful now as ever, since ennui and discontent are not Roman nor Anglo-Saxon alone.

Horace. What did you think, my friend, of far-famed
Lesbos and Chios ?
How about Samos the dainty, and Crœsus’ capital, Sardis?
Colophon, too, and Smyrna? Above their fame, or beneath it ?
Tiber’s stream and the Campus excel them far, do you tell me ?
Have you been praying for one of Attalus’ cities, I wonder ?
Lebedos is it you praise, of the sea and your journeyings wearied ?
Bullatius. Yes! You know what Lebedos is : more dead than Fidenæ,
Ay, or than Gabii; yet I would gladly abide there, forgetting
Those I have loved, and, expecting that they in their turn will forget me.
There I would dwell, and gaze from the shore on the furious waters.
Horace. If a man travel, in mud aud its rain, from Capua Romeward,
Drenched though he be, he will choose not to tarry for life in the tavern.
Even when chilled to the bones, we praise not the bath and the furnace,
Truly believing that they would make life full and successful :
Nor, if impetuous Auster has tossed you about on the billow,
Would you for that get rid of your vessel beyond the Ægean.
If you are perfectly sound, then Rhodes and fair Mitylene
Help you no more than a cloak in the dogdays, trunks in midwinter,
Or in December a plunge in the Tiber, a furnace in August.
Now that you may, and the face of Fortune is smiling upon you,
Here at Rome praise far-olf Rhodes, and Chios, and Samos.
This one hour, that a god has bestowed upon you in his bounty,
Take, with a grateful hand, nor plan next year to be happy :
So that wherever your life may be spent you will say you enjoyed it.
For if anxieties only by reason and foresight are banished,—
Not by a spot that commands some outlook wide on the waters, —
Never our nature, but only the sky, do we change as we travel.
Toilsome idleness wears us out. On wagon and shipboard
Comfort it is that we seek : yet that which you seek, it is with you,
Even in Ulubrte, if you lack not contentment of spirit.