"The Fleeting Years"

(Horace, Odes II.14)

translated by Peter Saint-Andre

Alas, Postumus, the fleeting years
Fall away, nor will piety cause
Delay to wrinkles or advancing
Old age or indomitable death.

Even if you sacrificed a bull
Each day you couldn't placate tearless
Pluto, who with his waves imprisons
Thrice-strong Geryon and Tityos —

And those waves, my friend, must needs be crossed
By all who feed on the earth's bounty,
Whether we're kings or wretched peasants.
In vain we'll try to avoid cruel Mars

And the inconstant disturbances
That course the roaring Adriatic —
In vain through the autumn will we fear
The south wind, harmful to our bodies.

We must see the wandering, sluggish
Cocytos — the infamous offspring
Of Danaus — the son of Aeolus:
Sisyphus damned to his ceaseless toil.

We must leave behind the earth and home
And pleasing spouse, and none of those trees
You tend will follow you, its short-lived
Master, except the hated cypress.

A worthier heir will drink the wine
You guard now with a hundred keys: he'll
Drench the pavement with your best — more fine
Than that on which the highest priests do feast.


Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Ancient Fire