"The Fleeting Years"

(Horace, Odes II.14)

translated by Peter Saint-Andre

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

Let's say you were to sacrifice a bull
Each day, still you couldn't placate tearless
Pluto, who with his waves has imprisoned
Both thrice-strong Geryon and Tityos —

Those are the waves, my friend, that you must cross
Along with all who thrive on the earth's gifts,
Whether we are kings or wretched peasants.
In vain would we try to avoid cruel Mars

And the mercurial disturbances
That course across the Adriatic Sea —
In vain throughout the autumn will we fear
The south wind, so harmful to our bodies.

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

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

A worthier heir will guzzle the wine
You guard now with a hundred keys: for he
Will drench the pavement with your best — more fine
Than that on which the highest priests do feast.


Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Ancient Fire