"This Aegean Storm"

(Horace, Odes III.29)

translated by Peter Saint-Andre

Maecenas, descended from Etruscan kings,
Smooth wine not yet opened and blooming roses
And fragrant hair oils have long been ready
   For you at my house.

Break free from all hindrances: do not always
Contemplate the humid Tibur, Aefula's
Sloping fields, and the ridge of that parricide
   Old Telegonus;

Forsaking loathsome wealth and sky-high power,
Shaking your head at the smoke and wealth and noise
Of decadent Rome, I urge you now to leave:
   For change is pleasant,

And a simple dinner at a peasant's small
Hut all lacking in fine purple tapestries
Loosens the troubled brow of the richest man.
   And see already:

Andromeda's shining father shows forth his
Secret fire; Procyon and the harsh star
Of Leo rage, and the sun brings back the days,
   Drought-filled, without rain;

The shepherd with his sluggish flock seeks out shade
And stream and the wild brambles of savage
Silvanus, and the quiet banks lack even
   An unsteady breeze.

Yet you worry about the health of the State;
Troubled by the City, you're anxious about
The Seres and Cyrus-ruled Bactra and the
   Fractious Scythians.

Wisely the god suppresses the outcome of
Future times in darkest night, and he laughs if
Mortals are disturbed by that which is beyond
   Their proper orbit.

Take care to deal clearly with what's before you —
The rest is carried along like a river:
Now gliding calmly within its channel down
   To the Tuscan sea,

Now churning gnawed rocks and uprooted tree-trunks
And cattle and homes until the surrounding
Woods and hills resound with noise when the fierce flood
   Roils the placid stream.

Joyous and self-possessed is the life of he
Who each day can say: "I have lived — tomorrow
The Father may fill the sky with black storm-clouds
   Or purest sunshine,

Yet even so he can't upset what is past:
He can't complete or alter or make undone
Whatever the fleeting hour has produced."
   For haughty Fortune,

So pleased with her cruel affairs and stubbornly
Playing her games, keeps shifting around all her
Dubious honors, smiling now on me and
   Now on someone else.

I praise her while she stays. Yet when she spreads her
Too-swift wings, I give back what she has granted
And wrapped in my strength I seek out poverty,
   Honest and bereft.

It's not my way, when the southern gales roar out
Of Africa, to make abject prayers and
Votive offerings to strike a bargain lest
   My exotic wares

Should add to the wealth of the rapacious sea;
It's then that the gods and a favoring breeze
Carry me and my two-oared skiff safely through
   This Aegean storm.


Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Ancient Fire