Translations by William Harris

In Horace's Odes you find the ultimate polish and finish, which can sometimes be translated directly by carefully choosing words and phrases, sometimes it wont come out right so you might as well redo in other terms and see how that works. For those who don't read Latin I suggest perusing Houseman's Shropshire Lad very carefully, reading the poems you like aloud again and again, since Houseman. the consummate Classical scholar, was well aware of Horace's finish as he was of Catullus' fire. I find both of these classical traits somewhere hidden in the simple, rhymed stanzas of the Shropshire Lad, and can think of no better introduction to Horace (or Catullus) than reading them slowly with care.

I Horace I 5

I can see you now, Pyrrha, with some girishaped boy in a whirl
Flounced on a bed of rosebuds while you allow him now
For a moment the luxury of pressing his suit.
Rumpled hair you catch with a neat whisk into a braid
Sweet as a picture in your starched frock. Oh he will weep
For changing seas and promises, wild billows laced
By black clouds, astonished arid surprised,
Thinking he has you now all to himself,
Entire, attentive, quick to his every word,
As it will be forever.
All those poor fools
Who love the laughter not knowing all her mind.
High on the wall of the sanctuary by the sea,
A votive board of velvet shows the silver thanks
For cure of hand, or foot or head, and to the side
A figure of my small ship that foundered out at sea.

II Horace III 12.

Tis sad when you know that there's no hope longing and
No hope loving or troubles leaving or light wine laving
But the bad flashes of an uncle's mad tongue flinging

But like love winging, all the still toil of weaving
Spreading with loom left and bobbin forgotten
The loved boy's brightness singing

Bathing plunging skimming on Tiber's bright waves riding
Fastest of horsemen, leaping leaping forth to
Fight with fist and fast foot shearing

Sharp sharp in the hunt where the fast buck flyeth
Doe whirls lost, leaps, arid the boar starteth
Fast from the great black thicket tearing.

III Horace I 12

You see how the snow stands deep in the notch
The snow and frozen hail have cracked the trees
Half to the ground, the river's hard as land,
Inside we stoke generously the fire, bring forth wine
Around the hearth, a bottle good if new.
The chill is off. The rest we leave to god
Who strews the winds to fight on boiling sea
While oak and cypress grimly stand it out.
Seek not to dare to ask tomorrow's gift
The extra day fate fails to take away
Add to the credit, friend, and do recall
Loving and dancing, for age is hastening,
The open fields, the square at evening hour
When whispers gently seek the appointed ear,
And from an unseen corner of the street's byway
A laugh. (the betrayer gladly given) marks
A bracelet snatched from wriggling wrist, a ring
Slipped from a finger that gladly gives the thing.

III-a Horace I 9.

Here is a translation in somewhat updated wording suitable for use in a local newspaper in the depth of winter l991, which get the feeling of the original across without changing more than half a dozen words.

You see how the snow stands deep in Ripton's woods
The snow and frozen hail have cracked the trees
Half to the ground, the river's hard as land,
Inside we stoke generously the fire. Bobby,
Bring that new cider and sit with me at the fire.
The chill is off. The rest we leave to God
Who strews the winds to fight the sea off Maine,
While oak and hemlock grimly stand it out.
Seek not to dare to ask as tomorrow's gift
That extra day fate fails to take away
But add it to the Credit columnn. And don't forget
Loving and dancing, son, these years are hastening.
Soon with spring it's the open fields, the square at eveningtime
When whispers gently caress the appointed ear,
And from a dark corner of the alley behind the stores
A laugh (the betrayer) gladly given, marks
A bracelet snatched as pledge from wrist, a ring
Slipped from a finger that gladly gives the thing.

For a detailed commentary on the poem in the original, with some matters of literary interpretation, see the article on last index, under the "LATIN READER: A selection of interesting Latin texts" and "Horace I 9"

IV Horace II 15

And then they ate up
All the land with high priced real estate,
Huge oyster pools and on the edge the fools recline
Under great shade trees replacing spruce and yellow pine.
Where acres of olive grew the new
Fragrance of dappled violet and rose
Send up their scent to the master's nose,
And soon the laurel grows dense
Keeps the warm sun from the earth below.
By the simple rules of Romulus this country grew,
Romulus and longbeard Cato. For very few
Wealth grew. The State was strong and great.
No window was cut off by a ten foot porch from the light,
The written statute considered it not right
To replace altar of sod with modern marble
For greater glorification of god,
Whole urban areas razed despite opinion and sense
Rebuilt from the bottom up at public expense.


This is sutured up from tags out of several poems of Horace, as a criticism of the famous Horation motto of the GOLDEN MEAN. But the Latin "aurea mediocritas" suits well the American notion of a gentlemanly mediocrity as preferable to Homeric "arete", sincee are more Romans than Greeks in the U.S., it does appear. This was originally written years ago for a colleague who trimmed endlessly on everything brought up in a committee meeting, but I never kenw if he got the point at all....

It's better for you, lad, since you seem to be
A miserable sailor almost congenitally
To avoid the deep when you my sink
And also don't go near the shore anymore.
Between these keep your sailing,
Dear be to you golden mediocrity
Missing the roof leaks you are snug and dry
Missing the palace too.
The heavy sky
Breaking in storm brings first the lofty pine
Buildings that are high it levels low.
The well formed heart does not dart
From welfare to despair.
God may
If he brings bad things
Take them away.
If things are bad now 'tis not forever. A violin
Wakens genius even not listening, the poetic mind
Is not forever straining to complete a line.
When things are hard, be brave and strong
Likewise use your wit lad and if she skim
Fast before the wind, trim and trim and trim

VI Horace III 26

I lived for love for parties and the girls till now,
Conducted myself with some success. This much worn guitar,
Torches, wedges, jimmy bars for doors, my faithful arms
I dedicate to the shrine of Lady Venus by the Strand
Where the votive wall turns seaward. Enough,
0 Lady who rule sacred Cypros blest, Queen
Almighty of Memphis where there falls no flake of snow.
Recall my service of long years. One last request---
Give Chloe one last jab, as you know best.

VII Horace I 34

Infrequent worshipper and longtime atheist,
Reeling secure in wacky wisdomry, I now
Return to try to learn my prayer book at last.

I saw it, God in the Highest split with his fire
the clouds and drove his winging arid roaring team
Through bright heaven.
Below the hard earth end of land the Ocean,
Down there Styx underneath and a shivering hell
And then no more.

His is the glory, the infinite power to grab
What's high and put it under, take a man
Wealthy and famous and make him thin indeed,
While his assistant Lady Luck loves, with a piercing scream
To snatch a diadem from a kingly head
And stick it, smiling, somewhere else instead.

VIII Horace I 38


No no, Henry, none of that fancy spread
Hothouse ferns and mushroom in the martinis,
Oysters out of season and the last late rose
September evenings disclose...~..
Plain flowers, Henry, please,
Something in a vane for people at ease,
Wine served in the garden seems enough to me,
And you know, Henry, it won't hurt your dignity.

(For amplification of this theme, see the film "Ruggles of Red Gap" with Charles Laughton as the very proper butler. Ruggles of Red Gap was from l933)


Happy is he who like our ancient ancestors
Far from the business. world, rising at dawn
Cuts fresh smelling turf with a sharp edged spade
Digging deep holes. for tender fruit tree roots.
No trucks are moving yet down the road, the sun
Rising sheds a soft and yellow light upon a the field
Where he is working, sensing nature all around.
And for her part a dark skinned sunburned wife
Separates the roots. and holds the one foot apple trees.
Just at the planting depth, and together they
Rake in the soft earth gently, stamp it down,
Sprinkle a bit of dry earth on top as dry time mulch.

At eight o'clock their little son., lunch and backpack
Over his shoulder wanders past them, looks a bit, and goes.
Down to the bus stop. It screeches, lights blink and it
Swallows him up. Down the road he sees them planting still.

New the sun is hotter and a slight, honest sweat
Steals ever them as the morning cool subsides.
Fifty trees planted, a good early morning job,
Fifteen years and this will be a rosy crop
Of Mackintosh apples not computers. You can be proud
Of work like this in the early morning air

This is the only life a person would gladly choose.
Think of those lifeless shadows working at a desk,
Dry tasks of thoughtless masters, year after year.
Never standing at the edge of your own family field,
Seeing your trees, sweating at your work, your world
Unwrapping in the sunlight all around you

When Professor X. had said these words,
His heart swelling with a farmer's pride,
He came in, showered, put his good clothes on,
Dropped by the faculty club for a quick bite
And a taste of academically spiced conversation,
And headed for his Chaucer junior seminar.

"Whan that Aprille with her shoures soote...."

IX EPODE II again...

(Here is another version of the same Epode, in prose and somewhat nearer to the setting of the original poem, but with some things and names changed to make sense for the casual reader.....perhaps.)

"You certainly can live the more satisfying life, with rich rewards every day, when you get back to the grass roots of living, with your time your own and a sense of the relationship of a human being to the earth. These days people are living in the most incredible ways, :hours spent waiting for some important interview which may not be important at all, waiting for some vice president's attention or trying to curry it..

But just to get out on a cold spring morning.., start up the old Fordson tractor, get at your spring plowing on your land, your machine, your time. And later the careful business of pruning, deciding now what will be important next winter when all these plants now just up to your knee will have provided rich, luscious natural stores laid up in sparkling Mason jars in the dark storeroom. And everything grown naturally, organically: fruit you can't buy the like of and clean uncontaminated lettuce such as you haven't seen in stores for twenty years. The simplicity of a happy Thanksgiving dinner with just family around the table, homegrown turkey of course, stuffed with apples from your own tree and mushrooms from that fine patch across the way.

And in summer that easy lying in deep grass and gazing at a smogfree sky, fishing the creek for speckled trout, shoot partridge later, made happier by the regular chores or taking the sheep in each night, pumping their water, milking the cow. You need the drugstore little enough, but when you do, you have your own herbs and little known herbal cures, things an ancient neighbor shares with you. Hard work too in a happy place to live and breathe, to bring up kids and to finally grow old

Al Finkelstein pawnbroker, excitedly laying out his farm in the country, turns all his investments into ready cash which he deposits in the Hibbardstown branch of the Corn Exchange Bank against the purchase of this happy farm.

One month later he comes into the downtown office of the Chase Manhattan to discuss re-investment of his funds.

X ON GARLIC Horace, Epode III

If there were ever one who would have struck
his aged father straight across the mouth,
twas he,' twas he! You'd know it by his guts.

Oh what is this that rages in the breast?
It's viper's blood or strychnine in the feast
that witch Canidia trailed her fingers on.

And this it was that Jason of the Fleece
felt creeping on his collar. Such a reek

that Herakles felt gluing to his flesh,
chunks of the coat his wife had handed him,
which he gave back in bloody mangled bits.

I beg you, dear Maecenas, and this seriously,
understand, if you have touched this, why the whore
flings herself screaming from your ardent kiss
and palpitating lies on your mosaic floor.

X Horace, Odes, 1, 22

Bandusian fountain, clearer than clearest crystal's cast,
fit for wine's red and the palette of summer flowers,
tomorrow I give to you a young goat-kid, tomorrow

kid with knobbed forehead promising great wars
... no more. This child of playful skipping herd
dyes thy water red. Dying, thy water dyes.

Cool is the temper of thy waters; sun
running above cannot warm thy pool,
draught to the idly sauntering cow
and tired oxen now leaving plow..

Be thou of famous noble fountains too,
Bandusia, hollow rocks oak-topped spring,
chattering rippling waters running through.

XI Odes, III, 13.

If I am clean in hands and thoughts and all my ways,
I need not gun or pipe, or razor blade,
I can fare, without my submachine gun, anywhere,
Fuscus. Guatemala or Venezuela or the lands
along the Amazon, on any level, plane or rai1, I'll travel.

Mountain lion once in far-off Texas,
lioness, much the deadlier of the sexes
tracked me as I wandered in the middle of a mesa.
Big and mean and hungry and aggressive.
Restless, roared at first, came nearer and inspected
first my aura, footsteps, boots, and left me.

Put me, God, on hot Saharan sand
or Alaska's cryogenic strand.
Burn me, bake me,
God forsake me
Provided that
1 have my purring, murmuring, sweetly demurring
Lady - - - my pussycat.

XII Satires, Book ii, 20.

(The original of the following Satire has two local character type well known to any urban Roman citizen, but since their types are unknown to our culture, I have (in vain) tried to substitute an Italian and a Jew for local color. In a decade of "political correctness" this may seem out of place, but the Romans knew nothing of such verbal antics, which hopefully may be gone here in another decade.)

I think for some time now down at the barber shop the fellows knew how Persio fixed the drooling hate of George King the Jew.

Well, this Persio had big stuff going in Newark and a big case
with Georgie King. He was hard, sharp as a needle, mean too,
big in the mouth and belly, with such a fast lip
as to give the D.A. trouble without a second's slip.
Back for a second to George: when the lawyers saw
no agreement was possible outside the Law

(it sometimes happens that way when two are equally mean,
equally I suppose, with no difference between them, like Hector and AchilIes. If equals, no court of appeals but death. The only real reason, in fact, was neither would hold back and each was as strong. But, were they not, the matter wouldn't be half as hot. Give a little, take a little. no one bears ill will, and off to their own affairs).

Well, the whole thing came to the Federal Court in
Manhattan and Nathaniel C. Washington was the judge
They come on trotting in like Don Quixotes, neither will budge,
Max Schmelling against Red Herring, real big deal.

Persio states his case. (general laughter): Judge Washington is a wonderful man, Assistant D..A., fine gentleman, clean like the stars in heaven ---- everyone but that bug,, that weevil on the corn crop, the King. On he ran like a stream in spring when the thaw is strong

Then the Jew, with sly wit squeezed from the counter trade.
shrewd bargainer, never beat in a deal with the customer
parts with a loud fake fart behind.

The Wop now soaked with East Side Jewish dill vinegar brine,
cries out: Your Honor, Sir, Judge Washington, my throat
croaks at this crap. For God's sake, guillotine this King.


Horace's famous poem on The Ship of State was burned into my mind from college Latin through decades of teaching it, something about that scene still applies, but indirectly, and this is the beginning. There is an ancient Greek saying that each man has a sailing into Corinth, in other words a successful voyage into the harbor, at long last. So the following with a different middle section....what might well be called the Academic Shipwreck!

Lo the seas are high, the black winds lace
Bitter black salt waters high, the good ship Academe
Founders. Strong planks spring, the mast yields,
Courses are torn to tatters, the college catalog
Gapes wide open. No hand on the helm, the rudder weaves
Now this way now that. The helmsman's gone
Overboard, the men are trying to oar a small dinghy
Capsizing, their cries unheard by Commissioner of Education.
Guide us, Commissioner, to wisdom, hear us now,
Straighten our ways and makes the mad waves straight.
Give us a destiny, a harbor safe, oil the waters raging
Glibly with the unguents of academic persuasion,
And let us sail smoothly into port, picking up
Along the way a few surviving Classical Studies Majors,
Seconded by favorable winds. At last a firm hand
Guiding our pathways over the purple sea,
At last success, and the double sweet savoring
Of harmony, better salaries, trust in tenure, TIAA
Coming at last after disaster, with a fair wind favoring,
Nothing less than sailing into Corinth's bay.

FINALE from the poet. Odes II 20

On no worn out piece of thin wing
gliding incognito in the bright air above,
I take my leave from you all and all your city slight
and envy. Death shall not find me, the son of humble folk,
friend of Maecenas too, nor Stygian wave possess.

See, the rough skin grows fast upon my legs,
feathers are sprouting on my hands and back ---
a white swan floats above, and safer far

than Icarus, soar up to see the frothing sea
at Bosporos, sings sweetly above the African shoals
swift over Germania.

Turk and Bulgarian soldier, blank-faced to fear,
Gelonian and Spaniard and the French
provincial stooping to taste the Rhone
look up, shall know and know me well.

Enough! Forget the dirges that sing us underground,
the wails and tokens of your sad complaints.
Stamp down the clamor and strike it off your list,
the grave's void honors and everything that goes with it.

Return to Translations index

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College