The second half of Horace’s very finest lyric – it combines a profound view of how to live life with the most exquisite use of poetic form. Just to give two examples: the language describing the river of life fails to obey the stanza structure the way floodwaters fail to respect their ordinary channels, and I am deeply moved by the image of virtue as a warm cloak against the chill of circumstance “mea/ uirtute me inuoluo”.
God in his wisdom buries the outcome
of future time in impenetrable night,
and laughs if mortals worry more
than they should. Be sure to deal equitably
with what is at hand. As for the rest,
it flows by like a river, now gliding calmly
in mid-channel down to the Tuscan sea,
now tumbling eroded rocks
and uprooted trees and cattle and homes
all together, with a din from the mountains
and forest beside it
as the wild deluge stirs up
its tranquil waters. That man will be happy
and in control of his life who every day
can say “I have lived.” Tomorrow let Father Jupiter
fill the sky with black cloud
or with clear sunlight, but he will not
render invalid what is behind us, nor
alter or make undone
what once the racing hour has brought.
Fortune is happy in her cruel work and
plays her proud game unrelentingly,
shifting her fickle affections,
one moment kind to me, the next to another.
I praise her while she’s with me. If she shakes out
her swift wings, I resign what she gave, wrap
myself in my virtue, and court honest
Poverty, who brings no dowry.
It is not my way, if the mast creaks
in African gales, to resort to pitiful
pleading and bargaining with prayers
so my Cypriot and Tyrian cargo
not add its wealth to the greedy sea;
When that time comes, the breeze and Castor and Pollux
will carry me safe in the fortress of my two-oared dinghy
through the Aegaean storms
prudens futuri temporis exitum
caliginosa nocte premit deus 30
ridetque, si mortalis ultra
fas trepidat. quod adest memento
componere aequus; cetera fluminis
ritu feruntur, nunc medio aequore
cum pace delabentis Etruscum 35
in mare, nunc lapides adesos
stirpisque raptas et pecus et domos
uoluentis una, non sine montium
clamore uicinaeque siluae,
cum fera diluuies quietos 40
inritat amnis. ille potens sui
laetusque deget cui licet in diem
dixisse: ‘uixi’: cras uel atra
nube polum Pater occupato
uel sole puro; non tamen inritum 45
quodcumque retro est efficiet neque
diffinget infectumque reddet
quod fugiens semel hora uexit.
Fortuna saeuo laeta negotio et
ludum insolentem ludere pertinax 50
transmutat incertos honores,
nunc mihi, nunc alii benigna.
laudo manentem; si celeris quatit
pinnas, resigno quae dedit et mea
uirtute me inuoluo probamque 55
pauperiem sine dote quaero.
non est meum, si mugiat Africis
malus procellis, ad miseras preces
decurrere et uotis pacisci,
ne Cypriae Tyriaeque merces 60
addant auaro diuitias mari;
tunc me biremis praesidio scaphae
tutum per Aegaeos tumultus
aura feret geminusque Pollux.
Chosen by Llewelyn Morgan, Brasenose College, Oxford. Llewelyn’s recommended translation is by David West in Oxford World’s Classics.
More about Llewelyn Morgan.
The above text and translation is provided by the Perseus Digital Library.