Lucretius was the first author of Latin literature that dealt with the topòs of “The return of spring” in a passage of his poem “De Rerum Natura” (I vv.250-256). The author describes the landscapes that become green again, the changing weather and the feeling of happiness given by the new season. This theme was resumed by Catullus in 1st century B.C.E. in poem 46, where he illustrates Zephyr’s pleasant breeze that awakens the desire to travel and gives man strength. Also Horace uses conventional images from Greek tradition and mythology to describe the beauty of nature in Spring and he links this subject to another important theme: the shortness of life. Therefore the author urges us to seize the moment before Death knocks on our door.
Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 1.vv 250-256
At last the rains pass away, when Father
Ether makes them fall in Mother Earth’s
womb, but prosperous crops grow
and the branches of trees become green again,
the same trees blossom and bear fruits.
Hence our species and animals are fed,
hence we see joyful cities blooming with children;
we see everywhere that the songs of new birds resound in the leafy woods.
Postremo pereunt imbres, ubi eos pater aether
in gremium matris terrae praecipitavit;
at nitidae surgunt fruges ramique virescunt
arboribus, crescunt ipsae fetuque gravantur.
Hinc alitur porro nostrum genus atque ferarum
hinc laetas urbes pueris florere videmus
frondifereasque novis avibus canere undique silvas.
Now the spring has brought back mild warmth
Now the wrath of the equinox sky
has been simmered down with Zephyr’s pleasant breezes.
Catullus, let us leave the Phrygian fields
and the fertile land of hot Nicaea:
let us fly to the famous cities of Asia.
Now my anxious spirit longs to wander
Now my glad feet stir with longing.
Goodbye, dear group of friends.
You left your homeland together,
you will come back along different paths
ver egelidos refert tepores,
iam caeli furor aequinoctialis
iocundis Zephyri silescit auris.
Linquantur Phrygii, Catulle, campi
Nicaeaeque ager uber aestuosae:
ad claras Asiae volemus urbes.
Iam mens praetrepidans avet vagari,
iam laeti studio pedes vigescunt.
O dulces comitum valete coetus,
longe quos simul a domo profectos
diversae varie viae reportant.
Horace, Odes I.4
Biting winter melts itself at the welcome return of spring and the West Wind
and the machines launch the dry hulls;
and neither the flock does enjoy its cowsheds any more nor the farmer his fire,
nor are meadows white with pure frost.
Cytherian Venus already leads the dances while the moon looks on,
and the beautiful Graces joining the Nymphs
beat the ground with alternating foot,
while burning Vulcan visits the Cyclopes’ stifling workshops.
Now we should gird our heads with green myrtle
or with flowers, which the freed land yields;
Now we should make sacrifices to Faunus in shady woods,
whether he wants a lamb or he prefers a small goat.
Pale Death knocks at the poor’s shops
Or the kings’ towers. Oh fortunate Sestius,
the brevity of life prevents us from feeling long lasting hope.
The night will weigh on you and the Manes of the tales
and Pluto’s cheerless residence; where as soon as you come,
you will not draw lots for the title “king of banquet”,
nor will you admire lovely Licida, for whom all youths now burn with passion
and for whom the virgins will languish soon.
Solvitur acris hiems grata vice veris et Favoni
trahuntque siccas machinae carinas,
ac neque iam stabulis gaudet pecus aut arator igni
nec prata canis albicant pruinis.
Iam Cytherea choros ducit Venus imminente luna
iunctaeque Nymphis Gratiae decentes
alterno terram quatiunt pede, dum gravis Cyclopum
Vulcanus ardens visit officinas.
Nunc decet aut viridi nitidum caput impedire myrto
aut flore, terrae quem ferunt solutae;
nunc et in umbrosis Fauno decet immolare lucis,
seu poscat agna sive malit haedo.
Pallida Mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas
regumque turris. O beate Sesti,
vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam.
Iam te premet nox fabulaeque Manes
et domus exilis Plutonia, quo simul mearis,
nec regna vini sortiere talis
nec tenerum Lycidan mirabere, quo calet iuventus
nunc omnis et mox virgines tepebunt.
Translations by Viviana La Russa and Simona Borrello (Latin students at Liceo Scientifico Leonardo da Vinci, Reggio Calabria)
Vitae Summa Brevis, a poem by the classically-influenced symbolist poet Ernest Dowson that is inspired by this ode, but focuses instead on its theme of the brevity of life. It contains the famous line ‘they are not long, the days of wine and roses’. contributed by Eugenia Russell
Vitae Summa Brevis – Ernest Dowson (1867–1900)
They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses,
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam. [*line 15 of Ode 1.4]