Robert Hass

                  Horace: Three Imitations


Odes, 1.38 Persicos odi, puer, apparatus

I hate Persian filigree, and garlands
Woven out of lime tree bark.
On no account are you to hunt up, for my sake,
The late-blooming rose.

Plain myrtle will do nicely for a crown.
It's not unbecoming in you as you pour
Or on me as I sip, in the arbor's shade,
A glass of cool wine.

Here, by the way, is your manumission.
Let it be noted that after two thousand years
The poet Horace, he of the suave Greek meters, has
At last freed his slaves.


Odes, 3.2 Angustam amice pauperiem pati

Let the young, toughened by a soldiers' training,
Learn to bear hardship gladly
And to terrify Parthian insurgents
From the turrets of their formidable tanks,

Also to walk so easily under desert skies
That the mother of some young Sunni
Will see a marine in the dusty streets
And turn to the daughter-in-law beside her

And say with a shudder: Pray God our boy
Doesn't stir up that Roman animal
Whom a cruel rage for blood would drive
Straight to the middle of any slaughter.

It is sweet, and fit, to die for one's country,
Especially since death doesn't spare deserters
Or the young man without a warrior's instincts
Who goes down with a bullet in his back.

Civic courage is a more complicated matter.
Of itself it shines out undefiled.
It neither lies its way into office, nor mistakes
The interests of Roman oil for Roman honor.

The kind of courage death can't claim
Doesn't go very far in politics.
If you are going to speak truth in public places
You may as well take wing from the earth.

Knowing when not to speak also has its virtue.
I wouldn't sit under the same roof beams
With most of the explainers of wars on television
Or set sail on the same sleek ship.

They say the gods have been known
To punish the innocent along with the guilty
And nemesis often finds the ones it means,
With its limping gait, to track down.


Odes, 3.19 Quantem distet ab inacho

You talk very well about Inachus
And how Codrus died for his city,
And the offspring of old Aeacus
And the fighting at sacred Ilium under the walls,

But on the price of Chian wine,
And the question of who's going to warm it,
Under whose roof it will be drunk,
And when my bones will come unfrozen, you are mute.

Boy, let's drink to the new moon's sliver,
And drink to the middle of the night, and drink
To good Murena, with three glasses
Or with nine. Nine, says the madman poet

Whom the uneven-numbered Muses love.
Three, says the even-tempered Grace who holds
Her naked sisters by the hands
And disapproves altogether of brawling,

Should do a party handsomely.
But what I want's to rave. Why is the flute
From Phrygia silent? Why are the lyre
And the reed pipe hanging on the wall?

Oh, how I hate a pinching hand.
Scatter the roses! Let jealous old Lycus
Listen to our pandemonium,
And also the pretty neighbor he's not up to.

Rhoda loves your locks, Telephus.
She thinks they glisten like the evening star.
As for me, I'm stuck on Glycera:
With a love that smoulders in me like slow fire.

Robert Hass, The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected
Poems, Ecco Press, 2010.