Quintus Horatius Flaccus, known to us as Horace, was a Roman lyric poet. His life and work dates from the tumultuous period of 65 to 8 BC, a significant period of varying levels of political stability in which Rome shifted from Republic to Empire. Today’s selection is from a bilingual translation of Horace’s Odes. The translation was done by David Ferry, an extraordinary poet and scholar also known for his translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh and Virgil’s Eclogues, as well as his own impressive body of original work.
It happens less and less often, now, that you
Wake up to hear the sound of gravel thrown
Against your shuttered windows in the night.
It’s very seldom, now, that you can’t sleep
The whole night through. There used to be a time
The hinges of the door to your house moved ever so
Easily back and forth. Not anymore.
It’s very seldom, Lydia, now that you
Can hear a lover out in the dark complain:
“O Lydia, Lydia, why are you sound asleep
While all night long I suffer in the alley?”
You’re going to have your turn out there alone,
Old crone in the nighttime alley weeping, weeping
Over your faithless boyfriends while the North Wind
Coming down from the Thracian cold blows ever
Louder and louder through the dark of the moon,
And ulcerating lust such as the lust
That tortures the mare in heat tortures your heart.
Out there in the night you’ll moan that all the young men
Prefer the lustrous ivy and lustrous myrtle
To the withered leaves that winter’s companion the cold
Wind causes to scatter and scrape along the alley.