As for me, the prize for poets, the crown
of ivy, makes me one with the gods; in shady
woods, among the light-stepping nymphs and satyrs.
I am far from the crowd, while Euterpe allows me
her flute, and Polyhymnia does not refuse
to tune for me the lyre of Lesbos.
And should you rank my songs with the masters’,
I shall walk tall, my head will touch stars.
Under what bad sign have we fallen,
our knees dusty, our chariots’ wheels broken?
Is this the afterlife? Which god’s smiling at
this awful circumstance pitting us
against drunkards in the desert? Come, let not
life become so desolate. There is in my
mind some cargo of songs, unspent wealth
of charms, poems and none have yet been performed,
the oil of their verses has not yet served its
purpose to flavour a banquet of
ears with words all shall devour—or would have—had
we arrived unmarred and not been exiled here
together. Come, let us make for our
captors a hemlock of deer-hooved lyrics, soft
poisonous chortles to call through to us a
way out of here, coquettish stanzas
which will cripple those vagabonds who keep us
prisoner on this page. It is not ever
the going down but the getting up,
the rising of one what gives to men the prize
heaven denied them. Ink itself is no black
manacle for lions who find in
every piece of text their exit. The act
of a magician saying or writing it
has power that creates anew or
disintegrates any situation, for
perception is only seven-eighths seeing.
ii. Lowest Part of the Heavens
Under the rose falls petals of paint
from a fresco against which lamplight battles
but for failing to imitate its beauty
has to compensate with smoke whose soot
ravages my dining room ceiling, time and
torches taking prisoner my artifice,
my æsthetic’s exemplars, those scars
of starry luminaries bullying my
heaven to chart, in spiderwebs of cracks, the
attack of decoration’s duty:
to glorify me to my guests, to impress
every last one who trots in to my trough,
to recline and feed under painted
twilight (always night because constellations
demand an audience). Now, from glamour I
retreat, sickened to greet decay that
clamours not only under my feet, but high
above my head, to undermine my grandeur.
I sigh, offering one last banquet
before I let it fall into decline, this
villa of mine where triumph no longer calls.
1Horace, Odes, “Book One: I.1”, [Lines 27–34], in The Odes and Epodes of Horace: A Modern English Verse Translation by Joseph P. Clancy, published at Chicago by The University of Chicago Press in 1960; page 24.