“…your soul is made of iron.”

Today we concluded a week of reading Horace’s Odes with 4.7, “Diffugere nives,” and I told my students, “If you don’t love Latin poetry by now…I can’t help you. If you don’t love Latin poetry after laboring over Horace,” I peered at them over the podium, “then your soul is made of iron.”

Here’s A.E. Housman’s justly famous translation of the Ode, which he considered to be the most perfect poem in the Latin language. Note in particular the sensitive reflection of the tempo of the Latin in the third quatrain.

I differ with Housman on the translation of amico / …animo, and I hesitate to speak out with the confidence with which I maintain the difficilior lectio here, but it’s Housman after all and certainly at least he could have, if not perfectly refuted philologically the argument, made me look like an ass.

But all this is less important than the brilliance with which he manages the perverse and difficult decrescentia ripas / flumina praetereunt, and the aforementioned third stanza with its enjambment, irresistible as the Latin itself and in perfect harmony with his decrescentia flumina.

Pair with “Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry, Now” (A Shropshire Lad, 1896) and enjoy.

Diffugere niues, redeunt iam gramina campis
arboribus comae;
mutat terra uices et decrescentia ripas
flumina praetereunt;

Gratia cum Nymphis geminisque sororibus audet               5
ducere nuda chorus.
Inmortalia ne speres, monet annus et almum
quae rapit hora diem.

Frigora mitescunt Zephyris, uer proterit aestas,
interitura simul               10
pomifer autumnus fruges effuderit, et mox
bruma recurrit iners.

Damna tamen celeres reparant caelestia lunae:
nos ubi decidimus
quo pater Aeneas, quo diues Tullus et Ancus,               15
puluis et umbra sumus.

Quis scit an adiciant hodiernae crastina summae
tempora di superi?
Cuncta manus auidas fugient heredis, amico
quae dederis animo.               20

Cum semel occideris et de te splendida Minos
fecerit arbitria,
non, Torquate, genus, non te facundia, non te
restituet pietas;

infernis neque enim tenebris Diana pudicum               25
liberat Hippolytum,
nec Lethaea ualet Theseus abrumpere caro
uincula Pirithoo.

The snows are fled away, leaves on the shaws

And grasses in the mead renew their birth,

The river to the river-bed withdraws,

And altered is the fashion of the earth.


The Nymphs and Graces three put off their fear 5

And unapparelled in the woodland play.

The swift hour and the brief prime of the year

Say to the soul, Thou wast not born for aye.


Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring

Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers 10

Comes autumn with his apples scattering;

Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.


But oh, whate’er the sky-led seasons mar,

Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams;

Come we where Tullus and where Ancus are 15

And good Aeneas, we are dust and dreams.


Torquatus, if the gods in heaven shall add

The morrow to the day, what tongue has told?

Feast then thy heart, for what thy heart has had

The fingers of no heir will ever hold. 20


When thou descendest once the shades among,

The stern assize and equal judgment o’er,

Not thy long lineage nor thy golden tongue,

No, nor thy righteousness, shall friend thee more.


Night holds Hippolytus the pure of stain, 25

Diana steads him nothing, he must stay;

And Theseus leaves Pirithous in the chain

The love of comrades cannot take away.


Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being the gadfly of my discipline.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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