Translation copyright 1997-1998 by John T. Quinn. All rights reserved.
“The fellow’s worth a fortune who, far
from commerce, cultivates his fathers’
farm with his own oxen & is free
of usury — like the folk of yore.
“No soldier, summoned to battle by the bugle
or fearful of a fuming sea,
no plaintiff or haunter of the haughty portals
of especially-powerful citizens
is the man who marries mature growths
of grape to poplars he’s pampered
OR watches over his wandering herd
bellowing in lonely bottomlands
while he saws away worthless scions
& engrafts the gainful
honey from the comb into clean containers
OR shears his compliant sheep.
“As Autumn hoists its head, adorned with
fleshy fruits, through fields,
he gloats, gathering prize pears
& grapes purpler than the pigment
to pay you, Priapus, & you sir,
Silvanus, protector of property.
The bliss of napping beneath an old oak
OR on a luxuriant lawn
while water wends between wide banks
& birds whine in the woods
& fountains fret with splashing spray —
a summons to soft slumbers!
“When wintry weather threatens with thunder,
storms & snow, he speeds
into snares (from all sides) boars
battling a horde of hounds
OR suspends from slender staves the webbing
widened to fool feeding
figpeckers and ropes the frightened rabbit
& drifting crane (a delicacy!).
“Living that life, who wouldn’t ignore
the ills latent in love?
“Should a faithful wife do her fair share
helping with the home & cherished
children (a Sabine, say, or the sunburned
bride of an assiduous Apulian)
AND stack seasoned timber on the hearth
for her tired husband’s return
AND pen yielding ewes within pleachwork
to drain their distended udders
AND, ladling a lively vintage from the vat,
prepare an unpurchased repast —
“I’d freely forego the finest oyster
OR flounder OR scaurfish forced
to these waters when winter blasts
bolts on Eastern breakers.
African fowl & Greek game-hens hardly
would settle into my stomach
happier than the odd olive, harvested
from the orchard’s oiliest offshoot
OR meadow-dwelling sourdock & mallows
(medicine for a body’s burdens)
OR a lamb slain for a farmers’ festival
OR a friskling whisked from a wolf.
“How felicitous at such feasts to see fattened
flocks hurrying homeward,
bone-weary bulls with nodding necks
pulling an upended plough,
& the worker-bees of a wealthy abode: slaves
stationed near smiling cult-statues!”
So spoke Alfius, a financier,
bent on becoming a bumpkin.
Midway through the month, he cashed his capital —
to float it again on the first.
Whoever puts hands to his elderly parent’s
windpipe & (wicked!) snaps it,
make him munch garlic, more harmful than hemlock —
how can hicks consume it?
This is the toxin tormenting my tummy.
No viper’s venom was slipped
into the vegetable soup. The crone Canidia
didn’t doctor our dinner.
When General Jason, alone of the Argonauts,
attracted Medea, she massaged
his beauty with garlic to guard his bridling
the fire-breathing bulls;
punishing his paramour with garlic-drenched gifts,
she fled on a flying serpent.
Garlic: more muggy than the dog days
of dry-assed Apulia,
hotter than the hexed shirt on the shoulders
of our hero Hercules.
Try such a trick once more, too-merry
Maecenas, and may the gods grant
that your sweetie slap away your smooches
& bunk at the bed’s far edge.
You, stinking for a century or so,
wonder what hamstrings my hard-on,
you & spotty teeth & seams of superannuated
age furrowing the features
& an anus yawning between arid buttocks
(compare: a constipated cow).
Certainly your bosom & sagging breasts
(much like mare’s mammaries)
thrill me. Plus your paunch & thighs
(thin) on inflated forelegs.
Of social standing: ancestral awards,
acquired in the army, will festoon your
funeral, and no wife now walks around
weighted with plumper pearls.
Educated, even: editions of philosophy,
fond of lying on silken sofas.
But don’t dicks without degrees get taut?
and professors peter out?
To challenge this reluctant learner, change
your approach: accept oral assignments.
Pettius, it’s pointless. Again. Attempting
Poesie while Passion pummels me implacably —
Passion, whose sport is to single me out
to burn at the glimpse of a glamour-boy or girl.
A trio of Decembers has dashed from the trees
their finery since my furor for Elsie ended.
The pain, the pangs of being the biggest
story in the city! Soirees which saw (sorry!)
me mute & moping provided proof:
guilty of love. And the groans low in my lungs.
“The unstained soul of a pauper is powerless
compared with cash!” I’d complain, plead to you,
as brazen Bacchus’ blazing booze
summoned from me, already aflame, my secrets.
“If whines were to welter at will within me
& heave these bromides (hackneyed banter, no help
for the bitter wound) onto the winds,
my pride — purged — will bow out of mismatched bouts.”
Such was my solemn flourish, & to your face.
Warned to head home, I wandered, wobbling
to her doorframe (so unfriendly!) & doorsill
(so staunch!). Banging on them busted my balls.
Lyciscus preens there’s not a lady his peer
in prissiness. Lust for the little wolf is worsting me,
& the ample advice of friends, or their frosty
sarcasm, can’t spring me — only a fresh infatuation
for a girl agleam or a smooth-skinned
boy braiding back his long locks.
What in the world! Why are you, a woman more meant
for ebony elephants, mailing me largesse
& love letters? As if I’m a sturdy lad with a stuffed
nose! No canny canine detects the den of a
boar better than I sniff out the stench of octopus
or oppressive billy-goat bedded in bristly armpits.
The sweat & rancid smell arising all along
her mummified members when a penis remains prone
and she races, regardless, to relieve her feral frenzy!
The finale? a makeup meltdown (drenched foundation
& blush–colored in crocodile crap–blurring), capped
by the bitch in heat bursting the bedsprings & headboard.
My disgust deepens under the volley of her vicious words:
“You droop a lot less for Elsie, don’t you?
For Elsie, a triple treat each evening; a solitary stunt
forever flaccid for me. Curse the cocksucking
cow who sent me a steer instead of the bull I bargained for.
And Amyntas once was mine, a salacious shepherd
whose crotch (never needing cultivation) flaunted a phallus
that stood stiffer than a sapling clinging to a crag!
“Pelts of fleece double-dyed in Phoenician purple
were sent express to no-one except–yes–
you, making you the best-dressed of your drinking buddies,
the bachelor most doted upon by his darling.
“My good luck is gone! You shun me, like a sheep shying
from wilful wolves, or antelope avoiding lions.”
“How did it happen? Limp languor imbuing your inmost
senses with the sort of amnesia
attained by thirsty throats that pound back potions
You murder me, candid Maecenas, with your constant question.
A god, a god begrudges me
bringing to birth the book of poetry I promised to publish,
the Epodes started long since.
Suchwise, they say, Anacreon was ablaze for Bathyllus, a boy
from Samos (offshore his city),
& sang, repeatedly, of love’s sorrows on his resounding lyre,
reckless of regular rhythm.
You feel the flame. Unfortunate. But if a spark less splendid
torched trapped Troy,
delight in your doom. I’m scalloped by Phryne, a freed slavegirl
warm for more than one man.
The setting: midnight; serene sky; moon scintillating,
surrounded by (smaller) stars.
Soon to gall the grandeur of the glorious gods, you swore —
more tenaciously than a tall holm-oak
is hemmed inside of ivy, clinging to compliant limbs —
the formula I’d furnished: “Whilst
the wolf is the flock’s foe & Orion, warlike to old salts,
worries the wintry waters
& the breeze billows Apollo’s tresses (untouched by a barber),
so long I lend you my love.”
You’ll know, Neaera, plenty of pain. My pecker’s up.
A hint of a hero in Horace
won’t allow your awarding nonstop nights to some swell.
I’ll spite you & seek a soulmate.
Wronged once, I’m rigid & won’t waver before your beauty,
despite signs of distress.
And you, whoever the hell you are, lucky & lordly
today as you trample on my travail —
though flush in flocks & a lot of land, though rivers rush
to give you globules of gold
& the puzzles of reincarnated Pythagoras can’t rattle you
& pretty-boys, in comparison, are plain —
disaster! Her desire will settle on someone else, & your sobbing
move me to mirth.
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