A patron’s service is a strange career;
The tiros love it, but the experts fear.
You, while you’re sailing on a prosperous tack,
Look out for squalls which yet may drive you back.
The gay dislike the grave, the staid the pert,
The quick the slow, the lazy the alert;
Hard drinkers hate the sober, though he swear
Those bouts at night are more than he can bear.
Unknit your brow; the silent man is sure
To pass for crabbed, the modest for obscure.
Meantime, while thoughts like these your mind engage,
Neglect not books nor converse with the sage;
Ply them with questions; lead them on to tell
What things make life go happily and well;
How cure desire, the soul’s perpetual dearth?
How moderate care for things of trifling worth?
Is virtue raised by culture or self-sown?
What soothes annoy, and makes your heart your own?
Is peace procured by honours, pickings, gains,
Or, sought in highways, is she found in lanes?
For me, when freshened by my spring’s pure cold
Which makes my villagers look pinched and old,
What prayers are mine? “O may I yet possess
The goods I have, or, if Heaven pleases, less!
Let the few years that Fate may grant me still
Be all my own, not held at others’ will!
Let me have books, and stores for one year hence,
Nor make my life one flutter of suspense!”
But I forbear: sufficient ’tis to pray
To Jove for what he gives and takes away:
Grant life, grant fortune, for myself I’ll find
That best of blessings, a contented mind.
XIX. TO MAECENAS.
Prisco si CREDIS.
If truth there be in old Cratinus’ song,
No verse, you know, Maecenas, can live long
Writ by a water-drinker. Since the day
When Bacchus took us poets into pay
With fauns and satyrs, the celestial Nine
Have smelt each morning of last evening’s wine.
The praises heaped by Homer on the bowl
At once convict him as a thirsty soul:
And father Ennius ne’er could be provoked
To sing of battles till his lips were soaked.
“Let temperate folk write verses in the hall
Where bonds change hands, abstainers not at all;”
So ran my edict: now the clan drinks hard,
And vinous breath distinguishes a bard.
What if a man appeared with gown cut short,
Bare feet, grim visage, after Cato’s sort?
Would you respect him, hail him from henceforth
The heir of Cato’s mind, of Cato’s worth?
The wretched Moor, who matched himself in wit
With keen Timagenes, in sunder split.
Faults are soon copied: should my colour fail,
Our bards drink cummin, hoping to look pale.
Mean, miserable apes! the coil you make
Oft gives my heart, and oft my sides, an ache.