Yet greatness, proved in war and peace divine,
Had best be jealous who should keep its shrine:
The sacred functions of the temple-ward
Were ill conferred on an inferior bard.
A blunderer was Choerilus; and yet
This blunderer was Alexander’s pet,
And for the ill-stamped lines that left his mint
Received good money with the royal print.
Ink spoils what touches it: indifferent lays
Blot out the exploits they pretend to praise.
Yet the same king who bought bad verse so dear
In other walks of art saw true and clear;
None but Lysippus, so he willed by law,
Might model him, none but Apelles draw.
But take this mind, in paintings and in bronze
So ready to distinguish geese from swans,
And bid it judge of poetry, you’d swear
“Twas born and nurtured in Boeotian air.
Still, bards there are whose excellence commends
The sovereign judgment that esteems them friends,
Virgil and Varius; when your hand confers
Its princely bounty, all the world concurs.
And, trust me, human features never shone
With livelier truth through brass or breathing stone
Than the great genius of a hero shines
Through the clear mirror of a poet’s lines.
Nor is it choice (ah, would that choice were all!)
Makes my dull Muse in prose-like numbers crawl,
When she might sing of rivers and strange towns,
Of mountain fastnesses and barbarous crowns,
Of battles through the world compelled to cease,
Of bolts that guard the God who guards the peace,
And haughty Parthia through defeat and shame
By Caesar taught to fear the Roman name:
’Tis strength that lacks: your dignity disdains
The mean support of ineffectual strains,
And modesty forbids me to essay
A theme whose weight would make my powers give way.
Officious zeal is apt to be a curse
To those it loves, especially in verse;
For easier ’tis to learn and recollect
What moves derision than what claims respect.
He’s not my friend who hawks in every place
A waxwork parody of my poor face;
Nor were I flattered if some silly wight
A stupid poem in my praise should write:
The gift would make me blush, and I should dread
To travel with my poet, all unread,
Down to the street where spice and pepper’s sold,
And all the wares waste paper’s used to fold.
II. TO JULIUS FLORUS.
Flore Bono CLAROQUE.
Dear Florus, justly high in the good grace
Of noble Nero, let’s suppose a case;
A man accosts you with a slave for sale,
Born, say, at Gabii, and begins his tale:
“See, here’s a lad who’s comely, fair, and sound;
I’ll sell him, if you will, for sixty pound.
He’s quick, and answers to his master’s look,
Knows Greek enough to read a simple book
Set him to what you like, he’ll learn with ease;
Soft clay, you know, takes any form you please;