Process Notes on 1.14

See West’s Notes at: West, D. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1995), pp.66-71

Personification is the basis of the intense feeling that runs through the poem and culminates in the last stanza….  The first line shows the ship’s helplessness and the rest of the stanza expostulates, telling her (the ship) to act with speed and courage and make a realistic assessment of her difficulties.  We then learn what they are.  One part of her is naked, another is crippled, another is wailing; she seems scarcely able to hold out as the sea becomes more and more bullying; she is calling on the gods…..  This detailed personification leads to the climax in the final stanza, ‘recently you were an anxious distress to me, now a longing and a care…..The personification is vital but the force of the poem comes also from the vividness and drama of the description.  Horace is on shore.  The ship has been coming in to harbour and has been swept out to sea again by a heavy swell…. The first impression is that this is a vivid account of a ship caught in a storm.  But this obvious interpretation does not work.  The anxiety and passionate longing of the last stanza are out of all proportion unless this is a very special ship.  We know what ship it is.  This poem is … related to poems of Alcaeus… References to the city, to ancestors, and to tyranny suggest that Alcaeus’ ship is the Ship of State and this is the unanimous view of ancient commentators on Alcaeus.  This is also the unanimous interpretation of Horace’s Ode 1.14 in the ancient commentators…. Not all the details in Horace’s scene make a precise fit with the political allegory, but the storm is war.  The new waves are a renewed outbreak.  Courage is needed.  The vessel is in a sorry plight and there is wailing…. The emotion at the end of the poem may well apply not only to the state but also to its guardian, Augustus.  In that case line 17 would imply that Horace had suffered anxiety and distress because of the continuance of civil war and line 18 would suggest that when it broke out again he was concerned for his patron’s safety.’[1]

In the world I have created for my versions of these Odes, this is a ship of poetry, which nicely substitutes the Ship of State in the original.  ‘New wave’ picks up the Latin, mare te novi and the last stanza brings out the swirling/rotic language. I have used the idea of ‘encircle’ to match ‘Cycladas’, the circling islands’

Although I do not open with the words, ‘Oh Ship of Poetry’, nevertheless I have personified the ship of poetry and I think the opening line is good enough, given that my ode has the title, ‘Ode to the Ship of Poetry.  The difficulties of ‘naked’ and ‘crippled’ and ‘wailing’ are all represented in my poem and the god my poetry ship looks to is the god of obscurity who does little to help.  ‘The gods were there to protect the ship but the ancients well knew that they did not always do so.’[2]

The anxiety and passionate longing for the very special Ship of State in the original is replaced by my anxiety and passionate longing about the Ship of Poetry and the dangers it seems to subject itself to by taking on ‘sexy’ new themes.


[1] D. West, Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford:  Clarendon Press,
   1995,  P.66-70

[2] Ibid p.67


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