Process Notes on 1.19

See West’s Notes at: West, D. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary: Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1995), pp.92-95

In a way this ode reminds me a bit of Epode XIV, ‘Mollis inertia’, where the narrator is so overtaken by thoughts of love as to make him ineffective altogether in relation to his writing.  Here though, what is happening is that he is being prevented from writing about anything but love, ‘Love is forbidding him to write poems [about them or] about anything which is not relevant to his love.’[1]

West points out Horace’s love for the oxymoron, ‘Oxymoron is a favourite Horatian figure.  This poem begins with a savage mother, continues with Licence giving orders and in the second stanza has pleasing naughtiness.  All this demonstrates Horace’s taste for the paradoxical and surreal.  He likes surprises.’[2]

‘The poem starts with a sophisticated and perhaps gently self-mocking reference to gods.  The second stanza is a sensuous and beautifully organised description of the attractions of the beloved.  The third conveys the irresistible force of love’s onset and Horace’s total submission to it as the cost of all other interests.  But now in the fourth stanza we see him praying to be saved from the violent effects of love…We leave the theology of Hellenistic Greece, the ravishment of the senses, the world of politics to be with the poet on his Sabine farm telling his young slaves to set up a simple turf altar, bring the statutory greenery for a sacrifice… He hopes that if he sacrifices an animal, the love goddess will come upon him not like a flash of lightning, but in a gentler mood.’[3]

My version of this ode is written in the voice of a middle-aged woman speaker who in a middle-class, Women’s Institute kind of way, is rather surprised by her own rekindled passionate feelings. But whereas in the original it is Venus who ‘rushes upon me with all her force’[4], the narrator in my version is overpowered by Cupid – but he too appears in the original in any case.  

Whilst a passion for poetry is at the forefront of this version, there is also present, a fantasy about having a particular literary figure in the life of the narrator.  It is left to the reader to decide whether at the end of the poem the poet she wants to embrace an actual man/partner, or just a collection of poetry.  She knows too, that her thoughts and aspirations in relation to her poetry are perhaps every bit as much of a fantasy (in terms of achievement), as are her thoughts for the literary figure of her desires, but nevertheless she finds she has to ‘toy with them, / swirl them around for flavour as you would / a delicious mouthful of red.’  This narrator is as much taken over by passions as is the narrator in Horace’s poem – every bit as much out of control.

Horace’s poem is elevated in tone, containing many proper names.  I have tried humourously to lower the tone.  Bacchus in mine is represented by a ‘nightly tipple’ and whereas in the original Glycera sets the narrator on fire, the narrator in my version is set on fire (for love of poetry) by having ‘rubbed shoulders with the T.S. Eliot list’

I maintain the idea of lightning in my version.  Likewise I turn the real slaves of the original into a metaphorical one, when I express a wish that Reason prevail in the acceptance that the narrator needs to act her age.
To bring out the Latin, lubricus, I use ‘slippery slope’ and I substitute the real physical animal sacrifice in the original with a metaphorical sacrifice at the end of the poem.


[1] D. West, Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford:  Clarendon Press,
   (1995)  93-4

[2] Ibid  94

[3] Ibid  94-5

[4] Ibid p.93


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *