I started work on my version of 1.34 today in Corpus library. In the original, Horace speaks both as a stoic and an epicurean, as an atheist and a polytheist. I love how in so few words, he makes us contemplate both sides of an argument at the same time. As a consequence he ends the ode with a view that’s both practical and reflects daily doubts; daily life. He calls on his gods while he questions their existance, concluding that what happens is a result both of the gods’ intervention and fate. He is, in my view, such a modern poet in his approach; asking questions, pushing buttons that make us just slightly uncomfortable.
Then, purely by accident in the SCR I heard about ‘The Pelican’, Corpus’ magazine, so I’ve submitted a poem which I hope will be published in the next edition, (on Horace of course!) And finally, I found my way to the English Faculty. What a wonderfully serene and cool place this was on a hot afternoon. Probably not so serene during term time I guess – but this afternoon it was restful and I took the opportunity to acquaint myself with some of the work of Craig Raine(who incidentally comes from my part of the world), and to re-aquaint myself with some of the work of Bernard O’Donogue whose poems in ‘Here nor There’ I really love.
I still can’t believe that I’m having this month just to read, write and think about poetry – what a rare treat this is for me. I owe so much to Professor Harrison and to everyone at Corpus for making me feel so very welcome and to Brian back home, who has only our little dog for company. I’m having a great experience here at Oxford, but I do miss him – and Brian!
And here, to prove I’ve done some work while I’ve been here, is my version of 1.34
Ode to an Agnostic Poet
Resentfully I pray with one eye open,
for the other has become the obsessed eye
of the poet, yet I find I’m doubling back
over old familiar ground. A coach and horses
is driven through my logic that till now
has served me well. The courses I have chosen
shake me to the core, make me unstable:
as knowledge floods my mind I’m led to hell.
This insane wisdom makes me feel quite lost:
I’m wilting in a labyrinth of learning.
The weight and breadth of all the information
is more than I can bear without God’s help.
Only he’s empowered to ring the changes,
ensure that first is last and last is first.
Chance, with one shrill cry, can snatch the ivy
from the laureate’s head to crown the little man.
Ode to Horace
This poem has been published in’The Pelican’, also see under ‘Horace’ section of website at ‘Ivy Poems.