Process Notes on 1.16

See West’s Notes at: West, D. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press (1995), pp.78-81

Almond Version
I have reframed 1.16 into the world of modern poetry by using phrases like ‘bang on’ to represent the percussive Corybantes and I have tried to maintain the wit and ‘fire’ of the original.  I have also tried to maintain the tone of anger and sermon which forms the heart of Horace’s poem, though of course in mine the anger is from one poet to another who has previously said derogatory things about the former and now wants that to be forgotten so that they can be friends again.

I let the reference, ‘My God, but you’re your father’s son alright’ carry the mention of ‘mother’ in the original.  ‘Fallen cities’ in the original is represented by the idea of poetry classes (or the criticised poet) being ‘razed to the ground’ and it is he who experiences ‘heavy doom’ and ‘depths’

’Eating your own words’ is meant to refer to Thyestes being tricked by his brother Atreus, into eating a dish consisting of his own (Thyestes’) son in the original and of course there is an injunction to self-restraint.

Ode to My First Poetry Tutor

(after Horace Ode 1:17 Velox amoenum)

Denise, you gave up England’s northern coast
to go down under where the surfers play.
Your Grove Hill voice has moved in as my muse –
her mithering fills the block at Clockhouse Wood.

Beyond these iron gates there’s no false coupling.
Our verse will trickle, free; it won’t be damned.
Our wet-behind-the-ears-kid poems will ripple
the sluggish surface of that speechless Tees.

Remember how you nudged my writer’s arm?
I’m glad to say it goes from strength to strength.
So come back home and share in my contentment.
Come on, Denise; we’ve suffered for our art.

Be molly-coddled in my wood, it’s safe.
I’ll keep the poet dog-eat-dogs at bay.
Complete your script and toast your oeuvre with Asti:
We’ll not make cock-brained, piss-heads welcome here,

or ratbag critics to crush your confidence
with bad reviews.  You’ve no need to be scared
of back-biters who’d sink their poison in –
there’s no one here to dress you down to size.

Process Notes on 1.17

See West’s Notes at: West, D. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1995), pp.82-85

Horace invites ‘Tyndaris to visit him [there] in his country paradise’[1]  The implication here, ‘with tongue slightly in cheek, [is] that the divine protection granted to Horace’s goats is available also to Tyndaris – security, protection from heat, fodder, mating….absence of fear…’[2]  ’To sense the thrust in this poem we have to remember the person to whom Horace addressed this collection, his patron Maecenas.  We also have to remember the gratitude Horace felt to Maecenas for the gift of his beloved Sabine farm.  Horace is a master of tact….  When Horace writes that the gods love him and his Muse and that Faunus protects his flocks, Maecenas knows perfectly well what was meant.  Faunus protects.  Maecenas gave.’[3]  The farm was given to Horace so that he could write his poetry.  ‘This ode informs his patron that he is doing so.  It expresses his gratitude, his contentment, and his continued dedication to the Muse.’[4]
’In 17 the passionate youth is again shown the door as Horace gives a positive notion of some of the pleasures of mature love’[5], but ‘The question is still asked how Horace can movingly plight his undying troth to Lydia at the end of 1.13 and at 1.11 and 1.17 be loving Leuconoe and Tyndaris.  This question in turn tends to lead to the conclusion that these are not love poems but literary exercises.  This is to raise yet again the spectre long-since-laid of the autobiographical fallacy.’[6]

West makes an observation which is extremely meaningful for me, ‘Poets often respond to technical challenges and they are often aware of the work of their predecessors, but writing poetry is not simply a matter of shuffling and redealing the old cards.  Good poets blend their experience of literature and their experience of life in a hugely complex operation which they themselves do not fully understand.  As Horace might have put it, the poet was under the guidance of the Muse who led him where he did not know that he wanted to go.’[7]  It is the idea of responding to the wisdom in Horace’s poetry and mixing it with my experience of life that drives me in my work on Horace texts. 

Here I change the addressee from the sexually predatory Pan (Faunus) into my own encounter with my first creative writing tutor – in a sense Denise’s ‘voice’ becomes my Muse and it’s Denise I invite to my ‘safe’ place, which is in an area called Clockhouse Wood.  (My home, and the equivalent of Horace’s Sabine Farm).  So in my version, Denise takes on the role of both Pan (Faunus) and Tyndaris  I refer to Denise’s Grove Hill voice because the writing group where I met Denise was held in an area of Middlesbrough, called Grove Hill.  Both these references, ‘Hill’ and ‘Wood’ pick up the ‘country’ feel of the original.   In the penultimate stanza ‘write your script and toast your oeuvre with Asti’ is meant to create a picture of the two of us as a pair of suffering women, suffering for our art, to pick up on Circe and Penelope. 

[1] D. West, Horace Odes I carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1995), p.82

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid  83-4

[4] Ibid 84

[5] Ibid 85

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid 83

Process Notes on 1.18

See West’s Notes at: West, D. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1995), pp.86-91

In the first stanza West’s version refers to the ‘holy vine’[1].  ‘Wine is a consolation and a delight given by the gods (1-6) and there are ample warnings not to misuse it (7-11)[2]
‘… The poem ends with an unflattering account of the participants.  They are led by the blind, by Self-love.’[3]

Horace makes it clear ‘that he wanted nothing to do with self-love and pride and could be trusted to keep silence.  He would drink with the great but he would not retail their conversation.  Such qualities were much appreciated by the Romans… and much appreciated by Augustus.  The proof is the surviving letter in which Augustus asked him to become his private secretary.  This poem is not just a literary game, nor is it simply a piece of flattery from client to patron.  We saw when Horace borrowed his first line from Alcaeus, that he added to it the concept of holiness.  Religious terms abound in the poem.  It is god that makes life hard for teetotallers in line 3… The villains of the piece are not the gods, but their drunken followers.  This is not just literary furniture.  In his cups and his lovemaking, Horace sensed the presence of something more than human.’[4]

In stanza one I use ‘Amber nectar’.  It is a homely term but with hint at sacredness via nectar, drink of the gods and ‘gods’ picks up the sacred vine too.

For the location in the opening of the original, I have an English equivalent; one associated with a literary festival. In stanza two ‘beer, and ‘lover’ pick up Bacchus and Venus in the original. The equivalent in proper names of the Centaurs and Lapiths (archetypal battling boozers) is picked up by using Gazza (Gasgoine the footballer) to add north east colour.

Horace’s dislike for self-love is picked up in my final stanza by the advice, ‘Let others praise your work don’t praise your own. / You’d better keep a tight tongue in your head.’   And the final warning of the original, ‘Keep in check your wild drums and Berecyntian horn with their retinue / of blind Self-love, Vainglory raising her empty head absurdly high / and Trust betrayed, squandering secrets, more transparent than glass.’ [5] picked up as a warning not to view everything through the bottom of a glass: here the intention being to convert the idea of transparency of glass in the original into a warning to the person who abuses alcohol not to see things through the bottom of a beer glass – such a view would be distorted.

Weight of Horace’s original I think is:

Enjoy a drink – praise wine, but don’t abuse it.
Avoid self-love and self-praise
Acceptance that life is hard and perhaps even harder if sober!
’In his cups and in his lovemaking, Horace sensed the presence of something more than human.’[6]

[1] D. West, Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford:  Clarendon Press,
   1995,  87

[2] Ibid 86

[3] Ibid 87-8

[4] Ibid 91

[5] D. West,. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford:  Clarendon Press,
   1995,   87

[6] Ibid 91

Ode to Demon Writers

(after Horace Ode 1:18 Nullam, Vare, sacra)

Danny, mate, enjoy your amber nectar,
a special pint of brown at friendly fringes.
The tipple of the gods, a one-off binge
is fine because creative life is hard
and even harder still if stone-cold sober!

Who ever saw a canny two-pints writer
get lover’s block or cry into his beer?
A drop of good stuff helps unlock ideas.
Know when to stop but don’t be lost for words.
Drop your fighting talk, don’t diss your peers.

Up here we’re all supposed to hold our ale:
Just bear in mind our northern pride’s at stake.
Don’t make that Gazza no-holds-barred mistake
of gloves-off free-for-alls that end in tears.
Incestuous worlds like ours will see you fail.

First you blow your trumpet then your mind
especially when you’ve liquor down your neck.
You bandy stanzas, you’re a total wreck,
and as for bringing poets down to size –
Talk about the country of the blind!

You’d better keep a tight tongue in your head.
Don’t view things through the bottom of a glass.
I’ve shared a toast or two myself and gassed
with great and good; with famous and unknown.
Let others praise your work: don’t praise your own.

Ode for Myself

(after Horace Ode 1:19 Mater saeva cupidinum)

Of late, I seem driven by Cupid.
Feelings that had died have struck like lightning,
unexpectedly, again,

ignited, perhaps, by a nightly tipple,
and the idea of having rubbed shoulders
with the T.S. Eliot list.

Such notions set me on a slippery slope.
There’s not a hope that Carol Ann or Sheenagh
would see anything in me.

And yet I find I have to toy with them;
swirl them around for flavour as you do
a delicious mouthful of red.

Desire has taken over: when at last
my sturdy pen is ready to perform,
idle thoughts are curdling the ink.

Folk keep telling me to act my age. OK!
I’ll sacrifice my wilder plans, but please
give me a poet to embrace.










The T.S. Eliot Prize  shortlist for 2005 was Polly Clark, Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Farish, David Harsent, Sinead Morrissey, Alice Oswald, Pascale Petiit, Sheenagh Pugh,

John Stammers and Gerard Woodward.

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

Ode to Stephen

(after Horace Ode 1:20 Vile potabis)

Don’t just pore over my meagre emailed words,
come up and get ratted on my hard lines
knocked back with Newcastle Brown
in proper bottles I bought from Yarm offy
especially for you Stephen,
distinguished, kindly scholar,

while you’re applauded by ranks of students
            on the banks of the Isis;
and lecture theatres, shaken by your knowledge,
echo your professorship.

You can savour vintage Latin poems
and enjoy classics from the Italian grape,
but no Sicilian vines, Roman hills or conjugations
will flatten  my Northern beer
or soften  my rough voice.

Process Notes on 1.20

See West’s Notes at:  West, D. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1995), pp. 04-99

My version is also a poem in praise of a patron, a Professor of Classics who has supported and encouraged the narrator in her work and the narrator here also invites the patron to her home to enjoy not fine wine, but Newcastle brown ale from wooden crates, and Northern beer.

The narrator of this poem is, as the narrator in the original trying to express gratitude for the gift which has been given.  In Horace’s case it is the Sabine Farm, in the case of the narrator it is the gift of scholarly support and encouragement.

I use the opening ‘pore over’ to suggest close intent examination, but also it will serve as an echo of pour for the following lines when the narrator invites her patron, the professor to join her for drinks.

The home of the narrator, Denevale is an equivalent for Horace’s Sabine farm/valley and just as Maecenas was applauded when he went to the theatre, so too, the professor in my version is applauded by ranks of students.  Just As ‘Vatican’ in the original was an allusion to Rome, so to in my version Isis is an allusion to Oxford.

The narrator in my version is also intent on hanging onto her identity as a working-class northerner whilst at the same time being confident enough in the relationship with her patron that he would put her invitation to share Newcastle brown ale and friendship above his connoisseurship of fine wine and the Oxford way of life, so there is still the use of an alcohol code to demonstrate different social and intellectual status.  Here too, then, the narrator is defiant, grateful and appreciative yes – praising yes, but determined to offer her own inferior product and stick to her rough northern voice.

Classics in the Modern World – A Democratic Turn?

What an absolutely fabulous conference on contemporary reception of the classics and whether contemporary reception signifies a democratic turn.  We covered a wide variety of topics, including contemporary performance of Ancient Greek Texts, poetry, political culture and notions of democracy, Nietzsche as educator and appropriations of Cicero and Cato plus lots more.

It was a real privilege to be poet-in-residence for the conference and I very much enjoyed giving my poetry presentation based on Ovid and Horace and receiving so many interesting questions about my process.  It was most encouraging to have one audience member say she had always disliked Horace but that having heard my versions she would look at him again with new eyes and a more open mind!

I also wrote a little poem to celebrate the conference itself and read it out at Saturday evening dinner.  I reproduce it below, along with some photos of the weekend.

On the Turn

It was clear from the start that things would get hot,
in minutes the talk was of truth and translation,
democracy, turning, inclusive embracing;
we became what we are and not what we’re not.

I jumped on my hobby-horse, Beauty-v-Use,
I didn’t have animus hostilis in mind,
(as your travelling bard that would hardly be kind).
Plurality, synergy dare I deduce
could make us reflective and set us at peace?
But my tongue was a-gallop and ready to burn,
’til Lorna, to calm me, threatened “poetry police”

Students and scholars and poets should learn
that collaborative effort will surely increase
our love of democracy; a swerve or a turn.