And, of course, there is still the matter of getting through an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps this is why I have become fonder and fonder of Horace and Robert Herrick in my senescence. They are both oases of beautifully conveyed good sense.
Wise they, that, with a cautious fear,
Not always thro' the ocean steer,
Nor, whilst they think the winds will roar,
Do thrust too near the rocky shore:
To those that choose the golden mean
The waves are smooth, the skies serene;
They want the baseness of the poor's retreat,
And envy'd houses of the great.
Storms often vex the lofty oak,
High mountains feel the thunder's stroke;
And lofty towers, when winds prevail,
Are ruin'd with a greater fall:
A breast prepar'd in either state
Or fears or hopes a change of Fate;
'Tis Jove the same that winter brings
And melts the frost by pleasing springs:
Tho' Fortune now contracts her brow,
And frowns, yet 'twill not still be so:
Apollo sometimes mirth pursues,
His harp awakes his sleepy muse,
Nor always bends his threatening bow:
When Fortune sends a stormy wind,
Then show a brave and present mind;
And when with too indulgent gales
She swells too much, then furl thy sails.
Horace (translated by Thomas Creech), Odes, Book II, Ode 10, in Thomas Creech, The Odes, Satires, and Epistles of Horace (1684).
"The golden mean." This sort of thing is regarded as a cliché by soi-disant sophisticated moderns. Old, unironic, sentimental stuff. Too obvious to bear repeating. But would I rather read the poetry of Horace or a contemporary novel? Next question.
Charles Parsons Knight, "Ramsey Island, Off Pembrokeshire" (1876)
I have also become increasingly fond of sea-faring metaphors for life, which are abundant in Horace and Herrick. My time on various bodies of water has been limited to rowboats, an occasional canoe, and car ferries, but there is something about the notion of life as a sea-voyage that strikes my fancy. Perhaps it is the timelessness of the image. Last year I spent a great deal of time musing over the numerous lovely funereal epigrams for drowned mariners that one finds in The Greek Anthology. And then there is this sort of thing: "Run out the boat, my broken comrades . . . Run up the sail, my heartsick comrades . . . Put out to sea, ignoble comrades . . ." (Louis MacNeice, "Thalassa.")
He, who has suffer'd ship-wrack, fears to sail
Upon the seas, though with a gentle gale.
Robert Herrick, Hesperides (1648). This has been identified as a translation of line 8 in Poem 7, Book II, of Ovid's Epistulae ex Ponto. Tom Cain and Ruth Connolly (editors), The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, Volume II (Oxford University Press 2013), page 685.
Safety on the Shore
What though the sea be calm? Trust to the shore:
Ships have been drown'd, where late they danced before.
Robert Herrick, Hesperides. It has been suggested that the source of the poem is a passage in Epistle IV of Seneca's Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales: "Do not trust her calm; in a moment the sea is in turmoil. The same day the ships dance in the games, they are engulfed." Tom Cain and Ruth Connolly (editors), The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, Volume II, page 577.
Charles Parsons Knight, "Falmouth Harbour" (1883)
Not surprisingly, there are echoes of Horace throughout Herrick's poetry. Thus, for example, the following poem by Herrick is reminiscent of the ode by Horace that is set forth above.
Good Precepts, or Counsel
In all thy need, be thou possest
Still with a well-prepared breast:
Nor let the shackles make thee sad;
Thou canst but have, what others had.
And this for comfort thou must know,
Times that are ill won't still be so.
Clouds will not ever power down rain;
A sullen day will clear again.
First, peals of thunder we must hear,
Then lutes and harps shall stroke the ear.
Robert Herrick, Hesperides.
"Times that are ill won't still be so" (line 6) may have its source in Horace's lines translated by Creech as: "Tho' Fortune now contracts her brow,/And frowns, yet 'twill not still be so." Tom Cain and Ruth Connolly (editors), The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, Volume II, page 706. "First, peals of thunder we must hear,/Then lutes and harps shall stroke the ear" (lines 9 and 10) may show the influence of Horace's "Apollo sometimes mirth pursues,/His harp awakes his sleepy muse,/Nor always bends his threatening bow." Ibid.
Charles Parsons Knight, "Cawsand Bay" (1877)
Finally, out of nowhere comes this:
A star looks down at me,
And says: "Here I and you
Stand, each in our degree:
What do you mean to do, --
Mean to do?"
I say: "For all I know,
Wait, and let Time go by,
Till my change come." -- "Just so,"
The star says: "So mean I: --
So mean I."
Thomas Hardy, Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs, and Trifles (1925).
I suppose that pursuing the golden mean is to a great degree a matter of waiting.
"Everything which seems to perish merely changes. Since you are destined to return, you ought to depart with a tranquil mind. Mark how the round of the universe repeats its course; you will see that no star in our firmament is extinguished, but that they all set and rise in alternation. Summer has gone, but another year will bring it again; winter lies low, but will be restored by its own proper months; night has overwhelmed the sun, but day will soon rout the night again. The wandering stars retrace their former courses; a part of the sky is rising unceasingly, and a part is sinking."
Seneca (translated by Richard Gummere), Epistle XXXVI, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales.
Charles Parsons Knight, "The Kyles of Bute" (1893)