Horace writes this poem to Torquatus. He speaks to him of seasons and renewal—constant renewal. Against this he places death. No resurrection, no reincarnation, not one Semitic thought. He turns to no Osiris. Jesus and his promise of rebirth are years away. Muhammad and his message from heaven won't happen for another seven centuries.
Daniel Garrison (Horace: Epodes and Odes, A New Annotated Latin Edition, 1991), relates this Horace's poem to T. S. Eliot's line "April is the cruelest month
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
( . . . . )
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,
Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!
You! hypocrite lecteur!--mon semblable!--mon frère!"
To me, Horace and Eliot are not talking about the same thing. Horace is talking about the end of the self and the unfairness of the cycle of birth and death. All things are renewed but me, Horace seems to say; for I am to be dismantled at death and scattered like dust.
More like Horace is Omar Khayyam, who along with many Persian poets, writes of our turning to dust. Omar warns us to seize the day, not wait for heaven's rewards. Here are two quatrains from Khayyam:
گویند بهشت و حور و کوثر باشد
جوی می و شیر و شهد و شکر باشد
پر کن قدح باده و بر دستم نه
نقدی ز هزار نسیه خوشتر باشد
They say there is heaven and houris and the Kauthar,
A stream of wine and milk and honey and sugar
Fill the wine cup and put it in my hand
Ready cash is sweeter than a thousand i.o.u's.
چون عمر بسر رسد چه شیرین و جه تلخ
پیمانه چو پر شود چه بغداد و چه بلخ
می نوش که بعد از من و تو ماه بسی
از سلخ به غره آید از غره به سلخ
When life comes to the end, what's sweet, what's bitter?
When the cup is full, what matters Baghdad or Balkh?
Drink wine. After you and me there'll be many moons
From old moons to new moons, and new moons to old.
Garrison also mentioned that "A. E. Housman considered [Horace's poem] the most beautiful poem in the Latin language." As far as the beauty of the poem is concerned, I am in no position to judge. I will say that I was surprised at how much like a Persian ghazal it seemed. In a ghazal, there is no evident logic between the lines, rather the reader must consider the poem as a whole. Each line becomes a facet, as on a diamond, each one reflecting something different, but each one belonging to the whole. Diffugere Nives seems to me a bit like a ghazal: winter, then spring, then nymphs, then moons, then references to the mythological past and to the gods.
to chase away the snows the grass returns to the fields,
the leaves to bald trees
the earth keeps changing; rivers subside to flow
within their banks.
nude grace with her twin sisters and the nymphs
dares lead the chorus.
no hope for immortality warns the year and the hour
that grabs the giving day.
Zephyrs soften the cold. summer shoves spring aside
likewise to perish.
apple autumn scatters fruit, and soon inert winter
comes round again.
the moons quickly repair their skyhome injuries,
but whither we descend,
whither right Aeneas, rich Tullus and Ancus, there
we are—dust and shadow
who knows if the gods above will add tomorrows
to this day's sums?
all you give your life will flee the greedy hands
of your heir.
once you die and Minos decides your end
loud and clear,
Torquatus, no clan can restore your eloquence,
no Diana can free modest Hippolytus from
no Theseus can break the Lethaean chains
for dear Pirithous.
[translation © 2009 by James Rumford]
Nives diffugere. ‹Gramina campis› ‹comae arboribusque› iam redeunt. Terra vices mutat et flumina decrescentia ripas praetereunt. Gratia nuda cum Nymphis sororibusque geminis audet choros ducere.
Annus [te] monet—et hora quae diem almum rapit: ne immortalia speres! Frigora Zephyris mitescunt. Aestas ver proterit. [Aestas] interitura [est] simul Autumnus pomifer fruges effuderit, et mox bruma iners recurrit.
Lunae tamen celeres damna caelestia reparant. Ubi nos decidimus [est] quo Aeneas pius, quo Tullus dives et Ancus [deciderunt]. Pulvis et umbra sumus. Quis scit an di superi tempora crastina summae hodiernae adiciant?
Cuncta quae animo amico [tuo] dederis, manus avidas heredis fugient. Cum semel occideris et de te Minos arbitria splendida fecerit, non genus, [o] Torquate, non te facundia, non te pietas restitue[n]t.
Neque enim Diana Hippolytum pudicum [ex] tenebris infernis liberat, nec Theseus valet vincula Lethaea Pirǐthoo caro abrumpere.
[revised August 11, 2013]
Traduction en langue française: http://agoraclass.fltr.ucl.ac.be/concordances/Horace_odesIV/ligne05.cfm?numligne=62&mot=te#debut
Diffūgēre nivēs, redeunt iam grāmina campīs
mūtat terra vicēs et dēcrescentia rīpās
Grātia cum Nymphīs geminīsque sorōribus audet
dūcere nūda chorus.
immortālia nē spērēs, monet annus et almum
quae rapit hōra diem.
frīgora mītescunt Zephyrīs, vēr prōterit aestās,
pōmifer Autumnus frūgēs effūderit, et mox
brūma recurrit iners.
damna tamen celerēs reparant caelestia lūnae:
nōn ubi dēcidimus
quō pater Aenēas, quō dīves Tūllus et Ancus,
pulvis et umbra sumus.
quis scit an adiciant hodiernae crastina sūmmae
tempora dī superī?
cuncta manūs avidās fugient hērēdis, amīcō
quae dederīs animō.
cum semel occiderīs et dē tē splendida Mīnōs
nōn, Torquāte, genus, nōn tē fācundia, nōn tē
infernīs neque enim teněbrīs Dīāna pudīcum
nec Lēthaea valet Thēseus abrumpere cārō
:: Latin books by James Rumford ::
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