UNDER MARCUS BRUTUS
(Horace, Odes, II, 7)
Oh how often with us in the forlorn hope
under the proconsulship of Marcus Brutus!
Citizen, who has brought you back to Rome,
your country’s guardian spirits, the Italian sky?
My first friend, O my best, Pompey,
how often have we drawn out the delaying day,
sleeking our brightening hair
with Syrian nard!
With you at Philippi, when I felt the headlong rout,
and threw away my little shield,
when Virtue broke asunder, when
two armies bit the dust…
I was afraid; then Mercury, the quick,
the subtle, sheltered and delivered me.
And you? The wave of battle reabsorbed you,
and pulled you down into its troubled, bleeding surf.
Offer the Sky-god then this meal.
Spread out your flesh worn out by war
under my laurels. Don’t forget me,
or spare the wine-jars set aside for thee.
Fill the old gold goblets with red wine;
break the fine shells of nard or perfume;
tell me who’ll wreathe the coronets
with parsley or with myrtle?
Throw down the dice. Throw down the dice—
Aphrodite has chosen her master of the feast.
I’ll drink like Alexander. It is sweet
to drink to fury when a friend’s reprieved.
(Horace, Odes, I, 37)
Now is the time to drink,
to dance in measure through the world,
and crown the couches of the gods,
Before this, it was infamous
to taste the fruit of the vine,
while Cleopatra with her depraved gangs,
germ of the Empire, plotted
to enthrone her ruin in the Capitol,
and put an end to Rome.
O impotent of hope,
O drunk on fortune…
but Caesar tamed your soul;
you saw with now a sober eye
the true worth of his terror,
O Cleopatra, scarcely escaping,
O with a single ship, scarcely
escaping from your flaming ships, afire,
Cleopatra, with Caesar running on the wind,
three rising stands of oars, with Caesar
falling on you like a sparrow hawk
fallen on some soft dove or sprinting rabbit
in the winter field. And yet you sought
a more magnanimous way to die.
Hardly a woman, you despised our swords,
you did not search for secret harbors.
Regal, serene and agonized,
you even saw, Egypt, your Kingdom’s ruin.
Poisonous snakes gave up their secrets;
you held them with strong hands,
you gave them your breast to suck and poison…
When you’d chosen death,
how could you go aboard Octavian’s galleys,
how could you go, Ferocious,
and crown triumphant Caesar’s Triumph—
no queen now, but a private woman.
January 28, 1965