The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace by Horace


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Page 2


You shoot; she whets her tusks to bite;
While he who sits to judge the fight
Treads on the palm with foot so white,
Disdainful,
And sweetly floating in the air
Wanton he spreads his fragrant hair,
Like Ganymede or Nireus fair,
And vainful.

It would be possible, no doubt, to produce verses better adapted to
recommend the measure than these stanzas, which are, however, the best
that can be quoted from Francis; it might be possible, too, to suggest
some improvement in the structure of the fourth line. But, however
managed, this stanza would, I think, be open to two serious objections;
the difficulty of finding three suitable rhymes for each stanza, and
the difficulty of disposing of the fourth line, which, if made to rhyme
with the fourth line of the next stanza, produces an awkwardness in the
case of those Odes which consist of an odd number of stanzas (a large
proportion of the whole amount), if left unrhymed, creates an obviously
disagreeable effect. We come then to the other alternative, the stanza
with alternate rhymes. Here the question is about the fourth line,
which may either consist of six syllables, like Coleridge's Fragment,
"O leave the lily on its stem," or of four, as in Pope's youthful "Ode
on Solitude," these types being further varied by the addition of an
extra syllable to form a double rhyme. Of these the four-syllable type
seems to me the one to be preferred, as giving the effect of the Adonic
better than if it had been two syllables longer. The double rhyme has,
I think, an advantage over the single, were it not for its greater
difficulty. Much as English lyric poetry owes to double rhymes, a
regular supply of them is not easy to procure; some of them are apt to
be cumbrous, such as words in-ATION; others, such as the participial-ING
(DYING, FLYING, &c.), spoil the language of poetry, leading to the
employment of participles where participles are not wanted, and of
verbal substantives that exist nowhere else. My first intention was to
adopt the double rhyme in this measure, and I accordingly executed
three Odes on that plan (Book I. Odes 22, 38; Book II. Ode 16);
afterwards I abandoned it, and contented myself with the single rhyme.
On the whole, I certainly think this measure answers sufficiently well
to the Latin Sapphic; but I have felt its brevity painfully in almost
every Ode that I have attempted, being constantly obliged to omit some
part of the Latin which I would gladly have preserved. The great number
of monosyllables in English is of course a reason for acquiescing in
lines shorter than the corresponding lines in Latin; but even in
English polysyllables are often necessary, and still oftener desirable
on grounds of harmony; and an allowance of twenty-eight syllables of
English for thirty-eight of Latin is, after all, rather short.

For the place of the Alcaic there are various candidates. Mr. Tennyson
has recently invented a measure which, if not intended to reproduce the
Alcaic, was doubtless suggested by it, that which appears in his poem
of "The Daisy," and, in a slightly different form, in the "Lines to Mr.
Maurice." The two last lines of the latter form of the stanza are
indeed evidently copied from the Alcaic, with the simple omission of
the last syllable of the last line of the original. Still, as a whole,
I doubt whether this form would be as suitable, at least for a
dignified Ode, as the other, where the initial iambic in the last line,
substituted for a trochec, makes the movement different. I was
deterred, however, from attempting either, partly by a doubt whether
either had been sufficiently naturalized in English to be safely
practised by an unskilful hand, partly by the obvious difficulty of
having to provide three rhymes per stanza, against which the occurrence
of one line in each without a rhyme at all was but a poor set-off. A
second metre which occurred to me is that of Andrew Marvel's Horatian
Ode, a variety of which is found twice in Mr. Keble's Christian Year.
Here two lines of eight syllables are followed by two of six, the
difference between the types being that in Marvel's Ode the rhymes are
successive, in Mr. Keble's alternate. The external correspondence
between this and the Alcaic is considerable; but the brevity of the
English measure struck me at once as a fatal obstacle, and I did not
try to encounter it. A third possibility is the stanza of "In
Memoriam," which has been adopted by the clever author of "Poems and
Translations, by C. S. C.," in his version of "Justum et tenacem." I
think it very probable that this will be found eventually to be the
best representation of the Alcaic in English, especially as it appears
to afford facilities for that linking of stanza to stanza which one who
wishes to adhere closely to the logical and rhythmical structure of the
Latin soon learns to desire. But I have not adopted it; and I believe
there is good reason for not doing so. With all its advantages, it has
the patent disadvantage of having been brought into notice by a poet
who is influencing the present generation as only a great living poet
can. A great writer now, an inferior writer hereafter, may be able to
handle it with some degree of independence; but the majority of those
who use it at present are sure in adopting Mr. Tennyson's metre to
adopt his manner. It is no reproach to "C. S. C." that his Ode reminds
us of Mr. Tennyson; it is a praise to him that the recollection is a
pleasant one. But Mr. Tennyson's manner is not the manner of Horace,
and it is the manner of a contemporary; the expression--a most powerful
and beautiful expression--of influences to which a translator of an
ancient classic feels himself to be too much subjected already. What is
wanted is a metre which shall have other associations than those of the
nineteenth century, which shall be the growth of various periods of
English poetry, and so be independent of any. Such a metre is that
which I have been led to choose, the eight-syllable iambic with
alternate rhymes. It is one of the commonest metres in the language,
and for that reason it is adapted to more than one class of subjects,
to the gay as well as to the grave. But I am mistaken if it is not
peculiarly suited to express that concentrated grandeur, that majestic
combination of high eloquence with high poetry, which make the early
Alcaic Odes of Horace's Third Book what they are to us. The main
difficulty is in accommodating its structure to that of the Latin, of
varying the pauses, and of linking stanza to stanza. It is a difficulty
before which I have felt myself almost powerless, and I have in
consequence been driven to the natural expedient of weakness,
compromise, sometimes evading it, sometimes coping with it
unsuccessfully. In other respects I may be allowed to say that I have
found the metre pleasanter to handle than any of the others that I have
attempted, except, perhaps, that of "The Dream of Fair Women." The
proportion of syllables in each stanza of English to each stanza of
Latin is not much greater than in the case of the Sapphic, thirty-two
against forty-one; yet, except in a few passages, chiefly those
containing proper names, I have had no disagreeable sense of
confinement. I believe the reason of this to be that the Latin Alcaic
generally contains fewer words in proportion than the Latin Sapphic,
the former being favourable to long words, the latter to short ones, as
may be seen by contrasting such lines as "Dissentientis conditionibus"
with such as "Dona praesentis rape laetus horae ac." This, no doubt,
shows that there is an inconvenience in applying the same English
iambic measure to two metres which differ so greatly in their practical
result; but so far as I can see at present, the evil appears to be one
of those which it is wiser to submit to than to attempt to cure.

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