Similarly steeped in Latin, the general and the literary vagabond discover that they both can recite the poem from memory.
The Latin text can be found here.
Here is Dryden’s independently memorable translation:
Behold yon mountain's hoary height
Made higher with new mounts of snow:
Again behold the winter's weight
Oppress the labouring woods below'
And streams with icy fetters bound
Benumbed and cramped to solid ground.
With well-heaped logs dissolve the cold
And feed the genial hearth with fires;
Produce the wine that makes us bold,
And spritely wit and love inspires;
For what hereafter shall betide
God (if 'tis worth His care) provide.
Let Him alone with what He made,
To toss and turn the world below;
At His command the storms invade,
The winds by His commission blow;
Till with a nod He bids them cease
And then the calm returns and all is peace.
Tomorrow and its works defy;
Lay hold upon the present hour,
And snatch the pleasures passing by
To put them out of Fortune's power;
Nor love nor love's delights disdain –
Whate'er thou getts't today, is gain.
Secure those golden early joys
That youth unsoured with sorrow bears,
Ere with'ring time the taste destroys
With sickness and unwieldy years.
For active sports, for pleasing rest.
This is the time to be posesst;
The best is but in season best.
Th'appointed hour of promised bliss,
The pleasing whisper in the dark,
The half-unwilling willing kiss,
The laugh that guides thee to the mark,
When the kind nymph would coyness feign
And hides but to be found again –
These, these are joys the gods for youth ordain.
I don’t know if Goethe ever read Horace’s ode, but I would be very surprised to learn that he hadn’t, given his obvious debt to the tradition of lyric poetry in Latin and, perhaps even more, to the Greek lyric poets whose work Horace deliberately imitated. The Soracte ode, for example, is written in a stanzaic metrical scheme invented by, or at least named after, the poet Alcaeus, a sixth-century B.C. native of Lesbos and possible lover of Sappho.
Wine and love were apparently frequent subjects for Alcaeus. He survives in quoted fragments and lucky survivals found in papyri preserved in Egyptian rubbish dumps of the later Roman empire.
At any rate, its fairly clear that the Soracte ode was meant to be read as a Latinization of traditional Greek motifs, gracefully shifting from winter cold to a celebration of domestic warmth, wine and the amorous pleasures of the moment, indulged without guilt, before the inevitable winter of life blows in.
We can only guess as to whether Horace had a specific Greek poem in mind, but his decision to write the ode in alcaics was a definite homage to the poetic manner of Alcaus and Sappho, who used the same meter. It was also a technical stunt to recreate the prosodically diverse lines of the Greek form in Latin.
Two millennia later, Tennyson took up the challenge in his “Milton.” Its four alcaic stanzas offer a Victorian echo of this archaic mode:
O mighty-mouth'd inventor of harmonies,
O skill'd to sing of Time or Eternity,
God-gifted organ-voice of England,
Milton, a name to resound for ages;
Whose Titan angels, Gabriel, Abdiel,
Starr'd from Jehovah's gorgeous armouries,
Tower, as the deep-domed empyrean
Rings to the roar of an angel onset—
The brooks of Eden mazily murmuring,
And bloom profuse and cedar arches
Charm, as a wanderer out in ocean,
Where some refulgent sunset of India
Streams o'er a rich ambrosial ocean isle,
And crimson-hued the stately palm-woods
Whisper in odorous heights of even.
Tennyson was deliberately showing off his skill with a metrical scheme entirely foreign to English lyric poetry. Goethe, on the other hand, made the intricate simplicity of Greek lyric poetry his own, unostentatiously. Germanizing its mix of technical sophistication, compression and simplicity of feeling.
Most lyric poetry in English makes no such attempt to reflect the lyric poetry of antiquity. Ours is a freer, broader way of doing things, without exotic meters clogging the direct expression of feeling cloaked transparently in the native rhythms of iambic pentameter. Even Milton, who wrote plausible poems in Latin, wrote his epics in iambic pentameter, not in the dactylic hexameter of Homer and Vergil. Longfellow, unfortunately, could not resist the temptation to try his hand at the ancient meter in his cringemaking Evangeline:
the forest primeval. The murmuring pines
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct
in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and pro-
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neigh-
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail
of the forest.
Goethe, however, even in the emotionally somber, personal mood of his “Hiker’s Night Song II,” fits naturally into the classical mode of lyric poetry, the tradition exemplified in its brevity and sharp emotional contrast by this short poem of Xenophanes (c.570-c.475 BC):
When you lie on a soft couch by the fire in winter,
Well-fed, drinking sweet wine and munching chickpeas,
Be sure you ask the man next to you:
What’s your name, Sir? Where are you from? How old?
Where were you, when the Mede came?
Food and wine and a fire are fine things, but don’t forget the horrors of the Persian invasion. Thirty-four words, a Goethean tension of peace and death in the smallest space.
Ironically, enough, this cameo survives not for its beauty and concision, or the way it shifts from elaborated mellowness to bluff, colloquial speech. No, it’s because of the chickpeas.
Xenophanes 18 has come down to us as part of a catalogue of fruits, berries and nuts in the Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus, a vast compendium of lore about food and dining compiled in Roman Egypt. If it weren’t for the chickpeas (erebinthous), Athenaeus wouldn’t have been interested.