Horace: The Epistles

Book I: Epistle XIV

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved

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BkIEpXIV:1-30 Town versus country again

Steward, of woods, and the little farm that gives me back

Myself again, farm you loathe though it serves five households,

And sends five honest fathers to Varia’s market,

Let’s see if I’m better at rooting thorns from the mind,

Than you from the soil: whether Horace or farm does best.

Though I’m kept here, by Lamia’s filial affection

And grief: he mourns his brother, sighs inconsolably

For his lost brother, yet thought and feeling draw me back,

Longing to burst the barriers that obstruct the course.

I call the country-dweller, you the townsman, blessed.

One who admires another’s lot, naturally hates his own.

Each man’s foolish to blame a blameless place unfairly:

The mind’s at fault, which can never escape itself.

Drudging away you sighed secretly for the country,

A steward now you long for city games and baths:

You know I’m true to myself, and I’m sad to leave

Whenever some hateful business drags me to Rome .

We like different things: that’s the true disagreement

Between us. What you call empty, inhospitable

Wasteland, is lovely to one who shares my views

And hates what you think fine. I see that it’s brothels

And greasy stalls that stir your desire for town, the fact

Your patch would yield pepper and spice sooner than grapes,

And there’s never an inn nearby to offer you wine,

No pipe-playing whore, to whose wails you can dance,

Pounding the earth: yet you labour in fields, long untouched

By the hoe, tend to the unyoked ox, and feed him cut grass:

Wearied, the stream makes more work, when rain has fallen,

Diverted by earthworks, to spare the sunlit meadow.

BkIEpXIV:31-44 Each envies the other

Come now, and hear what creates our disharmony.

A man who’s graced with fine clothes and sleek hair,

A man who gift-less still charmed greedy Cinara,

A man who from mid-day on drank clear Falernian,

Now likes a light meal, a sleep in the riverside grass:

The shame’s not in play, but in never letting play end.

There, no one looks askance, detracts from my pleasures,

Or, back-biting, poisons them with a secret hatred:

The neighbours just smile as I shift my turf and stones.

You’d rather gnaw your portion with slaves, in town:

You’d throw in your lot with that crowd: yet my sharp boy

Envies your rights to my firewood, flocks and garden.

The lazy ox longs for the bridle, the horse longs to plough.

I’d advise each to employ, freely, the skill he knows.

End of Book I Epistle XIV