You shouldn’t ask—to know is devilry—
What end the gods have given you and me,
Leuconoë, nor should you fix your hopes
On anything you find in horoscopes.
Better, whatever comes, this suffering—
Whether Jupiter has judged he’ll bring
Us future winters, or that this shall be
Our last, which now whips the Etruscan Sea
Crashing against the cliffs. Be circumspect,
Purify the wine, and, if you detect
Hopes overreaching their allotted spaces,
Trim them. Even as we talk, Time races
By us begrudgingly: seize the day,
And trust tomorrow little as you may.
Tu ne quaesieris—scire nefas—quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoë, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. Ut melius quicquid erit pati,
seu plures hiemes, seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum. Sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. Dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
Translator’s Note: Less famous as a poem than as the source of the familiar slogan carpe diem, Ode i.11 was composed in the Greater Asclepiadean meter, suggesting it may have been, as the other two odes in this meter were, a version of a Greek original. Indeed, Horace took great pride in adapting Greek meters to Latin verse, calling himself a biformis vates, or bi-form poet, in Ode ii.20. My translation has taken a few liberties with the original.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, "Horace" to the English-speaking world, was born in 65 BCE in Venusia, the son of a freed-man. Educated in Rome and at the Athenian Academy, he fought on behalf of Brutus and the Republican cause in the Roman Civil War, retreating with the rest of the army at Philippi. After the war, his early poems endeared him to Maecenas, right-hand man of Octavian (Augustus Caesar). Horace became part of a literary circle that included Virgil and eventually became a Roman knight. World-famous for his grace and urbanity, Horace died in 8 BCE.
Ryan Wilson is the Editor-in-Chief of Literary Matters and the author of The Stranger World (Measure Press, 2017), winner of the Donald Justice Poetry Prize. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Five Points, The Hopkins Review, The New Criterion, The Sewanee Review, and The Yale Review. He is currently the Office Manager and C.F.O. of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW), and he teaches at The Catholic University of America and in the graduate program at Western State Colorado University. He lives with his wife north of Baltimore.