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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.


From the Latin. Ovid in Exile

At Tomis, in Bessarabia, near the Mouths of the Danube
Tristia, Book III., Elegy X.

SHOULD any one there in Rome remember Ovid the exile,

And, without me, my name still in the city survive;

Tell him that under stars which never set in the ocean

I am existing still, here in a barbarous land.

Fierce Sarmatians encompass me round, and the Bessi and Getæ;

Names how unworthy to be sung by a genius like mine!

Yet when the air is warm, intervening Ister defends us:

He, as he flows, repels inroads of war with his waves.

But when the dismal winter reveals its hideous aspect,

When all the earth becomes white with a marble-like frost;

And when Boreas is loosed, and the snow hurled under Arcturus,

Then these nations, in sooth, shudder and shiver with cold.

Deep lies the snow, and neither the sun nor the rain can dissolve it;

Boreas hardens it still, makes it forever remain.

Hence, ere the first has melted away, another succeeds it.

And two years it is wont, in many places, to lie.

And so great is the power of the Northwind awakened, it levels

Lofty towers with the ground, roofs uplifted bears off.

Wrapped in skins, and with trousers sewed, they contend with the weather,

And their faces alone of the whole body are seen.

Often their tresses, when shaken, with pendent icicles tinkle,

And their whitened beards shine with the gathering frost.

Wines consolidate stand, preserving the form of the vessels;

No more draughts of wine,—pieces presented they drink.

Why should I tell you how all the rivers are frozen and solid,

And from out of the lake frangible water is dug?

Ister,—no narrower stream than the river that bears the papyrus,—

Which through its many mouths mingles its waves with the deep;

Ister, with hardening winds, congeals its cerulean waters,

Under a roof of ice winding its way to the sea.

There where ships have sailed, men go on foot; and the billows,

Solid made by the frost, hoof-beats of horses indent.

Over unwonted bridges, with water gliding beneath them,

The Sarmatian steers drag their barbarian carts.

Scarcely shall I be believed; yet when naught is gained by a falsehood,

Absolute credence then should to a witness be given.

I have beheld the vast Black Sea of ice all compacted,

And a slippery crust pressing its motionless tides.

’T is not enough to have seen, I have trodden this indurate ocean;

Dry shod passed my foot over its uppermost wave.

If thou hadst had of old such a sea as this is, Leander!

Then thy death had not been charged as a crime to the Strait.

Nor can the curvèd dolphins uplift themselves from the water;

All their struggles to rise merciless winter prevents;

And though Boreas sound with roar of wings in commotion,

In the blockaded gulf never a wave will there be;

And the ships will stand hemmed in by the frost, as in marble,

Nor will the oar have power through the stiff waters to cleave.

Fast-bound in the ice have I seen the fishes adhering,

Yet notwithstanding this some of them still were alive.

Hence, if the savage strength of omnipotent Boreas freezes

Whether the salt-sea wave, whether the refluent stream,—

Straightway,—the Ister made level by arid blasts of the North-wind,—

Comes the barbaric foe borne on his swift-footed steed;

Foe, that powerful made by his steed and his far-flying arrows,

All the neighboring land void of inhabitants makes.

Some take flight, and none being left to defend their possessions,

Unprotected, their goods pillage and plunder become;

Cattle and creaking carts, the little wealth of the country,

And what riches beside indigent peasants possess.

Some as captives are driven along, their hands bound behind them,

Looking backward in vain toward their Lares and lands.

Others, transfixed with barbèd arrows, in agony perish.

For the swift arrow-heads all have in poison been dipped.

What they cannot carry or lead away they demolish,

And the hostile flames burn up the innocent cots.

Even when there is peace, the fear of war is impending;

None, with the ploughshare pressed, furrows the soil any more.

Either this region sees, or fears a foe that it sees not,

And the sluggish land slumbers in utter neglect.

No sweet grape lies hidden here in the shade of its vine-leaves,

No fermenting must fills and o’erflows the deep vats.

Apples the region denies; nor would Acontius have found here

Aught upon which to write words for his mistress to read.

Naked and barren plains without leaves or trees we behold here,—

Places, alas! unto which no happy man would repair.

Since then this mighty orb lies open so wide upon all sides,

Has this region been found only my prison to be?

Tristia, Book III., Elegy XII.

Now the zephyrs diminish the cold, and the year being ended,

Winter Mæotian seems longer than ever before;

And the Ram that bore unsafely the burden of Helle,

Now makes the hours of the day equal with those of the night.

Now the boys and the laughing girls the violet gather,

Which the fields bring forth, nobody sowing the seed.

Now the meadows are blooming with flowers of various colors,

And with untaught throats carol the garrulous birds.

Now the swallow, to shun the crime of her merciless mother,

Under the rafters builds cradles and dear little homes;

And the blade that lay hid, covered up in the furrows of Ceres,

Now from the tepid ground raises its delicate head.

Where there is ever a vine, the bud shoots forth from the tendrils,

But from the Getic shore distant afar is the vine!

Where there is ever a tree, on the tree the branches are swelling,

But from the Getic land distant afar is the tree!

Now it is holiday there in Rome, and to games in due order

Give place the windy wars of the vociferous bar.

Now they are riding the horses; with light arms now they are playing,

Now with the ball, and now round rolls the swift-flying hoop:

Now, when the young athlete with flowing oil is anointed,

He in the Virgin’s Fount bathes, overwearied, his limbs.

Thrives the stage; and applause, with voices at variance, thunders,

And the Theatres three for the three Forums resound.

Four times happy is he, and times without number is happy,

Who the city of Rome, uninterdicted, enjoys.

But all I see is the snow in the vernal sunshine dissolving,

And the waters no more delved from the indurate lake.

Nor is the sea now frozen, nor as before o’er the Ister

Comes the Sarmatian boor driving his stridulous cart.

Hitherward, nevertheless, some keels already are steering,

And on this Pontic shore alien vessels will be.

Eagerly shall I run to the sailor, and, having saluted,

Who he may be, I shall ask; wherefore and whence he hath come.

Strange indeed will it be, if he come not from regions adjacent,

And incautious unless ploughing the neighboring sea.

Rarely a mariner over the deep from Italy passes,

Rarely he comes to these shores, wholly of harbors devoid.

Whether he knoweth Greek, or whether in Latin he speaketh,

Surely on this account he the more welcome will be.

Also perchance from the mouth of the Strait and the waters Propontic,

Unto the steady South-wind, some one is spreading his sails.

Whosoever he is, the news he can faithfully tell me,

Which may become a part and an approach to the truth.

He, I pray, may be able to tell me the triumphs of Cæsar,

Which he has heard of, and vows paid to the Latian Jove;

And that thy sorrowful head, Germania, thou, the rebellious,

Under the feet, at last, of the Great Captain hast laid.

Whoso shall tell me the things, that not to have seen will afflict me,

Forthwith unto my house welcomed as guest shall he be.

Woe is me! Is the house of Ovid in Scythian lands now?

And doth punishment now give me its place for a home?

Grant, ye gods, that Cæsar make this not my house and my homestead,

But decree it to be only the inn of my pain.