Home Thoughts - Poem by Tibullus
Without me you will sail, Messalla, the Grecian waves;
may you and all our friends remember me!
Phaeacia holds me here, sick in a foreign land,
but hold far off, dark Death, your greedy hands!
Hold off, black Death, I pray: I have no mother here
to gather my burnt bones in grieving arms;
no sister, to pour Syrian incense on my pyre
and weep with streaming hair before my tomb;
nor Delia either, who, when sending me from Rome,
sought omens first (they say) from every god.
Three times she drew the boy's prophetic lots, and thrice
he answered her that all would yet be well.
All promised my return, yet she was not deterred
from shedding anxious tears for my campaign;
and I, although I gave her solace and farewell,
still fearfully kept seeking long delays.
I either pled fell omens from the flight of birds,
or claimed that Saturn's-day kept me at home.
How many times I said, when starting on the road,
I stumbled at the gate, an adverse sign.
Let no man dare depart against the will of Love,
or let him know his voyage defies a god!
What good now is your Isis, Delia, what good
the bronze so often rattled by your hand?
What good, to faithfully keep the rites, the sacred bath,
and (I remember!) chastely sleep alone?
Now, goddess, now sustain me (since within your shrine
so many painted plaques show you can heal) ,
so Delia may pay her promised vows, and sit
in linen gown before your sacred door,
and chant your praises twice a day, with loosened hair,
pre-eminent among the Pharian throng.
But be it mine to visit my ancestral gods
and give my old Lar incense every month.
How fine was human life in Saturn's reign, before
the earth was opened up to far campaigns!
No mast had then yet dared to tempt the azure waves
nor spread its billowing canvas to the winds;
no trader, wandering alien lands in search of gain,
had yet weighed down his ship with foreign wares.
No burly oxen then submitted to the yoke;
no broken horses tamely champed the bit.
No house had doors, no stones were fixed among the fields
to mark off acreage in rigid bounds.
The oaks themselves dripped honey, and of themselves the ewes
brought swollen udders to the carefree folk.
There were no battle-lines, no wrath, no wars, nor had
the harsh smith's ruthless cunning forged the blade.
Now, Jupiter's age is rife with slaughter and with blood:
the land, the sea now teem with sudden death.
Have mercy, Father! No false oaths weigh down my mind,
no impious words against the holy gods.
But if I have indeed fulfilled my fated span,
let this inscription stand above my bones:
HERE LIES TIBULLUS, SNATCHED AWAY BY CRUEL DEATH,
WHILE FOLLOWING MESSALLA, LAND AND SEA.
But since I ever have been apt for tender love,
Venus shall lead me to the Elysian plains.
Here dance and singing flourish, and wandering everywhere
the birds trill sweetly from their slender throats; 60
the untilled meads bear cassia, and all throughout the fields
the kindly earth blooms forth the fragrant rose;
and ranks of youths, with tender girls mingled among,
here play and join love's never-ending wars.
All lovers overcome by ravening Death are there,
pre-eminent with crowns of myrtle boughs.
But the home appointed for the damned in deepest night
lies hid, and round it wail the gloomy streams.
Tisiphone, with savage matted snakes for hair
rages, and drives the wavering impious throng;
then at the gates black Cerberus with snaky mouth
shrieks, and stands watch at the brazen doors.
Ixion's guilty limbs are turned on the swift wheel
because he dared assault the wife of Jove;
and Tityos lies stretched across nine acre's ground,
and vultures pasture on his dark entrails.
There Tantalus thirsts fiercely 'midst the pools, but now
just as he stoops to drink, the wave recedes;
and Danaus' girls, who slighted the majesty of Love,
must carry Lethe's stream to leaking urns.
May he be there, whoever has sinned against my love,
by wishing me a long drawn out campaign!
But you, I pray, keep chaste; may your old chaperone
be ever near as sacred honor's guard,
diverting you with stories, and, when the lamp is lit,
from the full distaff to draw a long thread down:
while round about the girls, intent on their heavy wool,
yield bit by bit to sleep, and dropp their tasks.
Then suddenly may I come, no warning given before,
but may I seem to you dropped from the sky.
Then run to meet me, Delia, all unprepared,
barefoot, with your long tresses streaming down.
This is my prayer: to us may pale Aurora bring
that day's bright Dawnstar on her rosy steeds.
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