The following poem is inspired by the work of Emily Lever ’15, whose “The Plague: A Double Translation,” remains one of the best pieces I’ve read in this magazine. I have taken the ninth in Horace’s first book of odes (commonly known as the “Soracte Ode”) and, following Emily’s example, “translated it into English and into the setting of Princeton in 201.”
I felt free to take certain liberties as translator because Horace himself was writing a “double translation” of an earlier Greek lyric by Alcaeus. In order to create a poem that stands on its own merit, I have employed a meter and rhyme that are entirely my own while trying to remain faithful in tone and spirit to the source. Horace places the Hellenic tradition of the symposium in an Italian context. I turn the symposium into a Princeton frat pregame. In Horace’s poem, a middle-aged man addresses Thaliarchus, a youth. In mine, a washed-up senior addresses his pledge. I have substituted Nassau Hall for Mt. Soracte, Lake Carnegie for Horace’s generic flumina (rivers), Franzia for Sabine wine, late-night texts for prearranged trysts, etc. The most significant departure from the original is the third stanza. Horace talks about relinquishing concerns to the gods, whose omnipotence is demonstrated by their control over the environment. This sentiment doesn’t quite translate to our milieu. Certain things, however, translate all too easily. Perhaps the greatest point of contact between the two poems is the word “campus,” a word which in fact first enters the English language in reference to the grounds of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University. Though the Latin campus in the original ode refers to the Campus Martius in Rome, the collegiate classicist, upon encountering it, cannot help but feel that Horace has stepped out of time to address him.
See how the height of Nassau Hall stands deep
beneath bright snow, how trees can hardly keep
their burdened branches up, and ice
grips Carnegie in frozen sleep?
Come fire your frigid limbs inside the dorm
where all your brothers gather to keep warm,
and grab a bag of Sunset Blush,
young pledge, to chug in fratty form.
Consign all cares to time, whose passing fades
the bitter sting of disappointing grades
and internships denied; in time
a man is more than accolades.
Don’t wonder what the future has in store;
whatever fortune will present, be sure
to count it gain. And do not spurn
sweet love, my boy, or the dancefloor
while senior woes don’t cloud your sunny day.
For now our campus crowned with Gothic archway
the firefly glow of texts exchanged
by night light lovers on their way;
for now the entry where a laugh reveals—
behind the corner darkness still conceals—
the girl, who coyly takes the hand
and now into the bedroom steals.
– Horace, Tr. Arthur Imperatore