Go to Perilla, hastily scrawled letter,
trusty caretaker of my words, and greet her.
You’ll find her with her lovely mother, sitting,
or with her books, among the verse she’s writing.
When she sees you, she’ll drop whatever task,
and why you’ve come, and how I am, she’ll ask.
Say I’m alive, but do not wish to be;
time passing hasn’t soothed my misery;
I’m back to couplets, making the words fit,
though verse has never brought me benefit.……………10
Address her: “Are you working in our line,
still singing in your key instead of mine?
Besides good looks and manners, native talents,
you have a rarer dowery—your brilliance.
To keep that fecund freshet sluicing on,
I first led you to drink from Helicon.
I saw it first, when you were young, and tried,
father to daughter, to be your friend, and guide.
So, if you still burn with the same desire,
Sappho alone will show a brighter fire……………………. 20
I fear, though, that our fates may prove aligned,
and my downfall will dull your lively mind.
Time was, I’d read your work, and mine to you,
and weigh your lines, and teach you what I knew.
I’d listen to your drafts in their first flush,
and, when I caught you loafing, make you blush.
Perhaps the harm my writing’s done to me
has made you fear the selfsame penalty?
Courage, Perilla! Only don’t attempt
to teach the art of love; you’ll be exempt.………………..30
……So, put off indolence, sweet prodigy!
Keep practicing your sacred artistry.
Long years will spoil the freshness of your cheeks
and wrinkled age will crease your brow with streaks—
old age, that meets all loveliness with violence,
and steals upon us in a pall of silence.
You’ll hear, “But she was pretty once!” and grieve,
and what your mirror shows, you won’t believe.
Your fortune’s middling (though you merit better),
but let it be immeasurably greater— ……………………. ..40
Luck, at a whim, will still increase or fleece us,
and we’ll be Irus, who were lately Croesus.
No, we have nothing death will not inherit,
except the blessings of the mind and spirit.
Look, I—I’ve lost you, lost my land, my home;
I’m one whom no more can be taken from;
but my mind’s left, my sole delight and friend,
where Caesar’s sovereignty does not extend.
And should death, by a sword’s cruel stroke, arrive,
my fame, though I have perished, will survive.………..50
While Mars’s Rome from seven hills shall spread
her rule the whole world over, I’ll be read.
On you, though, may our art more kindly smile,
and may the pyre spare you for a while!”
Ovid: Tristia 3.7 full post
(791 words, estimated 3:10 mins reading time)