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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Horace (65–8 B.C.)

The Poet Appreciated

From “The Art of Poetry,” translated by John Conington

AS puffing auctioneers collect a throng,

Rich poets bribe false friends to hear their song.

Who can resist the lord of so much rent,

Of so much money at so much per cent?

Is there a wight can give a grand regale,

Act as a poor man’s counsel or his bail?

Blest though he be, his wealth will cloud his view,

Nor suffer him to know false friends from true.

Don’t ask a man whose feelings overflow

For kindness that you’ve shown or mean to show,

To listen to your verse; each line you read,

He’ll cry, “Good! Bravo! Exquisite indeed!”

He’ll change his color, let his eyes run o’er

With tears of joy, dance, beat upon the floor.

Hired mourners at a funeral say and do

A little more than they whose grief is true.

’Tis just so here: false flattery displays

More show of sympathy than honest praise.

’Tis said, when kings a would-be friend will try,

With wine they rack him and with bumpers ply.

If you write poems, look beyond the skin

Of the smooth fox, and search the heart within.

Read verses to Quintilius; he would say,

“I don’t like this and that; improve it, pray;”

Tell him you found it hopeless to correct;

You’d tried it twice or thrice without effect;

He’d calmly bid you make the three times four,

And take the unlicked cub in hand once more.

But if you chose to vindicate the crime,

Not mend it, he would waste no further time,

But let you live untroubled by advice,

Sole tenant of your own fool’s paradise.

A wise and faithful counselor will blame

Weak verses, note the rough, condemn the lame,

Retrench luxuriance, make obscureness plain,

Cross-question this, bid that be writ again.

A second Aristarch, he will not ask,

“Why for such trifles take my friend to task?”

Such trifles bring to serious grief ere long

A hapless bard, once flattered and led wrong.

See the mad poet! Never wight, though sick

Of itch or jaundice, moonstruck, fanatic,

Was half so dangerous; men whose mind is sound

Avoid him; fools pursue him, children hound.

Suppose, while spluttering verses, head on high,

Like fowler watching blackbirds in the sky,

He falls into a pit; though loud he shout

“Help, neighbors, help!” let no man pull him out.

Should some one seem disposed a rope to fling,

I will strike in with, “Pray do no such thing;

I’ll warrant you he meant it,” and relate

His brother bard Empedocles’s fate,

Who, wishing to be thought a god, poor fool,

Leapt down hot Ætna’s crater, calm and cool.

“Leave poets free to perish as they will;

Save them by violence, you as good as kill.

’Tis not his first attempt; if saved to-day,

He’s sure to die in some outrageous way.

Besides, none knows the reason why this curse

Was sent on him, this love of making verse,

By what offense Heaven’s anger he incurred,

A grave defiled, a sacred boundary stirred.

So much is plain, he’s mad. Like bear that beats

His prison down and ranges through the streets,

This terrible reciter puts to flight

The learned and unlearned, left and right.

Let him catch one, he keeps him till he kills,

As leeches stick till they have sucked their fills.”