A Scenic Picture of a Boreal Forest (From: Untamed Science)
The Burden of Snow on Struggling Trees
By Noah Apter
Horace, Ode 1.9 To Thaliarchus in Winter — A Translation
Do you see how Mount Soracte stands, pure white with deep snow, and how the struggling trees can no longer bear the burden of snow, and how the rivers have frozen over with biting frost?
Ward away the cold by generously tossing logs onto the hearth, O Thaliarchus, and pour quite generously the four-year-old pure wine from the two-handled Sabine jar.
Leave everything else to the gods above. As soon as they have calmed the winds warring violently on the seething sea, neither the cypress trees nor the ancient ash trees are disturbed.
Avoid asking what tomorrow will bring and take as profit whatever day chance will thrust your way, and while you’re still a young lad don’t spurn sweet love affairs and dances,
As long as wayward gray hair is far away from you in your prime, green age. Now, just before night at the appointed hour, let the field and the public squares and soft murmurs be sought.
And now the pleasant laughter of a girl concealed in a secret corner is the betrayer of her position, and a pledge was snatched from her arm or her feebly resisting finger.
Original Latin (From: The Latin Library)
Vides ut alta stet nive candidum
Soracte nec iam sustineant onus
silvae laborantes geluque
flumina constiterint acuto?
Dissolve frigus ligna super foco 5
large reponens atque benignius
deprome quadrimum Sabina,
o Thaliarche, merum diota.
Permitte divis cetera, qui simul
strauere ventos aequore fervido 10
deproeliantis, nec cupressi
nec veteres agitantur orni.
Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere, et
quem fors dierum cumque dabit, lucro
adpone nec dulcis amores
sperne, puer, neque tu choreas, 15
donec virenti canities abest
morosa. Nunc et Campus et areae
lenesque sub noctem susurri
composita repetantur hora,
nunc et latentis proditor intumo 20
gratus puellae risus ab angulo
pignusque dereptum lacertis
aut digito male pertinaci.
David West, a translator of Horace’s Odes, remarked that “translation of poetry is impossible but translation of Horace’s Odes is inconceivable.” The best we can hope for is to produce a translation “which can be read without revulsion.”
Is there any more evocative image than the one above, an image that we see every winter? The weight of snow on suffering trees (or as Tennyson puts it, “their weight of venerable snow” elicits the endless quiet struggle of nature (Flaccus 227–228). Horace’s masterful eye captures in the sharpest language numerous elements—heat, cold, freezing, and biting frost—so that we come away with a new appreciation of what lies around us. Horace says careful observation of nature has much to teach us about our lives. Let the tree struggle with its weight of snow as it might, but we must throw off our burdens and seize what fortune gives us. And I recited this ode a few years ago on a trip to Italy with my Latin-learning compatriots when we visited Horace’s villa. Standing there on a promontory next to the Fons Bandusiae in Licenza, the poet’s hometown, I dipped my toes in the gentle stream of crystal-clear water beside the sanctuary of the Sabine goddess Vacuna and breathed in the scent of ancient timber amid the whispering pines (Horace allegedly had a narrow escape from one of these falling trees). It was there, thanks to Quintus Horatius Flaccus, that I realized what, for me, Classical Studies was all about: the pursuit of beauty.
Flaccus, Quintus, and Alfred Tennyson. “Ode I.9.” Horace in English, edited by Kenneth Haynes and Donald Carne-Ross, Penguin Books, London, 1996.
Nelson, Rob. “Image of Boreal Forest.” Boreal Forest: The Taiga, Untamed Science, https://untamedscience.com/biology/biomes/taiga/. Accessed 6 Sept. 2022.
Noah Apter (he/him, College ‘25) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Classical Studies (Languages and Literature) and Philosophy.