Hopkins Lectures 2002

Gerard Manley Hopkins and Horace

Brian Arkins, Professor of Classics, National University of Ireland, Galway

Many English poets, from Wyatt to Donald Davie, were introduced to Horace at school and at university. Many translated Horaces Satires, Epistles and Odes.

Western writers have made very extensive use of the poetry of Horace. In speaking of this process, we tend to glibly employ nouns such as 'tradition', 'influence', 'legacy', and 'heritage', but the metaphors involved in these nouns require interrogation. The Oxford English Dictionary definitions of these nouns - respectively 'The action of handing over to another'; 'The action or fact of flowing'; 'anything handed down by an ancestor'; 'that which has been or may be inherited' - clearly show that, from the perspective of modern people, a passive process is being described. But when a modern person make use of Greek or Roman material, the process is, from their point of view, active.

As Eliot well knew, when he asserted that 'mature poets steal'. Marina Carr concurs: 'It seems that you are allowed to steal what you need while learning the craft and that there is no crime in that' (9). The result is that the author in writing her or his text 'not only is aware of using other texts but also expects his recipient to recognise that the relation between the text he is reading and other texts is intended by the author and that it is important for the understanding of the text.' (10). A process well described by the noun 'appropriation' meaning 'to make over to anyone as their own' (OED). It is in this context of appropriation that universalising assertions of how we relate to the Greeks should be read. Shelley established the parameters: 'We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts, have their root in Greece' (11).

We are all Greeks

Desmond Egan elaborates in the classic Irish statement about how we have made ourselves Greek: 'We are all Greeks. In the basic vocabulary of our thinking; in philosophy and in politics; in science, medicine, architecture, literature, in the very language we use and in our whole perception of the universe, we have been shaped by the Greeks' (12). As a result, MacNeice asserts that the Greeks have transcended their historical contingency: 'though Athenians died, Athens no longer dies' (13). This appropriation of Greek and Roman material should not be seen as just copying past perfection, as servile glorification of the ancient world without regard for present or future. When artists bring a new work using Greco-Roman themes into being, they achieve a revitalisation of the past. As pointed out by the Professor of Classics at Petersburg University, Zelinsky (whose star pupil was Mikhail Bakhtin): Greco-Roman civilisation should 'not be a norm, but a living force in our culture' (14).

We Look Back to Understand who we are

Brian Friel explains how: 'the only merit in looking back is to understand how you are and where you are at this moment'(15). The result for Michael Longley is that use of the Greeks dissolves divisions of time: 'I am walking backwards into the future like a Greek.'(16) Because Greco-Roman material can relate to the present, it becomes a form of freedom. Auerbach 's summary of Rabelais' employment of Greek and Roman models admirably encapsulates what is at stake: 'Yet his endebtedness to antiquity does not imprison him within the confines of antique concepts; to him antiquity means liberation not servitude'(17). Since Harold Bloom's concept of 'the anxiety of influence' is therefore reversed, it is proper here to speak of 'the freedom of influence'(18).

A useful prolegomenon to analysis of Hopkins's use of Horace's Odes is to survey briefly the impact of Horace on English poetry from Wyatt on. (19). Since there is striking continuity of teaching of Classics in England from the 16th century to 1918, many English poets will have been introduced to Horace at school and at university. These poets from Wyatt in the 16th century to Donald Davie in the twentieth have translated or adapted Horace's Satires, Epistles, and Odes, the latter specially privileged. Horace suited court poets of the early Renaissance like Sir Thomas Wyatt, who was ambassador of Henry VIII to the Emperor Charles V between 1537 and 1540, and made use of Horace's resentment of his patron Maecenas in Epistles 1.7. Ben Jonson not only used Horace's Satires to ridicule literary opponents, but also made the lines from Odes 3.3 about the Stoic man of integrity a keystone of his Horatian persona. Among the Horation themes treated by Herrick was that of carpe diem, seize the day, the famous motto of Odes 1.11:

Ah Pestumus!
Our years hence fly,
And leave no sound; nor piety,
Or prayers, or vow
Can keep the wrinkle from the brow ---

A merry mind
Looks forward, scorns what's left behind;
Let's live, my Weeknes, then, while we may
An here enjoy our holiday.

Victorian England preoccupied with Classical Greece

Dryden was much taken with Horace: 'That which will distinguish his style from all other poets', is the elegance of his words and the numerousness of his verse; there is nothing so delicately turned in all the Roman language'. Dryden's excellent translation of Odes 3.29 ensures that 'we would be hard pressed indeed to find any one Horatian translation by an English poet which achieves so powerful a stamp of conviction' (20). The 18th century was the most Horatian in English literature and is epitomised by Pope, whose career was grounded in Roman classicism: Horace still charms with graceful negligence, An without method talks us into sense, Will, like a friend, familiarly convey The truest notions in the easiest way. Victorian England was much more preoccupied with Greece than with Rome, but Horace was the classical author who was best remembered, and school children were expected to learn substantial portions of his work by heart. Horace permeated British life, not least in the House of Commons where he was freely quoted, and the Prime Minister Gladstone translated the Odes in 1894.

Dulce et Decorum est . . .

The extent to which Horace was common currency can also be seen in the fact that R.L. Stevenson gave the Latin title Virginibus Puerisque, To Maids and Boys, that comes from Odes 3.1 to a collection of his essays (this is one of the poems that Hopkins translates. Writers of the 19th century appropriate Horace's reflections on civilised life in the Odes under four headings that embrace both public and private themes (21): transient love; male friendship; the sense of place; and national politics. Transient love appears in poems by Ernest Dowson with Horatian titles such as Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cinarae, I am not what I was in the reign of good Cinara, that comes from Odes 4.1, and Vitae summa brevis spem nos vehat incohare longam, The brief span of life forbids us to encourage prolonged hope, that comes from Odes 1.4. For Dowson, the best that can now be said is that 'I have been faithful to thee, Cinara! In my fashion'. For Austin Dobson, Horace becomes a sociable 19th century man-about-town, who is insinuated into a world of English male friendship. Indeed, the supreme Victorian poem of friendship, Tennyson's In Memoriam, echoes Horace: the ship carrying Hallam's remains from Italy ironically recalls Horace's prayer for a safe crossing for his friend Virgil in Odes 1.3.

Victorian guidebooks to Italy such as Murray and Baedeker quote Horace, often liberally, and there was much interest in identifying the sites of the Sabine villa and the fountain of Bendusia. Indeed local people at the supposed site of the villa thought Horace was an English poet! Horace appended to many Victorians involved in public life because of his association with the Emperor Augustus, and so the Roman patriot Regulas from Odes 3.5 becomes a model for Gordon of Khartoum. But Arthur Hugh Clough takes a more astringent view, altering Horace's famous line dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, it is sweet and noble to die for one's country: Sweet it may be and decorous, perhaps for the country to die; but,/On the whole, we conclude the Romans won't do it, and I shan't'. The engagement of Kipling with Horace was considerable (22). Kipling wrote of his Latin teacher that 'he taught me to loathe Horace for two years; to forget him for twenty; and then to love him for the rest of my days and through many sleepless nights'. Kipling's story called 'Regulus' deals with Mr. King's efforts to drive Horace's great ode 3.5 into unpromising students, with striking, if unexpected, results. Then Kipling wrote a series of modernised Horatian odes, which 'show a sensitivity to Horace's style that few classical scholars could match'. As in the case of the poem called 'A Translation', and the poem called 'The Last Ode', set in the brief period in which Horace outlived his patron Maccenes.

Gerard Manley Hopkins and Horace

Hopkins, who read Classics at Balliol College, Oxford and achieved a Double First, produced versions of Horace, Odes 1.38, 2.17, and 3.123. In looking at two of these versions, those of Odes 1.38 which closes Book 1 and of Odes 3.1 which opens Book 3, we must bear in mind that the opening and closing poems of Augustan poetry books are highly significant and are indeed programmatic. Such poems set the author's stamp on his book and the last poem was indeed seen as a 'signature' poem. Very often the opening and closing poems of Augustan poetry books promulgate the literary programme of the Hellenistic poet Callimachus (about 310-240 B.C.), who advocated the doctrines of brevity, craftsmanship, erudition, and innovation. For major Latin poets, Callimachus was a highly liberating figure, who provided them with a congenial literary programme, while at the same time allowing them to develop their own individual topics. This pattern is already established in the poetry of Catullus, published about 54 B.C. Catullus's first poem lauds Callimachus's programme of brevity, craftsmanship, erudition, and innovation, and then in Poem 2, Catullus writes the first of his Lesbia-poems, beginning an entirely new enterprise in European literature, the writing of a sequence of poems by a male author about the ups and downs of his love for a particular woman (domina) (24). Horace's first three books of Odes, published as a unit in 23 B.C., exhibit these tendencies. For example, Books 1 and 3 of the Odes open with poems that present Callimachean doctrine about poetry, while all three books end with poems about poetry. At the same time, Horace presents us in Odes 1-3 with a collection of lyrics of startline, indeed amazing originality, the like of which had never been seen in Greek or Latin literature before him. In Odes 1.1, his first poem, Horace lists a variety of occupations available to men, and then comes to his own occupation, that of poet. As poet, he espouses two key doctrines of Callimachus, the importance of learning and of despising the common herd (25): As for me, it is ivy, the reward of learned brows, that puts me among the gods above. As for me, the cold grave and the light-footed choruses of Nymphs and Satyrs set me apart from the people. In Odes 1.38 that ends Book 1, Horace's attack on various forms of elaboration must be read in the context of Callimachus attack on elaborate poems about politics and war, while Horace's stress on myrtle, a plant sacred to Venus, the goddess of love, suggests his writing of some love poems in Book 1. Equally well, the theme of drinking wine always in Horace a commitment to the present moment (26), suggests the topic of the symposium, which is the setting of many of the Odes. Odes 1.38 is therefore a programmatic poem which places Horace's 'signature' on his first book Horace, Odes 1.38 reads as follows:

Persicos, odi, puer, apparatus; displicent nexae philyra coronae; mitte sectari rosa quo locorum sera moretur. simplici myrto nihil allabores sedulus curo; neque te ministrum dedecet myrtus neque me sub arta vite bibentem.

David West's accurate translation is (28): I hate Persian luxuries, my boy, Garlands woven with time tree bark give me no pleasure. There's no need for you to seek out the last rose where it lingers. I'm anxious you shouldn't labour over the simple myrtle. Myrtle suits you as my cupbearer, and me as I drink in the dense shade of the vine.

And here is Hopkins's:

Crowns composite and braided bast
They tease me.
Never know the part
Where roses linger last.
Bring natural myrtle and have done:
Myrtle will suit your place and mine:
And set the glasses from the sun
Beneath the tackled vine.

Hopkins keeps in general to the sense of Horace's poem, but introduces rhyme and a number of nice differentiating touches. In the first stanza, Hopkins neatly captures the sense of 'Persian luxuries' by using his favourite device of a compound adjective and an appropriate noun: 'Persian-perfect art'. Hopkins elaborates considerably on the garland, but then succinctly captures the aphorism about the late rose: 'Never know the part/Where roses linger last'. In the second stanza, Hopkins stays close to Horace in regard to myrtle, which is given the appropriate epithet 'natural', but, at the end of the poem, he introduces the concepts of 'glasses' for the wine and of drinking it in the 'sun', even if sheltered by the 'tackled vine'. Horace Odes 3.1 is the first of a series of six poems that deal with themes crucial to Augustus's Rome, the Roman Odes (29). As Horace in Odes 3.130 deals with the inevitability of death and the notion that wealth does not bring happiness, he notes that the symmetry of virtuous Romans - of landowners, politicians, philosophers, patrons - is opposed to the asymmetry of those living a life of luxury, those wedded to impiety, greed, and arrogance.

Desiderantem quot satis: enough is enough!

The crucial message is that of 'desiring what is enough' (desiderantem quot satis est, (25). As Propertius puts it (3.13.60): 'Proud Rome is being destroyed by its own prosperity' (frangitur ipsa suis Roma superba banis). Clearly, then, Hopkins turned to Odes 3.1 in 186831 because Horace's indictment of the materialism of his age chimed with Hopkins's dislike of Victorian ostentation and commerce. What Hopkins is attacking is a society that 'is on an endless cycle towards exhaustion and waste' (32), what Wordsworth called 'getting and spending'. And, at the same time, Hopkins could find a personal note in Horace's poem, especially at the end where he himself renounces the acquisition of wealth. The opening stanza of Odes 3.1, which introduces the Roman Odes as a whole, invokes two Callimachean doctrines, that of distaste for the common herd and that of innovation in poetry, while fastening on young people as the only available audience: Odi profanum vulgus et arceo; favete linguis: carmina non prius audita Musarum sacerdas Virginibus puerisque cento.

David West's accurate translation is (33)

I hate the profane mob and keep them at a distance.
Maintain a holy silence.
As priest of the Muses
I sing for girls and boys songs never heard before

And here is Hopkins's:

Tread back - and back the lewd and lay!
Grace guard your tongues!
What never ear
Heard yet, the Muse's men, today
I bid the boys and maidens hear.

Hopkins's version of this opening stanza adds to the notion that the herd is 'lay' the further Victorian idea that it is also sexually immoral, 'lewd', and employs the contemporary device of the treadmill to address it. But Hopkins omits the Callimachean concept of detestation, which would clash with Christian humility; the very 'I sing', which would jar so soon after he had burnt his early poems; and the noun 'priest' in the phrase 'priest of the Muses' for the same reason.

As Hopkins progresses in his version of Odes 3.1, he makes constant use of the language of commerce to supply the chief terminology for his critique of the business world, conducted in the manner of Thoreau and Emerson in America, and of Dickens and Wordsworth in England. Terms that come from auctions, brokerage, accounting, and transportation include 'hustings', 'deal', 'ledes', 'discharged', 'bidder's cells', and the specially striking 'barge' from the river and canal traffic of England (Horace has a 'trireme').

At the end of Hopkins's poem, there is a gap, as though it were a modernist composition, and he ends with an almost gasping repetition of 'Why OWhy'. As Nielsen and Solomon say,

It is our belief that the translation of 3.1 shows more than any other poem by Hopkins his grasp of the art and ideas of the Roman world, his understanding of the anxieties of Horace and his sympathy for ancient poets in the cycle of history as Christians understand it' (34)

We now know that Hopkins's untitled quatrain beginning 'Not kind! To freeze me with forecast' (No. 134 in Gardner and MacKenzie) is a version of Horace, Odes 2.17. 1-435. This poem is addressed to Maecenas, who was Augustus's trusted advisor, administrator, and negotiator; if also unbuttoned in behaviour, precious in his writing style, and famed for his love of his wife. Maecenas made it possible for Horace to fulfil himself as a poet by acting as his patron, and by providing him with the gift of a Sabine villa near modern Tivoli, soon after 35 B.C., when his first book of Satires appeared. From the beginning in Epodes 1 and 3, Horace addresses Maecenas, his friend as well as his patron, in intimate, affectionate, humorous terms. Odes 2.17 shows the warmth of Horace's regard for Maecenas and the subtlety of their relationship: Maecenas has been ill and has recovered, but is dubious about this recovery and does not expect to love long. In the opening lines of the poem, Horace suggests that this fear is absurd, and that Maecenas will not die before him. Horace proceeds to posit very close links between Maecenas and himself in a poem that suggests a deep affection between the two men.

In fact, Maecenas died in 8 B.C., and, in his will, which left everything to Augustus, tells the Emperor to 'Be mindful of Horatius Flaccus as though he were myself' (Horati Flacci ut mei memor esto). Horace died 57 days later, and the two men were buried close to one another on Maecenas's luxurious estate on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. Compare Woton's epitaph on Sir Albert Moretons's wife:

He first deceas'd; she for a little tri'd
To live without him; liked it not, and di'd.

Hopkins's poem 'Not kind! To freeze me with forecast' was written when he was teaching at Newman's Oratory School near Birmingham in early 1868. The question has been wrongly thought to refer to the death of Hopkins's friend Digby Dolben, or the potential death of his youngest sister Grace. In fact, Hopkins's poem is a version of Horace, Odes 2.17. 1-4, which, as usual, exhibits his own ingenious idiosyncrasies. Here is Horace's Latin, a straight translation by David West (36), and Hopkins's version:

Cur me querelis exanimas tuis? nec dis amicum est nec mihi te prius obire, maecenas, mearum grande decus columenque rerum.
(Why do you frighten me to death with your moaning? It's no wish of the gods or of myself that you should die Before me, Maecenas, my crowning glory And roof-tree of my house. Not kind! To freeze me with forecast, Dear grace and girder of mine and me. You to be gone and I lag last Nor I nor heaven would have it be.)

Hopkins appropriates Horace in his own special way

Hopkins begins by making explicit in 'Not kind!' Horace's impatient 'why', and then uses Horace's semi-serious references to astrology later in the poem to suggest Victorian prophecies of inclement weather in the summer as a metaphor for Maecenas's impending death. While Hopkins's phrase 'I lag last' also comes from later in Horace's poem, the term 'girder' that represents Latin columen again uses contemporary idiom to express the probable meaning of 'the horizontal ridge-pole that supported the roof' (37). By means of these additions and contemporary references (as well as the transposition of lines 4 and 2) Hopkins appropriates Horace in his own special way. Written in 1868 when he was 23 years of age, Hopkins's versions of Horace exhibit his characteristic concern with energy in language. The extent to which his language is energetic can be seen more clearly by comparing Hopkins's poems with the translation of Horace, Odes 3.13 (O fens Bandusiae) by the adolescent James Joyce, which was written some thirty years later in the late 1890s. This early verse of Joyce is weak Victorian English at its worst 38: Brighter than glass Bandusian spring For mellow wine and flowers meet ...

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