»  A.E. Housman's "Diffugere nives"


"Diffugere nives"

by A.E. Housman, 1859-1936


•  Background

Having offered Diffugere nives in the original, I can't let Housman's version go unread.

This translation of Horace's great ode appeared in More Poems, a collection published after Housman's death by his brother Laurence. Presumably it was written some time between Last Poems (1922) and the poet's death, which is to say between ages 63 and 77.

I have an anecdote about Housman here.

•  Notes

"shaw" — a shaw is "a thicket, a small wood, copse or grove" (OED)

"for aye" — for ever; and in this usage, "aye" does rhyme with "play" (according to the OED, which you really need close at hand when reading late Housman).

"Tullus and Ancus" — legendary kings of Rome.

"Torquatus" — a real person, a friend of Horace's.

"Hippolytus" — famous for his chastity as narrated by Euripides here (and made into a fine atmospheric movie by Jules Dassin here).

"Theseus … Pirithous" — Theseus was the legendary king of Athens, Pirithous his friend. Pirithous persuaded Theseus to go to the underworld with him to kidnap Persephone (= Proserpina), wife of Hades (= Pluto). Hades traps them, though. Hercules, while about one of his labors, sees them and frees Theseus, but he can't free Pirithous.


•  Play the reading


•  Text of the poem

Diffugere Nives (Horace, Odes IV.vii)

by A. E. Housman

The snows are fled away, leaves on the shaws
And grasses in the mead renew their birth,
The river to the river-bed withdraws,
And altered is the fashion of the earth.

The Nymphs and Graces three put off their fear
And unapparelled in the woodland play.
The swift hour and the brief prime of the year
Say to the soul, Thou wast not born for aye.

Thaw follows frost; hard on the heel of spring
Treads summer sure to die, for hard on hers
Comes autumn with his apples scattering;
Then back to wintertide, when nothing stirs.

But oh, whate'er the sky-led seasons mar,
Moon upon moon rebuilds it with her beams;
Come we where Tullus and where Ancus are
And good Aeneas, we are dust and dreams.

Torquatus, if the gods in heaven shall add
The morrow to the day, what tongue has told?
Feast then thy heart, for what thy heart has had
The fingers of no heir will ever hold.

When thou descendest once the shades among,
The stern assize and equal judgment o'er,
Not thy long lineage nor thy golden tongue,
No, nor thy righteousness, shall friend thee more.

Night holds Hippolytus the pure of stain,
Diana steads him nothing, he must stay;
And Theseus leaves Pirithous in the chain
The love of comrades cannot take away.