Pharsalia (Nicholas Rowe)
translation of the Pharsalia into English verse by Nicholas Rowe
- But thus the malice of our fate commands,
And nothing great to long duration stands;
Aspiring Rome had risen too much in height,
And sunk beneath her own unwieldy weight.
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- Thus power and greatness to destruction haste,
Thus bounds to human happiness are placed,
And Jove forbids prosperity to last.
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- No faith, no trust, no friendship shall be known
Among the jealous partners of a throne;
But he who reigns shall strive to reign alone.
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- And emulation fans the rising flame.
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- Justly to name the better cause were hard,
While greatest names for either side declared;
Victorious Caesar by the gods was crowned,
The vanquished party was by Cato owned.
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- But stood the shadow of what once he was.
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- But Caesar's greatness and his strength were more
Than past renown and antiquated power;
'Twas not the fame of what he once had been,
Or tales in old records and annals seen;
But 'twas a valour restless, unconfined,
Which no success could sate nor limits bind;
'Twas shame, a soldier's shame untaught to yield,
That blushed for nothing but an ill-fought field;
Fierce in his hopes he was, nor knew to stay
Where vengeance or ambition led the way;
Still prodigal of war whene'er withstood,
Nor spared to stain the guilty sword with blood;
Urging advantage he improved all odds,
And made the most of fortune and the gods;
Pleased to o'erturn whate'er withheld his prize,
And saw the ruin with rejoicing eyes.
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- And violence prescribed the rule to law.
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- And usury still watching for its day;
Hence perjuries in every wrangling court;
And war, the needy bankrupt's last resort.
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- Haste, then, thy towering eagles on their way:
When fair occasion calls, 'tis fatal to delay.
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- They who deny just things permit them all.
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- If dying mortals' dooms they sing aright,
No ghosts descend to dwell in dreadful night;
No parting souls to grisly Pluto go,
Nor seek the dreary, silent shades below:
But forth they fly immortal in their kind,
And other bodies in new worlds they find.
Thus life for ever runs its endless race,
And like a line, death but divides the space—
A stop which can but for a moment last,
A point between the future and the past.
Thrice happy they beneath their northern skies,
Who that worst fear, the fear of death, despise;
Hence they no cares for this frail being feel,
But rush undaunted on the pointed steel.
Provoke approaching fate, and bravely scorn
To spare that life which must so soon return.
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- Thus fear does half the work of lying fame,
And cowards thus their own misfortunes frame;
By their own feigning fancies are betrayed,
And groan beneath those ills themselves have made.
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- What means, ye gods, this changing in your doom?
Freely you grant, but quickly you resume.
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- Rage stays not to inquire who ought to die,
Numbers must fall, no matter which or why.
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- While fortune frowned, her fiercest wrath he bore;
And while she smiled, enjoyed her amplest power:
All various turns of good and bad he knew,
And proved the most that chance or fate could do.
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- These were the stricter manners of the man,
And this the stubborn course in which they ran:
The golden mean unchanging to pursue,
Constant to keep the purposed end in view;
Religiously to follow nature's laws,
And die with pleasure in his country's cause;
To think he was not for himself designed,
But born to be of use to all mankind.
To him 'twas feasting, hunger to repress;
And home-spun garments were his costly dress;
No marble pillars reared his roof on high,
'Twas warm, and kept him from the winter sky.
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- But he with empire fired, and vast desires,
To all, and nothing less than all, aspires;
He reckons not the past, while aught remained
Great to be done, or mighty to be gained.
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- At length his thoughts from arms and vengeance cease,
And for a while revolve the arts of peace;
Careful to purchase popular applause,
And gain the vulgar to his cause,
He knew the constant practice of the great,
That those who court the vulgar bid them eat.
When pinched with want all reverence they withdraw;
For hungry multitudes obey no law:
Thus therefore factions make their parties good,
And buy authority and power with food.
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- Where kings prevail, all liberty is lost,
And none but he who reigns can freedom boast;
Some shadow of the bliss thou shalt retain,
Choosing to do what sovereign powers ordain.
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- Heroic minds! that can even Fate command,
And bid it wait upon a mortal hand;
Who full of life forsake it as a feast,
Take what they like, and give the gods the rest.
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- By daring shows our greatest fears we hide.
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- For laws in great rebellions lose their end,
And all go free when multitudes offend.
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- Guilt equal gives equality of state.
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- Nor think such vulgar souls as yours were given
To be the task of Fate and care of Heaven.
Few are the lordly, the distinguished great,
On whom the watchful gods, like guardians, wait;
The rest for common use were all designed,
An unregarded rabble of mankind.
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- Oh, happy poverty! thou greatest good,
Bestowed by Heaven, but seldom understood!
Here nor the cruel spoiler seeks his prey,
Nor ruthless armies take their dreadful way:
Security thy narrow limit keeps,
Safe are thy cottages and sound thy sleeps.
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- Her gabbling tongue a muttering tone confounds
Discordant, and unlike to human sounds:
It seemed of dogs the bark, of wolves the howl,
The doleful screeching of the midnight owl;
The hiss of snakes, the hungry lion's roar,
The bound of billows beating on the shore:
The groan of winds among the leafy wood
And burst of thunder from the rending cloud:
'Twas these, all these in one.
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- Thus when the gods are pleased to plague mankind,
Our own rash hands are to the task assigned;
By them ordained the tools of fate to be,
We blindly act the mischiefs they decree.
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- In war, in dangers, oft it has been known,
That fear has driven the headlong coward on.
Give me the man, whose cooler soul can wait,
With patience, for the proper hour of fate.
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- Whatever faction's partial notions are,
No hand is wholly innocent in war.
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- Though now thy cruelty denies a grave,
These and the world, one common lot shall have;
One last appointed flame, by Fate's decree,
Shall waste yon azure heavens, this earth and sea;
Shall knead the dead up in one mingled mass,
Where stars and they shall undistinguished pass.
And though thou scorn their fellowship, yet know,
High as thy own can soar, these souls shall go;
Or find, perhaps, a better place below.
Death is beyond thy goddess Fortune's power,
And parent earth receives whate'er she bore.
Nor will we mourn those Romans' fate, who lie
Beneath the glorious covering of the sky;
That starry arch for ever round them turns,
A nobler shelter far than tombs or urns.
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- Thus age to sorrows oft the great betrays,
When loss of empire comes with length of days.
Life and enjoyment still one end should have,
Lest early misery prevent the grave.
The good that lasts not was in vain bestowed,
And ease, once past, becomes the present load:
Then let the wise, in Fortune's kindest hour,
Still keep one safe retreat within his power;
Let death be near, to guard him from surprise,
And free him, when the fickle goddess flies.
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- In cold laborious climes the wintery north
Brings her undaunted hardy warriors forth,
In body and in mind untaught to yield,
Stubborn of soul and steady in the field;
While Asia's softer climate, formed to please,
Dissolves her sons in insolence and ease.
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- Not earth from yon high heavens which we admire,
Not from the watery element the fire,
Are severed by distinction half so wide,
As interest and integrity divide.
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- For piety and virtue's starving rules,
To mean retirements let them lead their fools;
There may they still ingloriously be good:
None can be safe in courts, who blush at blood.
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- His noble name, his country's honour grown,
Was venerably round the nations known.
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- From God derived, to God by nature joined,
We act the dictates of His mighty mind:
And though the priests are mute and temples still,
God never wants a voice to speak His will.
When first we from the teeming womb were brought,
With in-born precepts then our souls were fraught,
And then the Maker His new creatures taught.
Then when He formed and gave us to be men,
He gave us all our useful knowledge, then.
Canst thou believe, the vast eternal mind
Was e'er to Syrts and Libyan sands confined?
That He would choose this waste, this barren ground,
To teach the thin inhabitants around,
And leave His truth in wilds and deserts drowned?
Is there a place that God would choose to love
Beyond this earth, the seas, yon heaven above,
And virtuous minds, the noblest throne for Jove?
Why seek we further then? Behold around
How all thou see'st does with the God abound,
Jove is alike in all, and always to be found.
Let those weak minds, who live in doubt and fear,
To juggling priests for oracles repair;
One certain hour of death to each decreed,
My fixed, my certain soul from doubt has freed.
The coward and the brave are doomed to fall;
And when Jove told this truth, he told us all.
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- O Poesy divine! O sacred song!
To thee bright fame and length of days belong;
Thou, goddess! Thou eternity canst give
And bid secure the mortal hero live.
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- One of the greatest productions of English poetry.
- Samuel Johnson, "Life of Rowe" (1781)