Someone asked me off-list:
>Just wondered, is your interest in Horace poetical or political. Or
>was that just a good quote he happened to have penned.
>> naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.
>> You can drive her away with a pitchfork -- Nature runs right back!
>> Horace, ars poetica, x.
Since we're all-rounders here, I might as well let Thaxis share the answer:
Mainly poetic and rhetorical. Good quote. But not "just" a good quote, and
he didn't exactly "happen" to pen it. He was a dab hand with commonplaces
that weren't quite as commonplace as they seemed.
I did the translation myself, so there's a bit of practical linguistic and
stylistic interest too. Maybe I should turn the clauses round to get a
distribution of emphatic syllables that's closer to the Latin.
Nature runs right back, though you drive her away with a pitchfork.
Trouble there is the meaning's not so clear.
The sound of the Latin is roughly (incredibly roughly) the following:
'Nah-too-'rex-'pell-'arse forr-'kaah -- tuh-men 'oos-kweh reh-'coo-rret.
(tum-teeh-tum-tum-tum tum-taah, ti-ti-tum-tut-ti-tum-tah)
The English could also be:
You can drive her away with a pitchfork, but Nature runs right back.
A word-by-word translation is:
naturam expellas furca, tamen
nature you may drive out with a pitchfork, however
everywhere/ on all occasions (it) will run back
Politically Horace was a hanger-on at the court of Augustus, giving a
cultural gloss to the prosperity and ease of better-off, educated
slave-owners of the highest rank and rich wannabees. He could bring up a
nice sheen. Like imperial Chinese porcelain, only words being the
promiscuous things they are, much more widely accessible. Horace and Virgil
are the last great peaks of Latin literature before the Empire got really
nasty under Tiberius. But when I go on my runs I usually have Catullus and
Lucretius in my head to pace me -- they wrote in the last convulsive period
of the slave-owning democracy of the Roman Republic and in terms of poetry
thought and emotion go for the jugular in a way Horace and Virgil never
managed (Virgil came close in parts of the Aeneid, like the sack of Troy
and the story of Dido, but it's not the same), and that the prose writers
couldn't match (basically Cicero and Livy, sweet as Livy is in his own way)
until Tacitus came along much later.
I do have a soft spot for Horace's "carpe diem" ("seize the day") poem though:
Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros, ut melius quidquid erit pati,
seu pluris hiemes, seu tribuit Juppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum. Sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces, dum loquimur fugerit invida
aetas, carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
(Don't ask, it's taboo to know, what end for me and for you
the gods will give, Leuconoe [white-neck, his girl-friend, a Greek
courtesan, or at least one with a Greek name], nor attempt Babylonian
numerology, the better to reveal what will be,
whether more winters or the last one Jupiter will grant
that now wears down the Tyrrhenian [Etruscan] Sea with counterposed rocks.
Wise up, strain your wine and cut back your long hopes
to a brief space, as we speak envious time is fleeing,
seize the day, believing as little as you can in what comes later.
This has got a powerful, generous swinging rhythm (a bit like Beethoven's 7th):
tum-tum-tum-ti-ti-tum tum-ti-ti-tum tum-ti-ti-tum-ti-tah
Can't think of a good modern equivalent right off. This combination of
political complacency, even triumphalism (end of history stuff) with great
poetry just doesn't happen. I mean, you can get celebrations of the
California life-style and the imperialist flag, I suppose, but I don't know
of any good poet who combines it with pro-Reagan propaganda. The nearest
would be the Beach Boys on the campaign trail perhaps, if they ever did
that. But that's popular music (especially country?), not poetry as we
usually think of it. But weren't there some decent poets who crept up
Most good poetry today has a dissident or abstentionist thrust. Even the
arse-crawlers pretend to be disaffected and glum (I'm thinking of the
English reactionary school, Larkin and the rest). Of course there was the
attempt to turn Betjeman into a great poet many decades ago now -- the
dancing upbeat vicar, should be one of Tony's favourites.
Give me Shelley any old day:
I met Murder on the way,
He had a mask like Castlereagh...
An old, mad, blind, despised and dying king, --
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn -- mud from a muddy spring --
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow, --
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,
An army, which liberticide and prey
Make as a two-edged sword to all who wield,
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay, --
Religion Christless, Godless -- a book sealed;
A Senate -- Time's worst statute unrepealed, --
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.
Or, my favourite, against Stalin (sorry, all tyrants, specifically Napoleon...)
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert, near them on the sand,
Half-sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
And Shelley was an aristocrat, full of Latin and Greek. Liked Wales (Ode to
the West Wind -- If winter comes, can spring be far behind?) and had a nice
girlfriend (even married her).
PS The polemical thrust of the signature quote is against proclamationist
and voluntarist politics, and against cultural relativism. We are animals,
and our being precedes our thought -- it's not the other way around, we're
not spirits whose thought can determine our being as if our bodies and
their needs were infinitely malleable. Fairly malleable, yes, completely
and voluntarily malleable, no. We are subject to biological and ecological
constraints and these must be scientifically determined and acknowledged
for us to get anywhere in changing the world and ourselves for the better.
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