Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, READING HORACE, by ROBERT UNDERWOOD JOHNSON



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READING HORACE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Oh, were we good when we are wise!
Last Line: Bring back to me the brooks and birds!
Subject(s): Horace (65-8 B.c.)


OH, were we good when we are wise! --
Or haply, wise when we are good!
But, fool or sage, some comfort lies
In knowing Horace understood
Our follies in their olden guise!

Of all the full Augustan choir
Our one contemporary bard,
Who strikes upon a silver lyre,
Where not a note is harsh or hard,
The human chords that never tire.

Live how he may, whene'er he sings
A poet is a democrat;
Down two millenniums there rings
The song of Leisure's Laureat
In praise of all the simple things.

What deep contentment broods above
That refuge in the Sabine Hills
From all that Rome was fashioned of --
Strife, envy, the luxurious ills
Men, town-imprisoned, learn to love!

Though oft he dwells on death, 't is e'er
With swift recoil to life. Joy, joy
Is all his goal! Though reefed sails dare
The dreaded seas to Tyre or Troy,
His placid song is foe to care.

Poor hater was he, save of greed
And gluttons and the vulgar mind --
(Thou votary of thy surer creed,
Ask heaven if thou be more kind
Than was that heart of pagan breed!)

Vowed to the laurel from the day
The doves descried his lids supine
And hid his limbs in leafy play;
A nursling of the dancing vine,
His verse was vintage gold and gay.

Give me the glowing heart, or none --
Not friendship's altar but its fire.
In his red veins how life did run!
Had ever poet wiser sire?
Had ever sire tenderer son? --

He, humble, candid, sane and free,
Whom e'en Maecenas could not spoil;
Who wooed his fields with minstrelsy
As rich as wine, as smooth as oil,
And kept a kiss for Lalage.

Ah, dear to me one night supreme --
A voice he would have joyed to hear,
Its music married to his theme --
When two new-mated minds drew near
And mingled in his lilting stream.

Oh, lover of sweet-sounding words,
That in thy tones but glow and soar,
Come! * * Horace with his flocks and herds
Waits thy revealing voice. Once more
Bring back to me the brooks and birds!





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