O Fortune, start and finish line
for mortals, you who fill the seat
of Wisdom, from which you assign
the honors for which men compete—
you bless more often than you curse,
grace flickers from your golden wings,
and what your scales disburse
is blessedest and best of mortal things.
You find a way in trials where way is none;
in darkness you unveil a brighter sun;
of gods greater than you there is not one.
The swallow, the swallow is here!
And he’s bringing the beautiful clear
weather and prime of the year!
His belly is white
and his back is black.
Oh won’t you come out
from your chockablock
pantry and bring us a little fruit cake,
and a cupful of wine and a basket of wheat and cheese,
oh pretty, pretty please?
(The swallow will also eat lentils and peas.)
Have we got to go, or will we get it?
Fork it over, or you’ll regret it!
We’ll take off with your door or the lintel above it
or the pretty wife hiding behind it.
(She’s little enough, we’d think nothing of it.)
But if you’re going to give us anything,
make it a fatty, not a skinny thing!
Open, open! The swallow bids.
We’re not old men here, we’re just kids.
Sublimest of deities,
Poseidon, Lord of the Sea’s
populous womb, whose trident is all gold,
who have the whole planet to hold—
around you creatures of the ocean
ply their circle dance that swims,
gills flashing, with a darting motion,
lightly on their finny limbs;
and slick-necked pups with blunt round noses,
quicksilver dolphins, lovers of the Muses,
Amphitrite’s oceanic kids,
nurslings of the goddess Nereids.
Thanks to you I managed to escape
when I was bobbing aimlessly
in the swells off Sicily,
and you took me up on your arching backs
and ploughed the ocean’s wavy plain
through furrows free from human tracks
and set me down again
in Pelops’ country, on Taenarus’s cape,
after double-dealing men
from the seaworthy hollow ship hurled me
into the bruise-dark billows of the sea.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 37 Number 3, on page 25
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