Triumph of Time
FORTH FROM his golden palace, after the dawn,
So swiftly rose the Sun, begirt with rays,
Thou wouldst have said: "Yet hardly had it set."
Risen a little, he looked round about
As wise men do, and to himself he said:
"What thinkest thou? Thou shouldst take greater care.
For if a man who had been famed in life
Continues in his fame in spite of death,
What will become of the law that heaven made?
If mortal fame, that soon should fade away,
Increases after death, then I foresee
Our excellence at an end, wherefor I grieve.
What more is to befall? What could be worse?
What more have I in the heavens than man on earth?
Must I then plead for equality with him?
My four good steeds I curry faithfully,
And feed them in the seas, and spur, and lash,
And yet I yield to the fame of mortal man.
An injury for anger, not for jest,
That this should be my lot, e'en though I were
But second or third in the heavens, rather than first!
Now must I kindle all the zeal I have
And in my wrath double my winged speed:
For I am envious, I confess, of men.
For some I see who after a thousand years,
And other thousands, grow more famous still,
While I continue my perpetual task.
I am as erst I was, ere the earth itself
Was stablished, wheeling ever, day and night,
In my round course, that never comes to an end."
Thus did he speak; and then disdainfully
He started on again, swifter by far
Than falcon plunging downward on his prey.
So swiftly sped he that not even thought
Could follow -and much less could tongue or pen?
So that I gazed at him in great affright.
Watching his marvelous velocity,
This life of ours deeper in meanness seemed
Than it had once seemed high in dignity.
An arrant vanity it now appeared
To set one's heart on things that Time may press,
For while one thinks to hold them they are gone.
Therefore let one concerned about his state
Take careful thought, while yet his will is free,
And set his hope on that which will endure.
How swiftly Time before my eyes rushed on
After the guiding Sun, that never rests,
I will not say: 'twould be beyond my power.
As in a single moment did I see
Ice and the rose, great cold and burning heat
A wondrous thing, indeed, even to hear.
But he that thoughtfully considers it
will see it so. Why did I not, of old?
Wherefore I now am wroth against myself.
I followed then my hopes and vain desires,
But now with mine own eyes I see myself
As in a mirror, and my wanderings,
Considering now the brevity of life,
And striving to make ready for the end:
This morn I was a child, and now am old.
What more is this our life than a single day,
Cloudy and cold and short and filled with grief,
That hath no value, fair though it may seem?
Within this life men set their hope and joy
And raise their heads in miserable pride,
Yet no man knoweth when his life will end.
And now I see how fleeting is my life?
Nay more, the life of all-and in the flight
Of the Sun the manifest ruin of the world.
Take comfort, then, in your imagined tales,
Ye that are young: give yourselves many years!
A wound that is foreseen brings lesser grief.
It may be that I spend my words in vain,
But I declare that ye are suffering
From perilous and deadly lethargy.
For days and hours and years and months fly on,
Nor can the time be far away when we
Must all together seek out other worlds,
Pray harden not your hearts against the truth
As ye are wont to do; and turn your eyes
While ye may yet amend your sinful ways.
Delay not, as most mortals do, until
Death shall transfix you with his fatal dart:
Infinite, truly, is the throng of fools.
When I had seen, as still I clearly see,
The flying and the fleeing of the Sun,
Whence I have suffered fallacy and harm,
I saw folk moving onward quietly,
Free from the fear of Time and of his rage,
Historians and poets guarding them.
Chiefly of these the Sun was envious:
For they, escaping from the common cage,
Had mounted upward, into soaring flight.
Against them, therefore, he who shines alone
Prepared himself his effort to increase,
Making his flight still swifter than before.
His coursers now he fed more copiously,
Striving to separate her followers
From queenly Fame, of whom I have said my say.
And then I heard a voice, and, listening, wrote:
"What dark abyss of blind oblivion
Awaits these slight and tender human flowers!
For years, for lustra, and for centuries
The Sun, victorious o'er the human mind,
Will still revolve, and Fame will fade away.
How many, famous once, are famed no more
Where rivers flow in Thrace and Thessaly,
Or by the Xanthus, or in Tiber's vale!
Your fame is nothing more than a sunlit day,
Or a doubtful winter: clouds may end it all.
Great length of time is poisonous to great names.
Your grandeur passes, and your pageantry,
Your lordships pass, your kingdoms pass; and Time
Disposes wilfully of mortal things,
And treats all men, worthy or no, alike;
And Time dissolves not only visible things,
But eloquence, and what the mind hath wrought.
And fleeing thus, it turns the world around.
Nor ever rests nor stays nor turns again
Till it has made you nought but a little dust.
Many indeed are the horns of human pride,
Nor is it strange if some of them remain,
Outlasting others, more than the common wont:
But whatsoever men may think or say,
If the span of this life of yours were not so brief,
You soon would see them fade away in smoke."
When this I heard-for to the truth we owe
No opposition, but a perfect trust?
I saw our glory melt like snow in the sun.
And I saw Time such booty bear away
That our renowns appeared as nought to me?
Although the common folk believe not so:
Blind folk, that ever dally with the wind,
Feeding on false opinions, thinking it
Better to die when old than in the cradle.
Happy are they who die in swaddling clothes,
And wretched they who die in utmost age.
"Blessed is he who is not born," 'tis said.
And even though the errant crowd may hold
That for long ages Fame may still endure,
What is it that so highly is esteemed?
Time in his avarice steals so much away:
Men call it Fame; 'tis but a second death,
And both alike are strong beyond defense.
Thus doth Time triumph over the world and Fame.