Budding Roses by Virgil

On a springtime morning under a saffron-colored sky, 
           night’s biting chill was just giving way to a hint 
of the warmth that was yet to come. I was walking a country path 
           between well-tended plots and enjoying the crisp 
tonic of fresh air. On the blades of grass I could see 
           the white hoar-frost still clinging. On cabbage leaves 
it had melted to crystal drops that agglomerated together.

There were bushes with budding roses of the kind one finds at Paestum, 
           dewy and gleaming in early morning light. 
Here and there were those droplets, newborn but already drying 
           in the first light of the sun. One supposed that the pink 
touch of Aurora’s progress stole its hue from these 
           blushing rosebuds, although the converse seemed 
plausible too—that the sky’s tender tinge informed 
           these opening buds and gave them their fresh color. 
Venus, after all, is the queen of the morning and rules 
           over these flowers as well, the tint, the moistness 
clearly her own. Let her therefore take all the credit 
           for the sky and the buds too, the freshness and fragrance 
they share coming from her, the queen goddess of Paphos. 
           It was just that critical moment when the buds were about 
to split into equal segments their outer green containers. 
           One’s green calyx was closed; another’s sepals 
were about to separate and display the corolla’s ruddy 
           hints of what the blossom would soon be. 
The next was already showing the spread of petals, within 
           the cup of which were the saffron-yellow seeds. 
But not far away on the same branch were overblown 
           roses, the petals’ array already going 
or gone, and down on the grass their delicacy was fading. 
           How swift is the ruin of beauty like this, how brusque, 
budding, blooming, and dying all at once in a blur 
           of being! I say the words that float on the air 
and I watch as another petal lets go its hold and falls 
           to carpet the green below with flashes of crimson. 
I breathe the scent of the flowers, but every breath I take 
           is all at once a birth and growth and death. 
This is what Nature does, giving us mere glimpses 
           she then snatches away, perhaps to mock us, 
or is it to concentrate our ill-focused attention? 
           In the case of a rose, a day is a whole lifetime 
so that youth and age go hand in hand. The Morning Star 
           sees a blossom born that, on her return 
as the Evening Star, is already withered and dying. 
           In a stern frame of mind I tell myself 
that the blossom may die, but life springs back and renews 
           the healthy bush. Is this enough to cheer me? 
O maidens, gather your roses when you find them fresh, 
           for they—and I fear you too—are already dying.  

translated from the Latin by David R. Slavitt

The Gnat and Other Minor Poems of Virgil 
University of California Press

Posted via Poetry Daily


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