The Abraham Cowley
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Cowley's Ode "Quid relinquendos" / "Why dost thou"

(Click here for a line-for-line English translation, or click here for all three texts in parallel.)  

Ode (Poemata Latina 1668)]

QUid relinquendos, Moriture, nummos,
Sarcinas Vitæ Fugiture, quæris?
Si relinquendos; Dominum relinquunt
Sæpè priores.
Quid struis pulchros Thalamos in altum
Membra sub terrâ positurus imâ?
Conserens Hortos, sed in omne tempus
Ipse serendus?
Num tuas Te res agitare credis?
Esse Te Frugalem? aliis laboras   10
Servus infœlix, aliena curas
Ardelio ingens.
Longa momento meditantur uno,
Dum Senes rebus venientis ævi
Lineæ Puncto brevis in supremo
Acriùs instant.
Jure Formicæ cumulant acervos
Providæ, et Brumæ memores futuræ,
Sed malè æstivas eadem deceret
Cura Cicadas.   20
Gloriæ mendax nitor atque honorum
Posset excusare suos Amantes
Si diem vitæ valuisset, ut Sol,
      Pingere totum.
At brevem post se sonitum relinquens
Fulguris ritu, simul ac videtur
Transit, illustri loca multa inaurans
      Non sine Damno.
O rudis pulchræ propè contuenti
Scena Fortunæ! Mala fastuosa   30
Ore larvato! Lacrymæque Pictæ
      Iridis instar!
Magna contemnens, miseránsque Magnos,
Invidens nulli, minimè Invidendus,
Vive Coulëi; lege tuta parvâ
      Littora Cymbâ.
Hospitem Cœlorum imitare Alaudam,
Sis licèt Nubes super ire cantu
Doctus, in Terris humilem memento
      Ponere Nidum.   40
[Ode; Works 1668)]

|1| Why dost thou heap up Wealth, which thou must quit,
Or, what is worse, be left by it?
Why dost thou load thyself, when thou'rt to fly,
Oh Man ordained to die?
|2| Why dost thou build up stately Rooms on high,
Thou who art under Ground to lie?
Thou Sow'st and Plantest, but no Fruit must see;
For Death, alas! is sowing Thee.
|3| Suppose, thou Fortune could to tameness bring,
And clip or pinion her wing;
Suppose thou couldst on Fate so far prevail
As not to cut off thy Entail.
|4| Yet Death at all that subtilty will laugh,
Death will that foolish Gardner mock
Who does a slight and annual Plant engraff,
Upon a lasting stock.
|5| Thou dost thyself Wise and Industrious deem;
A mighty Husband thou wouldst seem;
Fond Man! like a bought slave, thou all the while
Dost but for others Sweat and Toil.
|6| Officious Fool! that needs must medling be
In business that concerns not thee!
For when to Future years thou'extendst thy cares
Thou deal'st in other men's affairs.
|7| Even aged men, as if they truly were
Children again, for Age prepare,
Provisions for long travail they design,
In the last point of their short Line.
|8| Wisely the Ant against poor Winter hoords
The stock which Summers wealth affords,
In Grasshoppers that must at Autumn die,
How vain were such an Industry?
|9| Of Power and Honour the deceitful Light
Might half excuse our cheated sight,
If it of Life the whole small time would stay,
And be our Sun-shine all the day,
|10| Like Lightning that, begot but in a Cloud
(Though shining bright, and speaking loud)
Whilst it begins, concludes its violent Race,
And where it Guilds, it wounds the place.
|11| Oh Scene of Fortune, which dost fair appear,
Only to men that stand not near!
Proud Poverty, that Tinsel brav'ry wears,
And like a Rainbow, painted Tears!
|12| Be prudent, and the shore in prospect keep,
In a weak Boat trust not the deep.
Placed beneath Envy, above envying rise;
Pity Great Men, Great Things despise.
|13| The wise example of the Heavenly Lark,
Thy Fellow-Poet, Cowley mark,
Above the Clouds let thy proud Musique sound,
Thy humble Nest build on the Ground.

Both the Latin and English are based on texts owned by the editor and comprising these errors, which are duly corrected above: Latin 23: uti for ut; 34: minimo for minimè. Ampersands have been silently expanded in both texts, and long "s" and italicized punctuation have been normalized throughout. Cowley's Latin is in 10 Sapphic stanzas and 40 lines and his English in 13 stanzas and 52 lines, with English stanzas 3 and 4 corresponding to nothing in the Latin and English stanzas 5 and 6 constituting a longer equivalent of Latin stanza 3. The Latin poem was first published posthumously in the Carminum Miscellaneorum Liber concluding the Poemata Latina of 1668; the English poem, part of Cowley's English Works, first appeared that same year in the essay, "The Shortness of Life and the Uncertainty of Riches."

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