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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Ancient Roman Cubist Verse

Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet - Harry Eyres

Horace And Me is a very unusual book in that it's an appreciation of the Roman poet Horace set within the context of the author's own life. So it's part critical assessment, part autobiography.

 

Horace, Eyres declares, is the kind of poet that you scorn in your youth and only begin to appreciate when you reach your middle age; and this has certainly been my experience. I studied Horace as a schoolboy and found his point of view peculiarly inaccessible. Only now, as I enter my sixties, do I at last begin to understand what he was talking about.

 

Partly, it's a question of cultural shift. Horace's poetry, with its emphasis on moderation rather than passion is of a kind that does not immediately find recognition in a world still largely conditioned by the Romantic sensibility. In comparison with a poet like Catullus, whose passionate depiction of his love-hate relationship with his mistress seem so modern, Horace feels sedate and over-controlled.

 

But Eyres points out that, when you look at the poems more closely you begin to see that Horace is supremely contemporary. His complex verse presents the world that it describes from every angle at the same time. "Cubist" is the word Eyres uses to describe the multi-layered perspective the poems offer us.

 

The weak link in this otherwise excellent book is the translations that Eyres offers of Horace's poetry. Entertaining and witty, they invariably provide interesting ways into the poems, but they can never capture the musicality and grace of the originals, though, to be fair, Eyres is not trying to do so.

 

Despite that shortcoming, this is a refreshing and candid appreciation of a poet whose verses have influenced poets down the centuries. At the start of the book Eyres describes Horace as a friend and he invites the reader to share in that friendship. It's an invitation that I found impossible to resist