Tree, whoever planted you first it was done
on an evil day, and, with sacrilegious
hands, he raised you for utter ruin
of posterity, and this region’s shame.
He’ll have broken his father’s neck, I guess:
he’ll have sprinkled the blood of a guest around,
in an inner room, in deepest night:
he’ll have dabbled with Colchian poisons,
and whatever, wherever, evil’s conceived,
that man who one planted you there in my field,
you, sad trunk, who were destined to fall
on the head of your innocent master.
Men are never quite careful enough about
what they should avoid: the Carthaginian
sailor’s afraid of the Bosphorus,
but not the hidden dangers, beyond, elsewhere:
Soldiers fear the Persians’ arrows and rapid
flight, the Persians fear Italian power, and chains:
but they don’t expect the forces of death,
that have snatched away the races of men.
How close I was, now, to seeing the kingdom
of dark Proserpine, and Aeacus judging,
and the seats set aside for the good,
and Sappho still complaining about
the local girls, on her Aeolian lyre,
and you, Alcaeus, with a golden plectrum,
sounding more fully the sailor’s woe,
the woe of harsh exile, the woe of war.
The spirits wonder at both of them, singing,
they’re worth a reverent silence, but the crowd,
packed shoulder to shoulder, drinks deeper
of tales of warfare and banished tyrants.
No wonder that, lulled by the songs, the monster
with a hundred heads lowers his jet-black ears,
and the snakes that wriggle in the hair
of the Furies take time out for a rest.
Even Prometheus, even Tantalus,
are seduced in their torments by the sweet sound:
Orion doesn’t even bother
to chase the lions, or wary lynxes.