Idle Living

We present this work in honor of the Ching Ming Festival.

Tao Yuanming
365 – 427


Though life is brief, feeling is everlasting;
That is why man wants to live long.
The sun and moon follow the stars.
The whole world loves this name.
The dew is cold, and the warm wind drops;
The air is penetrating, the day bright.
The departing swallow leaves no shadow;
The returning wild goose brings a lingering cry.
Wine can wash away a hundred woes,
And chrysanthemums set a pattern for old age.
Why should I, a hermit,
Gaze vacantly at the change of seasons?
The ministers are ashamed of their empty grain jars.
The autumn chrysanthemums are alone in their beauty.
I alone sing while fastening my garments.
A feeling of melancholy stirs deep within me.
It is true that there is much amusement in living,
But in idling is there no accomplishment?

To Nepotianus, both grammarian and rhetorician

Decimius Magnus Ausonius
c. 310 – c. 395


Old with a young heart, witty, kind, whose mind,
dipped in much honey with now gall,
imparted nothing bitter in your whole life.
Nepotianus, comfort to my heart,
partaking as much in games as serious work:
when silent, you’d outdo Amyclas in speechlessness:
Ulysses—who left the Sirens singing their enchantments—
could not leave you when you were talking:
honest and modest, moderate, thrifty, abstemious,
eloquent, in style yielding place to no orator:
debater approaching the Stoic Cleanthes:
knowing well by heart Scaurus and Probus,
your memory greater than Cineas’s of Epirus:
friend table-companion and frequent guest—
too seldom, for you stimulated my mind.
No one gave counsel with so pure a heart
or hid confidences with deeper secrecy.
With the honor of an illustrious governorship conferred,
having lived through the changes of ninety years,
leaving two children, you meet your death,
with much grief to your family, as to me.


Translation by Deborah Warren

from Cento Vergilianus de Laudibus Christi

03-30 Proba
Faltonia Betitia Proba
322 – 370

Once I wrote of leaders violating sacred tracts,
of those who cling to their terrible thirst for power;
of so many slaughters, the cruel campaigns of Kings,
of blood-brothers at battle, illustrious shields spattered
with kindred gore, trophies taken from would-be allies,
cities widowed once again of their countless peoples:
of these, I confess, I once wrote. It is enough to record such evil.
Now, all-powerful God, take, I pray, my sacred song,
loosen the voices of your eternal, seven-fold
Spirit; unlock the innermost chambers of my heart,
that I, Proba, the prophet, might reveal its secrets.
Now I spurn the nectar of Olympus, find no joy
in calling down the Muses from their high mountain haunts;
not for me to spread the idle boast that rocks can speak,
or pursue the theme of laureled tripods, voided vows,
the brawling gods of princes, vanquished votive idols:
Nor do I seek to extend my glory through mere words
or court their petty praise in the vain pursuits of men.
But baptised, like the blest, in the Castalian font –
I, who in my thirst have drunk libations of the Light –
now begin my song: be at my side, Lord, set my thoughts
straight, as I tell how Virgil sang the offices of Christ.

Hymn on the Nativity

12-22 Ephrem
Ephrem of Nisibis
c. 306 – 373


Your mother is a cause for wonder: the Lord entered her
and became a servant; He who is the Word entered
—and became silent within her; thunder entered her
—and made no sound; there entered the Shepherd of all,
and in her he became the Lamb, bleating as he came forth.
Your mother’s womb has reversed the roles:
the Establisher of all entered in His richness,
but came forth poor; the Exalted One entered her,
but came forth meek; the Splendrous One entered her,
but came forth having put on a lowly hue.
The Mighty One entered, and put on insecurity
from her womb; the Provisioner of all entered
—and experienced hunger; He who gives drink to all entered
—and experienced thirst: naked and stripped
there came forth from her He who clothes all.


Translation by Eugene Peterson

Look to This Day

In honor of Thiruvalluvar Day, we present this work by one of India’s greatest Sanskrit poets.

c. 350


Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of achievement
Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!