Seneca the Younger: A time will come when there will be no world


Everything is devoured by voracious Time, everything destroyed,
it changes everything settled, lets nothing be for long.
Rivers fail, the land dries up the fleeing sea,
mountains dwindle and high peaks fall.
How can we talk of such small things? The whole vast structure of sky
will suddenly burn up in its own flames.
Death demands everything. It is the law, not a penalty, to perish.
There will come a time when the world is no more.

Seneca the Younger (ca 4–65), Roman philosopher, politician and writer

Omnia tempus edax depascitur, omnia carpit,
omnia sede movet, nil sinit esse diu.
Flumina deficiunt, profugum mare litora siccant,
subsidunt montes et juga celsa ruunt.
Quid tam parva loquor? moles pulcherrima caeli
ardebit flammis tota repente suis.
Omnia mors poscit. Lex est, non poena, perire:
hic aliquo mundus tempore nullus erit.


Martial: Let no hard turf cover her tender bones


To you, my father, Fronto, and my mother Flaccilla,
I commend Erotion, my little darling girl,
so that she won't be frightened of the dark shadows
or of the jaws of the great hound of Hell.
It would have been six cold winters
if she had lived six more days.
Let her play happily among these old protectors,
prattling and lisping my name.
Let the turf not lie rough on her tender bones,
nor you, Earth, weigh her down;
she was not so to you.

Martial (ca 38–ca 104), Roman poet. Erotion was a little slave girl, possibly his daughter by a slave.

Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam
oscula commendo deliciasque meas,
parvola ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras
oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.
Inpletura fuit sextæ modo frigora brumæ,
vixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.
Inter tam veteres ludat lasciva patronos
et nomen blæso garriat ore meum.
Mollia non rigidus cæspes tegat ossa; nec illi,
Terra, gravis fueris:non fuit illa tibi.


Photo by Sheila Brown.

Sannazaro: Inexorable death lays cities waste...


And do we complain if the years allotted to our life flee swiftly? Inexorable death lays cities waste...
The Fates carry men away. Time unaided will remove cities and whatever you behold, as the Fates demand.

  --From "In the ruins of Cumae," by Jacopo Sannazaro (1458-1530), translated by Helen Waddell (1889-1965) in The Wandering Scholars (1927)

Et querimur, cito si nostrae data tempora vitae
diffugiunt? urbes mors violenta rapit...
Fata trahunt homines: fatis urgentibus, urbes, et quodcumque vides, auferet ipsa dies.

Emperor Hadrian to his soul


Dear little fleeting pleasing soul
the guest and comrade of my body
into what regions must you go now--
pale little, cold little, naked little soul
without your old power of jesting?

  --Roman emperor Hadrian (76-138). The translation is by Frederick Brittain (1893-1969), in The Penguin Book of Latin Verse (1962)

Animula vagula blandula
hospes comesque corporis
quae nunc abibis in loca
pallidula rigida nudula
nec ut soles dabis jocos?

Agius/ Waddell: Thou hast come safe to port, I still at sea


Thou hast come safe to port,
I still at sea,
The light is on thy head,
darkness in me.

Pluck thou in heaven's field
violet and rose,
while I strew flowers that will thy vigil keep
where thou dost sleep,
love, in thy last repose.

--Translation by Helen Waddell (1889-1965) of a lament for Hathimoda (840-874), Abbess of Gandesheim. The Latin original is in a manuscript called Vita et obitus Hathumodae primae abbatissae Gandersheimensis, composed by a monk and poet called Agius. It is considered one of the most beautiful and simple lives of the Dark Ages. The translation is a loose one.

Te iam portus habet; nos adhuc iactat abyssus.
Te lux vera tenet; nos tenebrae retinent.
Te cum virginibus comitans, quocumque it, agnum,
lilia cum violis colligis atque rosis;
nos cum coancillis nostris tumulo ecce tuopte
flores spargentes, ducimus excubias.

Thomas à Kempis: Come to me when it is not well with thee.


Son, I am the Lord, who gives strength in the time of tribulation.* Come to me when it is not well with thee.

Stand firmly, and be of good courage: comfort will come to thee in its proper season. Wait for me, wait, I will come and cure thee. **

Let not therefore thy heart be troubled... believe in me,*** and trust in my mercy. When thou thinkest I am far from thee, I am often nearest to thee....All is not lost, when anything falls out otherwise than thou wouldst have it. Thou must not judge according to thy present feeling....

    --Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471 ), in The Imitation of Christ , translated (1502) by William Atkinson and Margaret Beaufort?]

* John, xiv.27, 29
** Matt, viii, 7
***John, xiv, 27, 29

Catullus: Hail and Farewell


By ways remote and distant waters sped,
Brother, to thy sad grave-side am I come,
That I may give the last gifts to the dead,
And vainly parley with thine ashes dumb:
Since she who now bestows and now denies
Hath taken thee, hapless brother, from mine eyes.
But lo! these gifts, the heirlooms of past years,
Are made sad things to grace thy coffin shell,
Take them, all drenchèd with a brother’s tears,
And, brother, for all time, hail and farewell!

--Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca 85-ca 54 B.C.),  translated by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)

Borne through many nations and over many seas,
I have come, my brother, to the sad funeral,
to give you at the last the offering to the dead
and make a speech in vain to your silent ashes,
since fate has stolen you yourself away.
O unhappy brother, unfairly snatched away!
Still meanwhile, by the old custom of our ancestors,
accept now the sad brotherly offering, wet with tears,
and forever and ever, my brother, hail and farewell.

--tr. by Sedulia

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem,
quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum,
heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi.
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

Abelard: David's Lament for Jonathan

...You now, my Jonathan,Dor_david_jonathan_2
I mourn above all,
among all delights
there will always be tears.

 Woe, why am I
followed by evil counsel,
and could give you
no protection in battle?

 If I had fallen by your side
I would have died happy
for there is nothing greater
than what love will do.

 and living after you
would mean continual dying
since half a soul
is not enough to live.

So I have won
an unhappy victory:
what emptiness,
what short-lived joy
have I had from it.


I silence my lyre:
if only I could silence too
my mourning and weeping.
My hands hurt from playing,
my voice is hoarse from crying
and my breathing faint.

       --Peter Abelard (1079-1142)

Planctus David Super Saul et Jonathan

Tu mihi nunc, Jonatha,
Flendus super omnia,
Inter cuncta gaudia
Perpes erit lacryma.

Heu! cur consilio
Acquievi pessimo,
Ut tibi praesidio
Non essem in praelio?

Vel confossus pariter
morerer feliciter
cum, quid amor faciat,
maius hoc non habeat,
et me post te vivere
mori sit assidue,
nec ad vitam anima
satis sit dimidia.

Infausta victoria
Potitus, interea,
Quam vana, quam brevia
Hic percepi gaudia!


Do quietem fidibus:
vellem, ut et planctibus
sic possem et fletibus:
laesis pulsu manibus,
raucis planctu vocibus
deficit et spiritus.

Thomas à Kempis: Thou hast here no abiding city


Do, do now, my beloved, whatsoever thou art able to do; for thou knowest not when thou shalt die, nor yet what shall befall thee after thy death.

Keep thyself as a stranger and pilgrim upon the earth, and as one to whom the affairs of this world do nothing appertain.

Keep thy heart free, and lifted up to God, because thou hast here no abiding city.

  --Thomas à Kempis (ca 1380-1471), Of the Imitation of Christ, Book I, ch XXIII. Translator unknown.

Age, age nunc charissime quidquid pro te agere potes, quia nescis quando morieris. Nescis etiam, quid tibi post mortem sequatur....

Serva te tanquam peregrinum et hospitem super terram, ad quem nihil spectat de mundi negociis. Serva cor liberum, et ad Deum sursum erectum, quia non habes hic manentem civitatem....