‘laeta fere laetus cecini, cano tristia tristis:
happy, I once sang happy things, sad things
I sing in sadness:’ Ex Ponto III:IX:35
And if any of you ask why I sing so many
sad things: I’ve suffered many sad things.
I don’t compose them with wit or skill,
the content’s inspired by its own misfortunes.
And how little of this fate is in my poetry.
Happy the man who can count his sufferings!
As the forest’s branches, as Tiber’s yellow sand,
as the tender grasses in the Field of Mars,
so the ills I’ve suffered without cure, or rest,
except in the study and practise of the Muses.
‘What end will there be to these sad songs, Ovid,’ you ask:
the same end that there’ll be to this misfortune.
It feeds me from a full fountain, of complaint,
nor are the words mine, they are my fate’s.
But if you restore me to my country, and my dear girl,
my face will be joyful, I’ll be what I was.
If invincible Caesar’s anger were milder to me,
then I’d give you poetry filled with delight.
But my verse will never play as it once played:
enough that it once ran riot with my wit.
If only a part of my sentence be reduced, I’ll sing
what he’ll approve, free of fierce Getae and barbarism.
Meanwhile what should my books be: but sad?
Such is the piping that befits my funeral rites.