Grenfell Tower, June 16, 2017. Rick Findler/Press Association. All rights reseved.
The very houses are unsafe
Who fears, or ever feared, that their house might collapse,
In cool Praeneste, or in Volsinii among the wooded hills,
Or at unpretentious Gabii, or the sloping hills of Tibur?
We inhabit a Rome held up for the most part by slender
Props; since that’s the way management stop the buildings
Falling down; once they’ve covered some ancient yawning
Crack, they’ll tell us to sleep soundly at the edge of ruin.
The place to live is far from all these fires, and all these
Panics in the night. Ucalegon is already summoning a hose,
Moving his things, and your third floor’s already smoking:
You’re unaware; since if the alarm was raised downstairs,
The last to burn will be the one a bare tile protects from
The rain, up there where gentle doves coo over their eggs.
Cordus had a bed, too small for Procula, and six little jugs
Of earthenware to adorn his sideboard and, underneath it,
A little Chiron, a Centaur made of that very same ‘marble’
And a box somewhat aged now, to hold his Greek library,
So the barbarous mice gnawed away at immortal verse.
Cordus had nothing, who could demur? Yet, poor man,
He lost the whole of that nothing. And the ultimate peak
Of his misery, is that naked and begging for scraps, no one
Will give him a crust, or a hand, or a roof over his head.
If Assaracus’s great mansion is lost, his mother’s in mourning,
The nobles wear black, and the praetor adjourns his hearing.
Then we bewail the state of Rome, then we despair of its fires.
While it’s still burning, they’re rushing to offer marble, already,
Collect donations; one man contributes nude gleaming statues,
Another Euphranor’s master-works, or bronzes by Polyclitus,
Or antique ornaments that once belonged to some Asian god,
Here books and bookcases, a Minerva to set in their midst,
There a heap of silver. Persicus, wealthiest of the childless,
Is there to replace what’s lost with more, and better things.
He’s suspected, and rightly so, of setting fire to his house.
If you could tear yourself from the Games, you could buy
A most excellent place, at Sora, at Fabrateria or Frusino,
For the annual rent you pay now, for a tenement in Rome.
There you’d have a garden, and a well not deep enough
To demand a rope, so easy watering of your tender plants.
Live as a lover of the hoe, and the master of a vegetable bed,
From which a hundred vegetarian Pythagoreans could be fed.
You’d be somebody, whatever the place, however remote,
If only because you’d be the master of a solitary lizard.
translated by A.S.Kline