Exegi monumentum aere perennius regalique situ pyramidum altius, quod non imber edax, non Aquilo impotens possit diruere, aut innumerabilis annorum series et fuga temporum.
Non omnis moriar.
I have raised a monument more lasting than bronze, Loftier than the royal peak of pyramids; No biting storm can bring it down, No impotent north wind, nor the unnumbered series Of the years, nor the swift course of time. I shall not wholly die.
The slandered crowd ignored the Odes, the critics denounced them as tiresome artifice, the puritans declaimed against the songs of love. Augustus pronounced the poems immortal, asked for a fourth group that would celebrate the exploits of Drusus and Tiberius in Germany, and chose Horace to write the carmen saeculare for the Secular Games. Horace complied, but without inspiration. The effort of the Odes had exhausted him. In his final work he relaxed into the conversational hexameters of the Satires, and wrote his Epistles as from an easy chair. He had always wanted to be a philosopher; now he abandoned himself to wisdom, even while remaining a causeur. Since a philosopher is a dead poet and a dying theologian, Horace, old at forty-five, was ripe to discuss God and man, morals and literature and art.
The most famous of these letters, named by later critics “The Art of Poetry,” was addressed Ad Pisones – to some uncertain members of the Piso clan; it was no formal treatise, but a bit of friendly advice on how to write. Choose a subject suited to your powers, Horace says; beware of laboring like a mountain and producing a mouse. The ideal book is that which at the same time instructs and entertains; “he who has mingled the useful with the pleasant wins every vote”- omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci. Avoid words that are new, obsolete, or “sesquipedalian”- foot-and-a-half words. Be as brief as clarity allows. Go straight to the heart of the matter- in medias res. In writing poetry do not imagine that emotion is everything. It is true that you must feel an emotion yourself if you wish the reader to feel it ( si vis me flere, dolendum est primum ipsi tibi ). But art is not feeling; it is form (here again is the challenge of the classic to the romantic style). To achieve form, study the Greeks day and night; erase almost as much as you write; delete every “purple patch” ( purpureus pannus ); submit your work to a competent critic, and beware of your friends. If it survives all this, put it away for eight years; if then you do not perceive the uses of oblivion, publish it, but remember that it can never be recalled except by time: verba volant, scripta manent. If you write drama let the action, not your words, tell the story and delineate the characters. Do not represent horror on the stage. Obey the unities of action, time, and place: let the story be one and occur within a brief time in one place. Study life and philosophy, for without observation and understanding even a perfect style is an empty thing. Sapere aude: dare to know.