Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
To Pholoe on Marathus
By Tibullus (c.55–19 B.C.)
(From Book I. VIII; translated by John Percival Postgate, 1912)

NO one can hide from me the meaning of a lover’s nod, nor the message of gentle tones and whispered words. Yet no lots help me, no liver with heaven’s will acquainted, nor do birds’ notes tell me of the things to come. ’Twas Venus’ self tied my arms with magic knots and taught me all with many stripes.
  Have done with concealments. The god has fiercer fires for those that he sees have fallen to him against their will.  2
  What advantage hast thou now in dressing the soft hair or shifting continually the arrangement of the tresses, what in beautifying cheeks with lustrous pigment, in having the nails pared by an artist’s cunning hand? In vain thy gowns, thy shawls are changed, and the tight loop squeezes the feet together. ’Tis the other charms, though she come with face untended and has spent no lingering skill on dressing her sheeny hair.  3
  Has some hag bewitched thee with her spells, or with blanching herbs, in the silent night hours? Incantation draws the crops from the neighbour’s field; incantation checks the course of the angry snake; incantation seeks to draw the moon down from her car, and would do it but for the blows on the echoing bronze.  4
  Why do I complain, alas! that spells or herbs have worked me woe? Beauty needs no aid from sorcery. ’Tis touching the body does the harm, giving the long kiss, resting thigh by thigh. Yet do thou for thy part see thou art not uncompliant to the lad; Venus visits harsh deeds with punishment.  5
  Ask for no presents: these should a hoary lover give, that soft arms may warm his chilly limbs. Gold is less precious than a lad whose face is bright and smooth, with no rough beard to rasp caresses. Under his shoulder place thy radiant arms, and thus look down on all the treasures of a king. Venus will find a way for stealthy commerce with the lad while he quivers, and would draw your tender bosoms ever closer, for giving wet kisses with quickened breath and struggling tongue and printing the teeth’s marks on the neck. No stone or pearls will give her joy who sleeps alone and chill, and to no man is desirable.  6
  Ah, too late we call back love and youth when hoary eld has bleached the aged head. Then looks are studied. The hair is stained to disguise our years with dye from the nut’s green husk. Then we task ourselves to pluck up the white hairs by the root and to carry home a face transformed, with the old skin gone. But do thou while thy life is still in its flowering springtide see that thou use it. Not slow are its feet as it glides away.  7
  Nor torture Marathus. What glory is there in discomfiting a boy? Be hard, my lass, to the effete old. Spare the tender shoot, I pray. Naught ails him gravely; ’tis from excess of passion comes the yellow stain upon his skin. See again, poor wretch, how often he heaps his piteous reproaches on the absent and all around is flooded with his tears.  8
  “Why dost thou slight me?” he complains. “The watch might have been baffled. Heaven itself gives the lovesick skill to cozen. I know the secret ways of love, how the breath may be taken gently, and how kisses may be snatched and make no sound. I can steal up e’en in the dead of night, and unseen unbar the door without a sound. But what do arts avail if the girl spurn the hapless swain and, cruel, fly from the very couch of love? Then again when she promises and suddenly plays false, I must wake through a night of many woes. While I fondly think that she will come to me, in every stir I hear her footfall sounding.”  9
  Shed tears no more, lad. Her heart is stone, and thy eyes are already worn and swelled with weeping. The gods, I warn thee, Pholoe, abhor disdain. ’Twill be vain to offer incense to their holy fires. This is the Marathus that once made mock of wretched lovers, unwitting that behind him stood the god of vengeance. Often, too, we have heard, he laughed at the tears of anguish and kept a lover waiting with pretences for delay. Now he abhors all coyness; now he hates every door that is bolted fast against him. But for thee, girl, unless thou cease to be proud, there is punishment in store. Then how wilt thou long that prayers might bring thee back to-day!  10

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