Edwin Arlington Robinson’s sonnet ‘Horace to Leuconoe’ is an artistic translation of Horace’s Odes 1.11 (Book 1, Poem 11). In this piece, Horace’s poetic persona addresses Leuconoe and tells her not to seek the future. Instead, she should be present at the moment. She should live life to the fullest, seizing each and every moment because there is no guarantee of what might happen tomorrow. This poem is centered on the theme of carpe diem, usually translated as “seize the day.” You can read the entire poem below:
Horace to Leuconoe Edwin Arlington Robinson I pray you not, Leuconoë, to pore With unpermitted eyes on what may be Appointed by the gods for you and me, Nor on Chaldean figures any more. ’T were infinitely better to implore The present only:—whether Jove decree More winters yet to come, or whether he Make even this, whose hard, wave-eaten shore Shatters the Tuscan seas to-day, the last— Be wise withal, and rack your wine, nor fill Your bosom with large hopes; for while I sing The envious close of time is narrowing;— So seize the day, or ever it be past, And let the morrow come for what it will. - from Children of the Night (1897)
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In Edwin Arlington Robinson’s ‘Horace to Leuconoe,’ Horace urges Leuconoe to stop trying to predict their future and be in the present moment.
This poem is inspired by Horace’s Poem 11 from Odes, Book 1. It is not clear whether Leuconoe is a real or fictional character, but the Greek name is usually used for females. In the beginning, the speaker (Horace) advises her that she should stop looking into the future that is “appointed by the gods for you and me.” It refers to the fate that Gods bestowed upon them.
Further, he urges her to stop seeing the “Chaldean figures”—Chaldeans were an ancient group of people who lived and ruled Babylonia from 625 to 539 BC. They were known to be great astronomers and astrologers. Here, Horace asks Leuconoe not to seek the Chaldean Numerology in order to predict her future.
According to the speaker, it is better to live in the moment than to wonder how many winters Jove, the king of god in ancient Roman religion, has in store for them. Overall, the poet sums up the sonnet by saying that let tomorrow come with what it wants, but it is always better to focus on the present moment.
Robinson’s ‘Horace to Leuconoe’ is an Italian sonnet consisting of 14 lines that are divided into an octave and a sestet. The rhyme scheme of the poem closely follows the Petrarchan model that is ABBAABBA CDEECD. Alongside that, the poem is composed of iambic pentameter like conventional sonnets. It means each line contain five iambs, a metrical foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable:
I pray/ you not,/ Leu-co/-no-ë,/ to pore
With un/-per-mit/-ted eyes/ on what/ may be
In ‘Horace to Leuconoe,’ Robinson utilizes the following literary devices:
- Consonance: Robinson uses this device in these lines, “I pray you not, Leuconoë, to pore,” “Shatters the Tuscan seas to-day, the last—,” “So seize the day, or ever it be past,” etc.
- Metaphor: In the lines, “Make even this, whose hard, wave-eaten shore/ Shatters the Tuscan seas to-day, the last—,” Robinson describes the future as a wavering sea and fate as “wave-eaten shore.”
- Alliteration: It occurs in “wise withal,” “So seize,” etc. In these examples, there is an alliteration of the “w” sound and the “s” sound, respectively.
- Enjambment: It occurs in, “’T were infinitely better to implore/ The present only:—whether Jove decree.” Robinson also uses this device in other instances.
- Personification: The poet gives human characteristics to time in the line, “The envious close of time is narrowing;—”.
I pray you not, Leuconoë, to pore
With unpermitted eyes on what may be
Appointed by the gods for you and me,
Nor on Chaldean figures any more.
’T were infinitely better to implore
The present only:—whether Jove decree
More winters yet to come, or whether he
Make even this, whose hard, wave-eaten shore
In the octave of Horace to Leuconoe,’ the speaker (Horace) requests Leuconoe not to pry into their future. She should stop anticipating fate with her “unpermitted eyes.” Mortals can neither read nor predict what is written on their fate.
Furthermore, the speaker asks Leuconoe to stop depending on the Babylonian soothsayers. No matter what Jove (the king of ancient Roman gods) decrees—be it more “winters” (difficulties or troubles in life) or more hardships, she should stay focused on the present moment. It is in front of her now. So she should grab it the earliest and live in the moment with the speaker.
The overall tone of the poem reflects the speaker’s confidence in what he says to the woman. Overall, the first eight lines describe how humans get lost in wondering about the unpredictable future, and thus, they fail to live in the present.
Shatters the Tuscan seas to-day, the last—
Be wise withal, and rack your wine, nor fill
Your bosom with large hopes; for while I sing
The envious close of time is narrowing;—
So seize the day, or ever it be past,
And let the morrow come for what it will.
In the second stanza, the speaker depicts the future ahead of them—one weathered by the waves of the Tuscan seas. The thought of the future might bring Leuconoe’s spirit down had she found out about it before.
Therefore, rather than speculating and obsessing over the possibilities in the future, Horace suggests to Leuconoe that she should wisely make the right choice. As of now, the right choice is to trust him and enjoy the moment. She must drink her wine and enjoy the present rather than fill her heart with large hopes.
Moreover, the speaker describes how she could truly enjoy the present by not keeping high expectations from the future. So, she should sit back and enjoy while he sings. On top of that, the “envious” time is closing in on them. Therefore, Leuconoe should “seize the day” and let tomorrow come with what it will. She just has to live in the very moment and cherish it to the fullest.
Edwin Arlington Robinson wrote the sonnet ‘Horace to Leuconoe’ inspired by Odes 1.11, the source of the Latin aphorism, “carpe diem.” It can be regarded as an artistic translation of the Latin poem. In this poem, the poet Horace addresses a lady named Leuconoe who is thoughtful of her future. Horace’s Odes are a collection of four books consisting of short Latin poems. It taps on several themes such as love, religion, morality, mortality, life, etc. Quintus Horatius Flaccus, simply known as Horace, was a Roman lyric poet during the reign of Augustus. He is famous for hexameter verses and iambic poetry. His famous works include Satires, Epodes, Odes, Epistles, Carmen Saeculare, etc.
Edwin Arlington Robinson’s sonnet ‘Horace to Leuconoe’ is a passionate address of Horace to a lady named Leuconoe. He advises her to give up trying to predict their future. Instead, she should live in the present and enjoy every moment with his song.
Horace’s Odes 1.11 is addressed to a lady named Leuconoe. This name has a Greek origin. But, Horace does not disclose if she was real or fictional in his poem. In Robinson’s ‘Horace to Leuconoe,’ the speaker (Horace) advises her as a close friend to “seize the day.” It might also seem that there is an intimate relationship between the speaker and Leuconoe.
It is an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet that consists of an octave and a sestet. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABBAABBA CDEECD, and it is written in iambic pentameter. It is written in the form of a passionate address of a lover to his beloved that taps on the theme of carpe diem.
The tone of the poem is wise, passionate, and confident. In this poem, Horace advises Leuconoe to stop thinking about the past or the present and seize the moment as soon as she can.
This poem revolves around the theme of carpe diem or “seizing the day.” Horace wisely advises Leuconoe not to give in to her preoccupation with the future. She should enjoy the present to the fullest. Each human being should strive to do so.
The following list contains a number of poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Arlington’s poem ‘Horace to Leuconoe.’ You can read more Edwin Arlington Robinson poems as well.
- ‘Carpe Diem’ by Robert Frost — This piece encourages readers to live in the present and comments on people’s preoccupation with the past and the future.
- ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell — This carpe diem poem is based on a gentleman wooing his mistress to make love with him.
- ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’ by Robert Herrick — In this poem, a speaker asks women to “seize the day” before their beauty fades.
- ‘Before The Cask of Wine’ by Li Bai — This poem emphasizes enjoying one’s youthful days before growing older and weaker in body and mind.
You can also explore these lovely carpe diem poems.