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Leaving Cert English Poetry FAQ

Leaving Cert Classical Studies: Horace

Writers of the Augustan Age: Horace

A brief biography/character profile

Born Quintus Horatius Flaccus on the 8th of December 65BC, in south eastern Italy. 
Received the best possible education in Rome. 
He claims poverty led him to write poetry – became an incredibly successful poet. 
He was a good friend of Virgil, who introduced Horace to Augustus’s right hand man, Maecenas. 
Maecenas was a generous patron to Horace. 
He became incredibly wealthy later in his life, but died suddenly aged 56.
Horace’s poetry is a criticism towards society and their social obligations. Horace was incredibly shrewd in his judgement towards society. 

His poems often serve as a lesson for society in regard to the most basic matters. 

He had a rose-tinted view on country life, and preferred it over city life. This is perhaps due to his receipt of a large farm in Sabine. 

Horace also wrote several satirical poems. In these works he ridicules and highlights both the shortcomings of society and of himself. 

Horace was perhaps one of the first early psychologists. His poems take on quite a ‘self-help tone.’ Society learns through the exegesis of his work.

A list of his poems: 
Gather Ye Rosebuds 
Enjoy the Present Hour 
We all must die 
A Quiet Life 
Rustic Joys 
The Good Man Fear Nothing 
Cease to Mourn 
Enjoy Your Possessions While They Are Yours 
The Town Mouse And The Country Mouse 
The Bore 
Journey to Brundisium

Leaving Cert Classical Studies Horace

Gather Ye Rosebuds

This poem is written to his friend, Leuconoe, in which he instructs him not to figure out what future may hold. 

Who really will “know what end the gods above to thee or me will send.” 

He also warns his friend to stay away from “consult[ing],” astrologers too. 

Horace thinks that finding out your future is a pointless as trying to predict when each of the “tyrrhene waves,” will crash against a rock. 

He tells Leuconoe to “be wise! Drink free,” and enjoy the current moment. 

The last line sums up his message perfectly – “This day’s thine own, the next may be denied.” 

Don’t wish your life away, you could be dead tomorrow. 

This poem is a criticism not only to Leuconoe, but also the greater society who are so troubled about what may happen in the future that they fail to enjoy the present. 

Truly Carpe Diem. 

Enjoy The Present Hour

The poem opens with an image of a bleak, cold, wintered mountain “made higher with new mounts of snow.” 

Everything is “icy,” and perhaps he suggests that we as a society are “benumbed,” to the experiences of the present, and instead “cramped,” to the idea of the future. 

The poem then moves to a warmer image indoors, where “logs dissolve the cold,” and wine is available. We have no worries for the future, for that is God’s problem, and he will deal with it. 

“Tomorrow and her works defy; lay hold upon the present hour.” – Horace tells us that we must “snatch the pleasures passing by,” and enjoy them.

He also tells us to enjoy “love’s delights.” 

Towards the end of the poem, he addresses the younger population and tells them to “secure those golden, early joys.” This is best time to do what we want for “the best is but in season best.” 

Horace really hammers home the idea of enjoying the present moment in this poem. 

Horace utilised his love of nature to get his point across. It is a judgemental criticism in the beginning however he quickly becomes hopeful and reiterates the benefits to enjoying your life.

We All Must Die

This is a conversational poem, again written to a friend.

He tells him that the years are going on and on in “everlasting circles.” He criticises his friend for his “vain,” vows and prayers, which roll on and on, but will get him nowhere. 

His friend is so self-absorbed in securing a future that he is missing out on the present. 

Horace is very candid to his friend and his prayers, for he “could not gain a moment’s breath.” 

His prayers will also not “defer,” the “inexorable death,” that will eventually take a hold of all of us. 

“We all must view the Stygian flood.” 

Horace gives an anecdote of people who avoid war and floods so they live longer, however this doesn’t make a difference to the overall length of your life. 

“In vain we shun the din of war.” 

He tells his friend that when he dies, all of his possessions, such as his “pleasing wife and fruitful trees,” will be left behind. 

When you die, the “lavish heir,” will cease to mourn over your death quickly, and spill the cherished wine over your marble floor. 

This poem again is a deep criticism toward society’s obsessive nature towards trying to lengthen life, without actually enjoying the “fleeting years.” 

A Quiet Life

In this poem Horace criticises the current lifestyle choices people are making. He does this through several images and anecdotes. He is again addressing us in a straightforward, candid way. 

The first image is of a sailor out on a dark, ebullient sea, with no stars in the sky to guide him, and how he longs for peace. 

He even puts forward the story of a soldier, and the irony that comes with it. He “bears weary marches and sleepless nights,” and fights for peace. He endures war for the purpose of peace.

The most powerful affirmation Horace makes is that money and power do not necessarily make us content. 

“Wealth and power are too weak to quell the tumults of the mind.” 

Even monarchs worry about this sort of thing. 

Horace gives a story of a lucky man who has inherited what “his father left possessed.” 

This man is lucky as he isn’t corrupted by the desire for money, nor is overcome by any worry. 

Four stanzas of this poem deal with the inevitability of life. 

Horace asks why we must frantically run from “shore to shore,” trying to evade our worries. No matter what we do, they will come with us and eventually “overtake us undersail.” 

We should worry about tomorrow, but instead “drive far tomorrow’s cares away,” and let them be drowned in laughter. 

Carpe Diem – enjoy the now. 

The poem ends with a message of how life may come fast or slow; as a “sudden blow,” or as a “lingering,” slow death. 

Horace opts for a “little cell,” to live in for this is what makes him “content.” It is away from all the knaves and fools that he passionately hates. 

This final stanza is an example of Horace’s shrewd judgement on society. 

The Good Man Fear Nothing

In this poem, Horace takes a positive stance towards those that perhaps share a similar view to him, and/or live their lives with decency.

He tells them that the “upright and resolute man,” should not fear things like “evil,” a “tyrant,” or “doom.” 

Not even Hadria’s “wild waters,” or “Jove’s mighty hand when it launches the thunder,” could dismay them, for they have “solid completeness of the soul.” 

This poem can, in my opinion, been seen as an example of Horace’s shrewd judgement. It is like a subliminal judgement of those who are not perfect. 

Should they fear the things the good man should not? 

Enjoy Your Possessions While They Are Yours

This poem is a further example of Horace’s philosophy of Carpe Diem. In the poem, Horace reminds us of the finite nature of our life, and the importance of making the most out of what we have. 

The poem starts with a lush description of a “villa,” surrounded by the “high pine and white poplar mix.” 

Horace talks of the streams which “bring wines,” and have sweet scented flowers nearby. 

The three sisters allow you to enjoy this, because soon “you leave your purchased grove,” to go “home [dead].” 

You cannot bring these with you to the afterlife, for your “heirs will seize upon the hoarded gold.” 

Horace appeals to our senses in this poem to highlight the beauty of life, and indeed the decadence of our possessions. He reminds us of the finite nature of life, and warns that what we have now will not be with us when we pass away. 

Horace’s Satires

Horace’s satires are self-deprecating works in which he employs funny imagery to laugh at himself. 

The poems have great attention to specific details of events and are highly amusing to the reader. They are very descriptive in nature. 

These poems are brimming with hyperbole. 

Hyperbole = exaggerated statements or claims not to be taken literally. 

They are also cartoonish in their tone – quite like the modern day ‘Tom & Jerry.’ 

The Bore

This is a deeply humorous poem in which Horace describes his “strolling down the sacred way.” 

He is engaged in deep thought, which he humorously refers to as “some piece of nonsense.” 

Suddenly a man, whom Horace only knows by name, engages in friendly conversation.

In the line “good for you,” we can see the confusion on Horace’s face as he tries to deduce who on earth this man could be. 

The bore is probably trying to use Horace to become one of the friends of Maecenus. 

Horace begins “sweating from head to foot,” in nervousness – he cannot figure out who it is and he is “desperately trying to disengage.” 

We see a fine example of hyperbole when Horace mentions that the man praised “street after street,” and then “finally the entire city.” 

This man probably was not with Horace for the amount of time depicted in the poem, however he wonderfully exaggerates it here. 

Humorous imagery is again employed when Horace describes how he “dropped [his] ears like a sullen donkey when he feels too heavy.” 

The man won’t leave him alone. Horace has realised this and is frustrated in a calm way. 

The ending of the poem is very funny. Horace asks if he has any family or next in kin waiting for him at home, and the bore responds “no, not one. [He’s] buried them all.” 

The response to this is brilliant – Horace whispers “lucky for them! That leaves me; so finish me off.”

Hopeless, self-deprecating frustration. 

The Town Mouse And The Country Mouse

This is a satirical poem in which Horace criticises the people of the city. He does this through descriptive language. 

We learn that the country mouse lives a very modest life in his “humble hole,” and “[keeps] a tight hand on his savings.” 

The city guest contrasts to the country mouse, and is portrayed as a “finicky guest,” with “fastidious teeth.” 

The town mouse then questions why the country mouse wants to “eke out a living on a cliff edge in the woods?” 

He asks the country mouse to go to the city with him right now. 

Carpe Diem can be seen here – Town mouse says “enjoy the good things,” because “never forget your days are numbered.” 

This interaction could be seen as a humorous criticism of country life – It is seen as bland by the average eye. 

The mice creep “within the city wall under cover of darkness.” The wall symbolises a sense of protection. 

They go to a house, and the country mouse is stunned by the “scarlet dye,” covers that “shimmered,” and indeed the vast amount of food that was left to waste. 

Horace humorously describes the town mouse’s scrupulous nature as he “bustled about, like a waiter in a short jacket.” 

Serving him every meal imaginable. 

We can see a very Tom and Jerry-esque ordeal when the doors suddenly “crash open,” and they hear the sound of “mastiffs,” coming in the distance. They scurry away in “panic.”

Horace shows the irony of the situation. “My hole in the woods will keep me safe…and simple vetch will assuage my hunger.”

(ii) (a) Give an account of Horace’s Journey to Brundisium. (35) 

(a) A straightforward description is required. Horace left Rome with Heliodorus and went to Aricia for the night and on to the Appian Way where they decided to split the journey into two days. Horace decided moodily not to eat as he was nervous of the food. Later a racket broke out - the bargemen taking on their fares and getting the mule going... Read the rest on

(b) Imagine you had been with Horace on this journey. Do you think you would have enjoyed his company? Give reasons for your answer. 

(b) Total agreement or total disagreement may be offered by candidates here with points from the poem to back it up. However, there is also scope for partial agreement. The main points to make here are Horace’s attitude to friendship, he is obviously devoted to his friends and loves them dearly, he says that there is nothing he prefers in life to the company of a good friend. Read the rest on
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