“For a good time, read Ovid; for a very good time, read Slavitt’s Ovid.” – Michael Dirda
For your very good time, the 14th poem of the first book of Ovid’s Amores, from Love Poems, Letters, and Remedies of Ovid, a new volume of translations by David R. Slavitt:
Well, look at you now. There’s nothing left to dye.
All you had to do was nothing at all, and now
you’d still have hair, wonderful, fine in texture,
long enough to reach down to your waist. Chinese
silkworms don’t make anything quite like it.
Spiders, spinning their webs that hang from beams and branches,
would have to defer to it for sheer beauty.
It was neither black as jet nor blonde like flax, but mixed,
rather like what you might find on Ida
where, on the slopes, there are handsome cedars of just that shade.
Aside from the color, your hair was easy to manage,
and you could find a hundred different ways to wear it.
It gave way to the teeth of the finest comb,
and it held a hairpin in place. Your hairdressers loved their labor.
I often watched as they hovered over you
and saw them grin in delight at how well their work was going.
And early, when you hadn’t arisen from bed
and lay supine with your hair streaming out on the pillow,
you had a Bacchante’s beauty—or what I imagine
as those mad dancers dropped down on the grass in exhaustion.
But for all their docile beauty, what pains did they endure,
what tortures did you impose, what patience did they exhibit?
The hot curlers for ringlets burnt them. I saw
the smoke that would arise, and I cried out against it
and asked you to spare your hair, not out of kindness
but vanity because it was beautiful as it was.
O iron-hearted girl. Your natural curls
could have taught the curlers to what their art aspired.
And now, your tresses, your beautiful tresses are gone.
Apollo would have adored them, and Bacchus as well, gods
standing in awe of a human! In Apelles’ painting
of Venus coming out of the sea, she is holding her hair
and it is exactly the way yours used to look.
You lament your grievous loss. You lay your mirror aside,
unable to believe the image you see
reflected in its glass. Now you have to forget
the hair you had, the self you used to be.
No rival’s magical herbs did this to you. No witch
poured potions upon you. No sickness came
to ravage your looks. There was no evil eye but yours,
for the loss was inflicted by you. It is your fault.
On your own head be it, for there you put the poison.
You will get hair from some poor German girl,
the bounty of our conquest in that barbaric land.
But what will you do when someone makes a comment
about how well you look? Will you tell them that you bought it
in the finest shop? Will you confess the truth
that the praise should go to some unknown Sygambrian woman
but that you remember when it would have been yours.
Poor dear! You sit at your table, weeping bitter tears
and holding the sad hanks of hair in your lap.
Your hands cover your cheeks where, under the makeup,
there is a real blush. But calm yourself.
Dry your tears. The loss may not be forever. The hair
we all admired could very well grow back.