Who but Ovid to read on this Valentine’s Day? Below, the fifth elegy of the second book of his Amores, from David Slavitt’s lively volume of translation, Love Poems, Letters, and Remedies of Ovid.
No love is worth this much. Cupid, take your quiver
and go. Get out of my life! My usual prayers
these days are for death, which seems a better option
than the torment in which I suffer from that girl!
The evidence is clear. I did not have to infer
from equivocal clues or see my uncertain way
through ambiguities. These are no mere suspicions,
and not even a fool would try to refute them.
Happy is he who can in good conscience defend
his darling, who can swear, “I didn’t do it!”
But stronger than I am in mind and heart is he who can be
satisfied by proving his mistress guilty,
winning the bloody battle and losing the damned war.
I saw what you did. You thought I was drunk and asleep,
but through my half-closed lids I watched you play the coquette,
nodding, flirting, and making that little moue
you sometimes use. I watched your fingers write on the table
messages that you once traced for me.
And your talk was full of suggestive jokes and double-entendres.
Then, when the party broke up and most had left,
and only a few of us drunks were still in the room dozing,
I saw you and him kissing, no mere pecks
of the kind a brother and sister might very well exchange
(Diana and Phoebus, say) but deep probings
as if you were trying to swallow one another’s tongues
(for example, Venus and Mars in the heat of passion).
“What in hell is this?” is what I shouted out.