Tuesday, August 2, 2011

To Debt

Politicians may come and go, but debt is forever. In tribute to today's debt ceiling bill, here is a selection of poetry by the Roman epigrammatic poet Martial (40-104 AD). He was born in Bilbilis, Spain and after 64 A.D. he lived in Rome.

A Bargain

His cloak is brand-new, the best Tyrian hue,
He has got a good bargain I know.
‘Was it cheap?’ do you say? Well, of course, he won't pay,
And what is ten thousand— to owe?

To Gaius

I chanced to ask a loan—a hundred merely;
E'en as a gift that should not task severely
A wealthy friend, and so I asked him, knowing
His pockets bulge with cash to overflowing.
‘Go to the Bar,’ says he, ‘get rich by pleading’—
'Tis cash, not counsel, Gaius, that I'm needing.

A Rich Creditor

You dun me for ten pounds I owe, and on the petty grounds
That some one else has failed, and so you lose two hundred pounds,
But why exact from me the dues unpaid by other men?
For if two hundred you can lose, why, you can lose the ten.

To Afer

‘One thousand pounds Coranus owes to me,
Mancinus two, and Titius owes three,
Albinus owes just twice as much, and then
Sabinus and Serranus each owe ten;
My flats and farms give thirty thousand clear,
My Parma sheep bring sixty in each year’—
That's how you talk, and every day's the same;
I know it better than I know my name.
Unpaid I can no more your tales endure;
They bring a nausea only cash can cure.

The Proof of Friendship

You say you're my friend, but you never will lend
E'en a trifle: it's always ‘No, No’!
Your coffers are brimming, your Nile-fields are swimming
With plenty, while I hungry go.
When winter draws nigh do you ever supply
Me with gown, or a fat present make?
No proof can I find of your friendship but wind:
And that in my face you will break.

True Kindness

You gave him back his bond, but why
Should you suppose you gave thereby
The money that was due?
He owed the hundred pounds before?
To please him lend him twenty more—
And keep the I O U.

Debt Be Not Proud

Debt be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Fault not, poore debt, nor canst thou bury mee.
From triplet A's, we'll never slip to bee,
Much pleasure, from thy issue, much more must flow,
And soonest our accounts of thee doe grow.
Issue forth bonds, and proceed treasurie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with parties, warre, and lobbying dwell,
And stimulus can make us spend as well,
And better spend than starve; why swell'st thou then?
No tax increases, but let spending grow:
Ceiling shall bind no more; debt, thou shalt owe.

Based on the 17th Century poem Death Be Not Proud (or Divine Sonnet X) by John Donne