This piece was submitted by Charles Martin as part of the 2014 PEN World Voices Online Anthology. 

Charles Martin’s event: A Celebration of Poets Translate Poets: A Hudson Review Anthology, edited by Paula Deitz 

Ovid to His Book

                        (Tristia, I/1)
Off with you now, my little book, and go
to the city I am barred from, to my woe
from Outer Nowhere all the way to Rome.
Of course, I’m envious that I can’t come
myself, and had to send youpoorly wrought,
lacking revision’s second, better, thought
and all refinement—on this hopeless mission
to show an exile’s poems and condition.
A purple jacket?  Be sensible, my book,
go for a serious, more somber look:                                                              
forget your title page’s ornamented
letters or hand-made paper, cedar-scented
with deckled edges, trimmed in costly gold
to keep away destructive dust and mold:
you needn’t fear remaindering—nor is
longevity the greatest of your worries.
Books are well made when fortune’s favor pours
down on their authors—as it won’t on yours.
Since it’s my fortune you should keep in mind,
display no polish of whatever kind:                                                              
better that you seem rugged and unkempt,
a ragamuffin with complete contempt
for random stains and blots: each will appear,
to those who notice it, an author’s tear.
Go on your way now, book, and speak for me
in places that I love, but cannot be,
saluting those whom I have come to meet
on metrical, if on no other, feet.
To those who ask of you, “How is our Ovid?”
say that although I haven’t yet recovered                                                     
my health and happiness, I’m pleased to give
thanks to the god by whose gift I still live.
Say what you need to and then say no more:
say nothing of what I’m being punished for—
how long do you imagine I’d survive
if I were to lead off “The News at Five”?
When biting words offend you, just recall
the best defense is often none at all,
and if you’d really have my exile end,
go find us both an influential friend,                                                            
someone who sighs to think of my removal,
and when he reads you gives his tears’ approval,
silently praying Caesar will relent
his anger and reduce my punishment—
we trust the gods won’t make that one atone,
for seeking to ease my loss, with his own,
and that the Prince will soon be quieted
so I may die at home in my own bed!
But when you have complied with my directive,
You’ll still find some who’ll say that you’re defective.                                
If critics must consider the circumstance
and time of any act, you have a chance:
one needs, in order to compose in measure,
a mind at rest in solitude and leisure,
not one that’s clouded over with its fear
because the executioner draws near!
A judge who understands this will applaud,
and reading, pardon—though the work be flawed:
put Homer in a pickle great as mine
and watch his genius suddenly decline!                                                        
So have no care for the best-seller list,
and give no thought to readers who resist
your many charms: my fortunes must be raised
before anything I write will be praised!
When I was fortunate, I hungered for
stardom, celebrity, and much, much more;
it now suffices that I do not hate
the poems that have brought me to this state,
the cleverness I suffer for—and from!
So go in my place now and visit Rome                                                         
as I would do, and walk about, and look
upon its wonders—would I were my book!
Don’t think, because you come here from abroad,
you’ll pass among the populace ignored!
I fear my notoriety may hurt you;
if any guardian of female virtue
finds you, because of me, fit for rejection,
offer your title page for his inspection:                                                       
“That work you think I am—which I am not,
The Art of Love, deserved the thumps it got!”                                             
Do you suppose I’ll send you, book of mine,
to Caesar’s home high on the Palatine?
I beg forgiveness of that lofty site—and
of its deities—but I am still frightened:
the blast that struck me issued from that hill!
Some of its gods, I know, are merciful,
but how can I not shudder with alarm
merely to think of those that did me harm?
The dove you wounded, hawk, now quakes with dread
whenever feathers rustle overhead;                                                               
delivered from the wolf’s embrace, the lamb
is loath to leave the sheepfold and its dam;
the Sea of Icarus assumed the name
of that young lad who flew too near the flame:
beware, my book, observe the bottom feeders,
be satisfied with ordinary readers.
From here, I can’t be sure which will prevail,
whether you should rely on oars or sail;
just let the situation be your guide:
if you come near him when he puts aside                                                   
the business of the day, and clemency,
the thought of it, supplants his rage at me;
if someone, as you shake with doubt and fear,
whispers an introduction in his ear,
approach—and on a day more fortunate
than your own master, you’ll improve his state,
for if my wound’s not fatal, it can be
cured only by the one who wounded me.
My fears are numerous, my hopes are scant,
so do not injure what you would advance—                                               
don’t rouse the sleeping lion in his den,
or give him cause to punish me again.
But let’s not think of that, dear little tome;
rather, let’s think of you, soon to be home,
back at the townhouse, in the studio
upon your shelf, and with you, in a row,
your brothers all in chronologic order,
the products of my diligence and ardor.
Most of them show their titles openly
for anyone at all who passes by:                                                                  
There are, however, three that shun the light,
Maneuvering to keep far out of sight,
Huddled together at a safe remove:
They teach—who doesn’t know?—the art of love.
I recommend you stay away from those,
That, like Telegonus or Oedipus,
Slew their own father. If you have affection
For your parent, fly from their seduction!
Beside them stand my Metamorphoses, 
Survivors of my fortune’s exequies;                                                          
What I owe them, I hope you may amend:
My daily funeral here at world’s end.
I bid you tell them now that my own fate
Resembles one of them in his changed state,
No more as I once was—and now much less,
With sorrow in the place of happiness.
I’ve more to tell you, book, if you should ask,
but that would only keep you from your task,
and if I filled you up with all my trouble,
the one who carried you would be bent double;                                         
and you, if all that you did was repine,
would not be recognized as one of mine!
The road is long—hurry, while I bemoan
abidance in this land far from my own.
This poem appears in Signs & Wonders by Charles Martin, Johns Hopkins University Press (2011).