Voices

by Wislawa Szymborska

You scarcely move your foot when out of nowhere spring
the Aborigines, O Marcus Aemilius.

Your heel’s mired in the very midst of Rutulians.
In Sabines, and Latins you’re sinking up to your knees.
You’re up to your waist, your neck, your nostrils
in Aequians and Volscians, O Lucius Fabius.

These small peoples are thick as flies, to the point of irritation,
satiation and nausea, O Quintus Decius.

One town, another, the hundred seventieth.
The stubbornness of Fidenates. The ill-will of the Faliscans.
The blindness of Ecetrans. The vacillation of the
Antemnates.
The studied animosity of the Lavicanians, the Pelignians.
That’s what drives us benevolent men to harshness
beyond each new hill, o Gaius Cloelius.

If only they weren’t in our way, but they are,
the Auruncians, the Marsians, O Spurius Manlius.
The Tarquinians from here and there, the Etruscans from
everywhere.
The Volsinians besides. The Veientins to boot.
Beyond all reason the Aulercians. Ditto the Sapinians
beyond all human patience, O Sextus Oppius.

Small peoples have small understanding.
Stupidity surrounds us in an ever-widening circle.
Objectionable customs. Benighted laws.
Ineffectual gods, O Titus Vilius.

Mounds of Hernicians. Swarms of Marrucianians.
An insect-like multitude of Vestians, of Samnites.
The farther you go the more there are, O Servius Follius.

Deplorable are small peoples.
Their irresponsibility bears close watching
beyond each new river, O Aulus Junius.

I feel threatened by every new horizon.
That’s how I see the problem, O Hostius Melius.

To that I, Hostius Melius, reply to you,
O Appius Pappius: Forward. Somewhere out there the world
must have an end.

Wislawa Szymborska won the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1996. Poem courtesy of Andrew Bacevich.

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