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The Middle Way

by Erica McAlpine

after Horace, Odes 2.10

The right way is never to sail too far,
nor always to hug the tumbling shore
when storms are gathering—

for whoever finds pleasure in the middle way
humbly avoids the squalor of a house in shambles
and the grandeur of one inspiring envy—

the tallest pine sways easiest in the wind,
the highest towers fall heaviest, lightning
always seeks the tops of mountains.

The well-prepared heart has hope during
adversity and fear during prosperity since Jupiter
brings winter back as quickly as he

drives it away. Things are never bad
forever. Sometimes Apollo’s lyre awakens
with song, sometimes it lies in slumber:

show spirit even on the worst days, and, likewise,
fold up your sails if they are swelling just now
under too fortunate a breeze.


Erica McAlpine’s poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in The American Scholar, Literary Imagination, TriQuarterly, Southwest Review, The Literary Review, Stand, and Slate. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and now lives in New York, where she is finishing up her PhD in English from Yale University. (9/2009)

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