May/June 2020 • Vol. XLII No. 3 Nature’s Nature 2020 |

An Imitation of Callimachus’ Iambi Once on the hill of Tmolus a laurel and an olive got into a fight, or rather the laurel decided to pick on the olive, making a kind of susurrus with her new leaves to get the older tree’s attention, then launching in. “What house lacks me” (she said) “across its lintel, what priest of Apollo refuses to carry me? The Pythian oracle reclines on beds of my feuilletons, and sets me on fire in order to see what she sees. With Phoebus on my side I took away the plague in Ionia. I can let humans cast spells. Worshippers carry me in their round dance; athletes and singers crave me as their prize, and I am carried to Delphi in holy procession. I am so holy that I am not allowed to approach sites of mourning and sorrow; nobody wants to leave me in a grave, whereas your wood, lowly olive, is always the right thing for funeral pyres.” The laurel’s oily rival responded right away: “My lovely friend, my swan, my peerless gorgeous

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Stephanie Burt is professor of English at Harvard and the author of several books of poetry and literary criticism, most recently Don’t Read Poetry (Basic, 2019). These imitations of Callimachus come from her collection, After Callimachus, published by Princeton University Press this spring.

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Epigram 62

By Stephanie Burt

An Imitation of Callimachus’ Iambi Once on the hill of Tmolus a laurel and an olive got into a fight, or rather the laurel decided to pick on the olive, […]

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