The Flower of Youth & The Race to Death

Petrarch, de flore etatis instabili (On the Transient Bloom of Life)

“I seem, and not wrongly so, to fear that I am taken in by the flower of my age, an occurrence common to most young people. I will not promise you, father, that my mind will be solid, stable, and free of all vanity, which I judge in this age to be most difficult and perhaps even more dependent upon divine than on human effort. Yet, I promise you that my mind will not be forgetful of its own condition. I sense, believe me, that now as I appear to be in the bloom of youth, that I am continuing on to wither up. Why do I use such halting words for such a fleeting subject? I should more properly say that I am hastening – nay, running – nay, flying. As Cicero says, ‘Our age flies off, and the time of this life is nothing but a race to death.’ In this race, as Augustine says, ‘no one is allowed to stand still for a moment or to go a bit slower; all are urged on at an equal pace and forced upon the same approach. Someone whose life is shorter does not finish the day sooner than one who lives longer; but when equal moments are snatched away from each of them equally, one goes a bit ahead, and the other is a bit farther, but they both rush to the same goal with equal pace. For it is one thing to have taken a longer journey, and another thing entirely to have walked it more slowly. So, the one who lives for a broader span of time before death is not going to it any more slowly – he is just completing a longer journey.” Behold these two incredibly eminent men, describing the swiftness of mortal life, and the way that they assert that life rushes and flies. How often did Vergil claim that time flies? What if everyone were silent on this subject? What if they all denied it? Would fleeting time rush or fly any slower for that?”

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Vereri michi, nec immerito, visus es, ne – quod fere omnibus adolescentibus accidit – etatis flore decipiar. Non pollicebor tibi, pater, animum solidum ac stabilem omnisque vanitatis exortem, quod in hac etate difficillimum et potius divine gratie quam humane virtutis arbitror; sed mentem haudquaquam sue conditionis ignaram spondeo. [2] Sentio me, michi crede, nunc, dum maxime florere videor, maxime ad arescendum pergere; quid in re celerrima segnibus verbis utor? imo vero properare, imo currere, imo, ut loquar proprie, volare. «Volat enim etas» ut ait Cicero, et «omnino nichil est aliud tempus vite huius, quam cursus ad mortem; in quo» ut ait Augustinus, «nemo vel paulo stare vel aliquanto tardius ire permittitur; sed urgentur omnes pari motu nec diverso impelluntur accessu. Neque enim cuius vita brevior fuit, celerius diem duxit quam ille cui longior; sed cum equaliter equalia momenta raperentur ambobus, alter abiit propius, alter remotius, quo non impari velocitate ambo currebant. Aliud est enim amplius vie peregisse, aliud tardius ambulasse. Qui ergo usque ad mortem productiora spatia temporis agit, non lentius pergit, sed plus itineris conficit». [3] Ecce quanti duo viri, velocitatem vite mortalis describentes, volare eam et currere asserunt. Quotiens vero Virgilius fugere tempus ait? Quid, si omnes tacerent? quid, etiamsi negarent? nunquid ideo segnius fugiens curreret aut volaret?

One thought on “The Flower of Youth & The Race to Death

  1. Petrarch is amazing. When I read this passage I can only think of how much time flew by while he read the Augustine, Cicero, and Vergil–and how, despite all that or maybe because of it, he remained, to use the greek, megalopsukhos.

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