Ode for the Feralia
In Roman times, the year began on the first of March, and so a series of festivals near the end of February functioned much as our holiday Christmas season does now. They were a time to renew old friendships, celebrate past year, mourn the dead, and settle accounts. Part of this festive time were the three festivals of 22-24 February: The Feralia, for making peace with the dead on 22 February; the Charistia, for making peace with the living on 23 February; and the Terminalia, for renewing the boundaries of the community, on the 24th.
Hail, gathered dead, growing as I grow old:
Ancestors, parents, teachers, friends and guides.
In memories you stand as living gold,
in whom a genius of wisdom abides.
You were my forebears in blood, soul and mind,
teaching me through kinship, or affection—
and behind you stands a host of ages.
Some died early, and some old age had lined;
some spoke rules, but others gave direction,
old aunts and grandfathers cloaked as sages.
Today I honor you for what you taught,
and seek pardon for what I failed to learn.
What my blood and youth had unfairly bought,
I now will wrap up and pass on in turn
to curious youth and infant unborn:
a love of learning and sense of wonder;
the grace of good food and kin at table;
a body’s first stretch in the early morn;
the health and safety to laugh at thunder…
to teach children, wherever possible.
Most of all will I seek understanding
that death’s hand should not rest on life too hard.
Ever to the grave is life’s path tending;
bribery can not that last day retard.
Be assured: life is too short not to love
every single minute we spend on Earth—
so spread the grace the once-living lavished
on mortal joy, and not on God above,
whose oaths of resurrection and rebirth
belong just to those whom love has ravished.