PERHAPS nothing is more humbling, or sobering, for modern man than to recognize that his insights about nature often pale in comparison with those made by the ancients. Thoughts about springtime are good examples. The Roman poet Ovid noted that spring is the briefest season. Winter, summer, and autumn are ``unequal'' in length, but the season of almost ideal weather and beauty is much too short. Another Roman writer noted that same brevity: ``I complain, O Nature, that the flower's beauty's so brief. Soon you steal from our eyes the gifts you've given them.'' The unknown author of ``The Vigil of Venus'' saw spring in terms of birth and love:
Tomorrow he will love who has never loved; tomorrow he who has loved will love again.
Spring is new, the spring of bird-song; in the spring our earth was born.
In the spring hearts come together; in the spring the birds all mate.
And the trees undo their tresses to the husband rain.
Ancient poets also discerned that spring provided a lesson to mankind - to live each day as if it were a beautiful spring day. In Ovid's words:
And while you can, now while you're living the years of springtime,
Play! for the years are flowing like water.
The wave that passes will never flow back.
The hour that passes can never return.
You must use your time; time runs with nimble feet,
And what's good now will not be good later on.
To be sure, the ancients often recognized the joys of spring by contemplating their antitheses: winters of despair, cold autumn winds, dying summer roses. Yet brief as it seemed to be, the season of rebirth would come, providing a sight to behold: ``... in the spring the earth is glistening, in the spring the fields are loosened.''
Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.