Though “poet” is not what one first thinks of when Augustine’s name is mentioned, in City of God 15.22 he shares a bit of verse he wrote in praise of a candle (in laude quadam cerei), which he uses as an example of loving created things in preference to the God who made them.1
Haec tua sunt, bona sunt, quia tu bonus ista creasti.
Nihil nostrum est in eis, nisi quod peccamus amantes
Ordine neglecto pro te, quod conditur abs te.
“These things are yours, they are good, because you, who are good, created them.
There is nothing of ours in them, except the fact that we sin, loving
what is made by you before you,2 in neglect of the proper order.”
The lines display a nice use of repetition and polypototon (tua…tu; sunt…sunt: bona…bonus; pro te…abs te), as well as contrast (tua/nostrum/te) and alliteration (nihil nostrum). The form reinforces the content: in a picture of disorder, the “things” (haec) come first, as they so often do, while God comes last (te)–and we come in the middle (nostrum) with our disordered loves, trapped in our own sin between what we want and what we should want.
And yet these things are properly God’s, because they were made by Him: and so, properly speaking, we should both begin and end with Him, as Augustine does (haec tua, expression possession; abs te, expressing agency).
- Cicero too, one of Augustine’s most important models, tried his hand at verse from time to time.
- The translations I have consulted all render pro te as instead of you, which is also possible. I prefer “before you” because the context of the paragraph, and the verses themselves, have to do with right order.