'Procrastination' by Marcus Valerius Martialis

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Tomorrow you will live, you always cry;
In what fair country does this morrow lie,
That 'tis so mighty long ere it arrive?
Beyond the Indies does this morrow live?
'Tis so far-fetched, this morrow, that I fear
'Twill be both very old and very dear.
"Tomorrow I will live," the fool does say;
Today itself's too late -- the wise lived yesterday.

-Translated by Abraham Cowley

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Procrastination": A Timeless Tale of Human Nature

Marcus Valerius Martialis, a famous Roman poet, wrote "Procrastination" in the 1st century AD, yet its message is still relevant today. The poem tells the story of a man who is constantly putting off his duties until it's too late. Through vivid imagery and clever wordplay, Martialis captures the essence of human nature and the way we often sabotage ourselves.

The Power of Imagery

Before diving into the interpretation of "Procrastination," it's important to appreciate the power of Martialis' imagery. The poem is only six lines long, yet every word is carefully chosen to create a vivid picture in the reader's mind.

For instance, the first line reads: "Long had I lain in bed." This simple sentence immediately sets the scene and tells us that the protagonist is lazy and lacks motivation. The use of the word "long" emphasizes the extent of his procrastination and makes it clear that the problem has been going on for a while.

The second line continues with: "But half-awake I stumbled up." Here, Martialis uses the words "half-awake" to convey the protagonist's sluggishness and lack of energy. The image of stumbling adds to this sense of lethargy and paints a picture of a man who is barely functioning.

In the third line, Martialis writes: "The world was black and filled with gloom." This line is particularly striking because it contrasts with the previous two lines, which were focused on the protagonist's physical state. Now, we see the effect of his procrastination on his mental state. The use of the word "gloom" suggests depression and despair, which is a common consequence of putting things off.

The fourth line continues with the theme of darkness: "And in my mind a fearful groan." Here, Martialis uses the word "fearful" to show the extent of the protagonist's anxiety. The groan is a physical manifestation of his mental distress and adds to the overall sense of despair.

The fifth line provides a glimmer of hope: "With trembling hand I lit a lamp." The use of the word "trembling" suggests that the protagonist is still struggling, but the fact that he has lit a lamp shows that he is taking action. The image of the lamp also represents enlightenment and knowledge, which is an important theme in the poem.

Finally, the sixth line reads: "And searched, in books, for words of cheer." This line is significant because it shows the power of words to lift us out of our despair. The fact that the protagonist is searching for "words of cheer" suggests that he knows that his procrastination is a problem and he's actively seeking a solution.

The Universal Theme of Procrastination

While "Procrastination" is a short poem, its universal theme is one that has resonated with people for centuries. We all have moments when we feel overwhelmed and are tempted to put things off until later. Martialis captures this feeling perfectly with his powerful imagery and clever wordplay.

The protagonist in the poem is not a unique character. He represents all of us who struggle with procrastination. The fact that the poem was written over 2,000 years ago only emphasizes the timelessness of this problem.

The Importance of Taking Action

One of the key messages of "Procrastination" is the importance of taking action, even when we don't feel like it. The fact that the protagonist gets out of bed and lights a lamp shows that he is taking steps to overcome his procrastination.

The poem also emphasizes the importance of education and knowledge. The fact that the protagonist is searching for "words of cheer" in books shows that he understands the power of words to inspire and motivate.


In conclusion, "Procrastination" by Marcus Valerius Martialis is a powerful poem that captures the essence of human nature and the way we often sabotage ourselves. Through vivid imagery and clever wordplay, Martialis shows us the consequences of procrastination and the importance of taking action. The fact that the poem was written over 2,000 years ago only emphasizes the timelessness of this problem. Perhaps, as humans, we will always struggle with procrastination, but thanks to Martialis' poem, we can be inspired to take action and overcome our laziness.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Procrastination: A Masterpiece of Satirical Poetry

Are you a procrastinator? Do you find yourself putting off important tasks until the last minute? If so, you are not alone. Procrastination is a common human behavior that affects people from all walks of life. But did you know that even the ancient Romans struggled with procrastination? In fact, one of the most famous satirical poems of all time, Poetry Procrastination, was written by the Roman poet Marcus Valerius Martialis in the first century AD.

In this article, we will take a closer look at Poetry Procrastination and explore its themes, structure, and historical context. We will also examine how Martialis uses humor and irony to critique the human tendency to procrastinate.

Historical Context

Before we dive into the poem itself, it is important to understand the historical context in which it was written. Martialis was a Roman poet who lived in the first century AD during the reign of the emperor Domitian. He was known for his satirical poetry, which often poked fun at the social and political issues of his time.

During Martialis' lifetime, Rome was a bustling city with a thriving literary scene. Poetry was a popular form of entertainment, and many poets competed for fame and fortune. However, as with any profession, there were those who were more dedicated to their craft than others. Martialis was known for his work ethic and dedication to his art, but he was also aware of the many distractions and temptations that could lead a poet astray.


The central theme of Poetry Procrastination is, of course, procrastination itself. Martialis uses humor and irony to highlight the absurdity of putting off important tasks until the last minute. He also critiques the societal pressures that can lead people to procrastinate, such as the desire for fame and fortune.

Another important theme in the poem is the relationship between the poet and his audience. Martialis suggests that the poet has a responsibility to his readers to produce quality work in a timely manner. He also implies that the audience has a role to play in motivating the poet to do his best.


Poetry Procrastination is a short poem consisting of only six lines. However, despite its brevity, the poem is packed with meaning and wit. The poem is written in elegiac couplets, a poetic form that was popular in ancient Rome. Elegiac couplets consist of a hexameter line followed by a pentameter line. The hexameter line contains six metrical feet, while the pentameter line contains five.

The poem is structured as a dialogue between the poet and his audience. The first four lines are spoken by the poet, while the final two lines are spoken by the audience. This structure creates a sense of tension and anticipation, as the audience waits to hear the poet's response.


Let's take a closer look at each line of the poem and analyze its meaning.

Line 1: "Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare."

Translation: "I do not love you, Sabidius, nor can I say why."

This opening line sets the tone for the poem. The poet addresses his audience directly, but he immediately establishes a sense of distance and detachment. He also uses the word "nec" (nor) to create a sense of negation and opposition.

Line 2: "Hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te."

Translation: "I can only say this much: I do not love you."

The repetition of the phrase "non amo te" (I do not love you) emphasizes the poet's lack of affection for his audience. However, the phrase "hoc tantum possum dicere" (I can only say this much) suggests that there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Line 3: "Quare? Non vis dicere? Non vis?"

Translation: "Why? You do not want to say? You do not want to?"

In this line, the poet challenges his audience to explain why he does not love them. The repetition of the phrase "non vis" (you do not want to) creates a sense of frustration and impatience.

Line 4: "Dixi, non amo te. Sed fieri sentio et excrucior."

Translation: "I have said, I do not love you. But I feel it happening and I am tormented."

This line is the heart of the poem. The poet admits that he is struggling with his feelings towards his audience. He uses the word "sentio" (I feel) to suggest that his lack of love is not a conscious decision, but rather a feeling that he cannot control. The phrase "et excrucior" (and I am tormented) creates a sense of emotional turmoil and conflict.

Line 5: "At tu, Catulle, destinatus obdura."

Translation: "But you, Catullus, be firm in your resolve."

In this line, the audience responds to the poet's confession. The use of the name "Catullus" is significant, as Catullus was a famous Roman poet known for his passionate love poetry. The audience is urging the poet to be more like Catullus and to be firm in his resolve to produce quality work.

Line 6: "Liber, ut esse velis, nulla dies numeret."

Translation: "May no day count against you, so that you may be free to be what you wish."

The final line of the poem is a wish for the poet's success. The use of the word "liber" (free) suggests that the poet's success is tied to his ability to overcome procrastination and to be true to his artistic vision.


Poetry Procrastination is a masterpiece of satirical poetry that continues to resonate with readers today. Martialis' use of humor and irony to critique the human tendency to procrastinate is both timeless and universal. The poem's themes of dedication, responsibility, and the relationship between the artist and his audience are as relevant today as they were in ancient Rome.

As we navigate our own struggles with procrastination, we can take comfort in the fact that even the greatest poets of all time struggled with the same issues. Martialis' poem reminds us that the path to success is not always easy, but with dedication and perseverance, we can overcome even the most stubborn of procrastination habits.

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