In this poem, Westbrook is referring to the fact that many ancient poets, including Propertius, have come down to us by a process that depends largely on luck, supplemented by the skills of many generations of modern scholars. You can read the blog post explaining more about this process here.
To scroll both versions of the poem at the same time - tap inside one box to select it and then scroll.
In Italy two thousand years ago
His journey through obscurity began
With Cynthia, a pair more brazen than
Horace’s monument. Our bookshelves show
They would survive, but it was no sure thing:
They had two millennia to finesse
Of ignorance, neglect and what forgetfulness,
Water, worm or weary copyist might bring.
Their phantoms, blurring down the whispering ages,
Centuries ago, but now near journeys’ ends,
Found refuge with the ascetic textual sages –
Aloof from many, but forgotten poets’ friends –
Transmuting echoes by their alchemy
Into the gold of a Propertian elegy.