Horace once described Tibullus, in a letter addressed to the elegiac poet, as ‘silently strolling through the healthy woods, pondering on the problems that matter most’ (Ep. 1. 4. 4–5 taciturn silvas inter reptare salubris ∣ curantem quidquid dignum sapiente bonoque est), and this is a view of Tibullus which underlies, in some form or another, most modern approaches to his poetry. After all, Tibullus is singularly dedicated to his concerns of love and the countryside, expressed with directness and simplicity in a style which is, as Quintilian says (x 1. 93), particularly ‘polished and elegant’ (elegia quoque Graecos provocamus, cuius mihi tersus atque elegans maxime videtur auctor Tibullus).
Of his own activity as a poet, and how he saw himself in relation to other writers, he says very little. At 2. 4. 13 ff., in one of love's despairs, he exclaims:
nec prosunt elegi nec carminis auctor Apollo:
illa cava pretium flagitat usque manu.
ite procul, Musae, si non prodestis amanti:…
ad dominam faciles aditus per carmina quaero:
ite procul, Musae, si nihil ista valent.