March 20, 2010

Eclogues and Georgics

For my lit project, I read the Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil.

I read Dryden's translation of the two works. With Dryden, one might mistake the poems as English, so easy is the translation. This is both good and bad; good in that it is easy on the native English-speaker's tongue, bad in that one often forgets Virgil for the translator. I do not know how Virgil's Latin reads, but it does not read like this.

This was my second time through the Eclogues, which helped me appreciate it. This was my first time reading the Georgics, though, and I was quite surprised. Lucretius showed me the potential of didactic poems; Virgil has fulfilled that potential (note: Lucretius seems to have influenced Virgil).

Rather than talk about the Georgics, I have decided to reproduce a passage from the end of Book II:
Ye sacred muses! with whose beauty fired,
My soul is ravished, and my brain inspired--
Whose priest I am, whose holy fillets wear--
Would you your poet's first petition hear;
Give me the ways of wandering stars to know,
The depths of heaven above, the earth below;
Teach me the various labours of the moon,
And whence proceed the eclipses of the sun;
Why flowing tides prevail upon the main,
And in what dark recess they shrink again;
What shakes the solid earth; what cause delays
The summer nights, and shortens winter days.
But, if my heavy blood restrain the flight
Of my free soul, aspiring to the height
Of nature, and unclouded fields of light--
My next desire is, void of care and strife,
To lead a soft, secure, inglorious life--
A country cottage near a crystal flood,
A winding valley, and a lofty wood.
Some god conduct me to the sacred shades,
Where Bacchanals are sung by Spartan maids,
Or lift me high to Haemus' hilly crown,
Or in the plains of Tempe lay me down,
Or lead me to some solitary place,
And cover my retreat from human race.

Happy the man, who, studying nature's laws,
Through known effects can trace the secret cause--
His mind possessing in a quiet state,
Fearless of Fortune, and resigned to Fate!
And happy too is he, who decks the bowers
Of sylvans, and adores the rural powers--
Whose mind, unmoved, the bribes of courts can see,
Their glittering baits, and purple slavery--
Nor hopes the people's praise, nor fears their frown,
Nor, when contending kindred tear the crown,
Will set up one, or pull another down.

Without concern he hears, but hears from far,
Of tumults, and descents, and distant war;
Nor with a superstitious fear is awed,
For what befalls at home, or what abroad.
Nor his own peace disturbs with pity for the poor.
Nor envies he the rich their happy store,
He feeds on fruits, which, of their own accord,
The willing ground and laden trees afford.
From his loved home no lucre him can draw;
The senate's mad decrees he never saw;
Nor heard, at brawling bars, corrupted law.
&c. Spring is coming, and I am called to distant meadows.

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