Georgics, by Virgil


Thee too, great Pales, will I hymn, and thee,

Amphrysian shepherd, worthy to be sung,

You, woods and waves Lycaean. All themes beside,

Which else had charmed the vacant mind with song,

Are now waxed common. Of harsh Eurystheus who

The story knows not, or that praiseless king

Busiris, and his altars? or by whom

Hath not the tale been told of Hylas young,

Latonian Delos and Hippodame,

And Pelops for his ivory shoulder famed,

Keen charioteer? Needs must a path be tried,

By which I too may lift me from the dust,

And float triumphant through the mouths of men.

Yea, I shall be the first, so life endure,

To lead the Muses with me, as I pass

To mine own country from the Aonian height;

I, Mantua, first will bring thee back the palms

Of Idumaea, and raise a marble shrine

On thy green plain fast by the water-side,

Where Mincius winds more vast in lazy coils,

And rims his margent with the tender reed.

Amid my shrine shall Caesar’s godhead dwell.

To him will I, as victor, bravely dight

In Tyrian purple, drive along the bank

A hundred four-horse cars. All Greece for me,

Leaving Alpheus and Molorchus’ grove,

On foot shall strive, or with the raw-hide glove;

Whilst I, my head with stripped green olive crowned,

Will offer gifts. Even ’tis present joy

To lead the high processions to the fane,

And view the victims felled; or how the scene

Sunders with shifted face, and Britain’s sons

Inwoven thereon with those proud curtains rise.

Of gold and massive ivory on the doors

I’ll trace the battle of the Gangarides,

And our Quirinus’ conquering arms, and there

Surging with war, and hugely flowing, the Nile,

And columns heaped on high with naval brass.

And Asia’s vanquished cities I will add,

And quelled Niphates, and the Parthian foe,

Who trusts in flight and backward-volleying darts,

And trophies torn with twice triumphant hand

From empires twain on ocean’s either shore.

And breathing forms of Parian marble there

Shall stand, the offspring of Assaracus,

And great names of the Jove-descended folk,

And father Tros, and Troy’s first founder, lord

Of Cynthus. And accursed Envy there

Shall dread the Furies, and thy ruthless flood,

Cocytus, and Ixion’s twisted snakes,

And that vast wheel and ever-baffling stone.

Meanwhile the Dryad-haunted woods and lawns

Unsullied seek we; ’tis thy hard behest,

Maecenas. Without thee no lofty task

My mind essays. Up! break the sluggish bonds

Of tarriance; with loud din Cithaeron calls,

Steed-taming Epidaurus, and thy hounds,

Taygete; and hark! the assenting groves

With peal on peal reverberate the roar.

Yet must I gird me to rehearse ere long

The fiery fights of Caesar, speed his name

Through ages, countless as to Caesar’s self

From the first birth-dawn of Tithonus old.

 If eager for the prized Olympian palm

One breed the horse, or bullock strong to plough,

Be his prime care a shapely dam to choose.

Of kine grim-faced is goodliest, with coarse head

And burly neck, whose hanging dewlaps reach

From chin to knee; of boundless length her flank;

Large every way she is, large-footed even,

With incurved horns and shaggy ears beneath.

Nor let mislike me one with spots of white

Conspicuous, or that spurns the yoke, whose horn

At times hath vice in’t: liker bull-faced she,

And tall-limbed wholly, and with tip of tail

Brushing her footsteps as she walks along.

The age for Hymen’s rites, Lucina’s pangs,

Ere ten years ended, after four begins;

Their residue of days nor apt to teem,

Nor strong for ploughing. Meantime, while youth’s delight

Survives within them, loose the males: be first

To speed thy herds of cattle to their loves,

Breed stock with stock, and keep the race supplied.

Ah! life’s best hours are ever first to fly

From hapless mortals; in their place succeed

Disease and dolorous eld; till travail sore

And death unpitying sweep them from the scene.

Still will be some, whose form thou fain wouldst change;

Renew them still; with yearly choice of young

Preventing losses, lest too late thou rue.

 Nor steeds crave less selection; but on those

Thou think’st to rear, the promise of their line,

From earliest youth thy chiefest pains bestow.

See from the first yon high-bred colt afield,

His lofty step, his limbs’ elastic tread:

Dauntless he leads the herd, still first to try

The threatening flood, or brave the unknown bridge,

By no vain noise affrighted; lofty-necked,

With clean-cut head, short belly, and stout back;

His sprightly breast exuberant with brawn.

Chestnut and grey are good; the worst-hued white

And sorrel. Then lo! if arms are clashed afar,

Bide still he cannot: ears stiffen and limbs quake;

His nostrils snort and roll out wreaths of fire.

Dense is his mane, that when uplifted falls

On his right shoulder; betwixt either loin

The spine runs double; his earth-dinting hoof

Rings with the ponderous beat of solid horn.

Even such a horse was Cyllarus, reined and tamed

By Pollux of Amyclae; such the pair

In Grecian song renowned, those steeds of Mars,

And famed Achilles’ team: in such-like form

Great Saturn’s self with mane flung loose on neck

Sped at his wife’s approach, and flying filled

The heights of Pelion with his piercing neigh.

 Even him, when sore disease or sluggish eld

Now saps his strength, pen fast at home, and spare

His not inglorious age. A horse grown old

Slow kindling unto love in vain prolongs

The fruitless task, and, to the encounter come,

As fire in stubble blusters without strength,

He rages idly. Therefore mark thou first

Their age and mettle, other points anon,

As breed and lineage, or what pain was theirs

To lose the race, what pride the palm to win.

Seest how the chariots in mad rivalry

Poured from the barrier grip the course and go,

When youthful hope is highest, and every heart

Drained with each wild pulsation? How they ply

The circling lash, and reaching forward let

The reins hang free! Swift spins the glowing wheel;

And now they stoop, and now erect in air

Seem borne through space and towering to the sky:

No stop, no stay; the dun sand whirls aloft;

They reek with foam-flakes and pursuing breath;

So sweet is fame, so prized the victor’s palm.

’Twas Ericthonius first took heart to yoke

Four horses to his car, and rode above

The whirling wheels to victory: but the ring

And bridle-reins, mounted on horses’ backs,

The Pelethronian Lapithae bequeathed,

And taught the knight in arms to spurn the ground,

And arch the upgathered footsteps of his pride.

Each task alike is arduous, and for each

A horse young, fiery, swift of foot, they seek;

How oft so-e’er yon rival may have chased

The flying foe, or boast his native plain

Epirus, or Mycenae’s stubborn hold,

And trace his lineage back to Neptune’s birth.

 These points regarded, as the time draws nigh,

With instant zeal they lavish all their care

To plump with solid fat the chosen chief

And designated husband of the herd:

And flowery herbs they cut, and serve him well

With corn and running water, that his strength

Not fail him for that labour of delight,

Nor puny colts betray the feeble sire.

The herd itself of purpose they reduce

To leanness, and when love’s sweet longing first

Provokes them, they forbid the leafy food,

And pen them from the springs, and oft beside

With running shake, and tire them in the sun,

What time the threshing-floor groans heavily

With pounding of the corn-ears, and light chaff

Is whirled on high to catch the rising west.

This do they that the soil’s prolific powers

May not be dulled by surfeiting, nor choke

The sluggish furrows, but eagerly absorb

Their fill of love, and deeply entertain.

 To care of sire the mother’s care succeeds.

When great with young they wander nigh their time,

Let no man suffer them to drag the yoke

In heavy wains, nor leap across the way,

Nor scour the meads, nor swim the rushing flood.

In lonely lawns they feed them, by the course

Of brimming streams, where moss is, and the banks

With grass are greenest, where are sheltering caves,

And far outstretched the rock-flung shadow lies.

Round wooded Silarus and the ilex-bowers

Of green Alburnus swarms a winged pest —

Its Roman name Asilus, by the Greeks

Termed Oestros — fierce it is, and harshly hums,

Driving whole herds in terror through the groves,

Till heaven is madded by their bellowing din,

And Tanager’s dry bed and forest-banks.

With this same scourge did Juno wreak of old

The terrors of her wrath, a plague devised

Against the heifer sprung from Inachus.

From this too thou, since in the noontide heats

’Tis most persistent, fend thy teeming herds,

And feed them when the sun is newly risen,

Or the first stars are ushering in the night.

 But, yeaning ended, all their tender care

Is to the calves transferred; at once with marks

They brand them, both to designate their race,

And which to rear for breeding, or devote

As altar-victims, or to cleave the ground

And into ridges tear and turn the sod.

The rest along the greensward graze at will.

Those that to rustic uses thou wouldst mould,

As calves encourage and take steps to tame,

While pliant wills and plastic youth allow.

And first of slender withies round the throat

Loose collars hang, then when their free-born necks

Are used to service, with the self-same bands

Yoke them in pairs, and steer by steer compel

Keep pace together. And time it is that oft

Unfreighted wheels be drawn along the ground

Behind them, as to dint the surface-dust;

Then let the beechen axle strain and creak

‘Neath some stout burden, whilst a brazen pole

Drags on the wheels made fast thereto. Meanwhile

For their unbroken youth not grass alone,

Nor meagre willow-leaves and marish-sedge,

But corn-ears with thy hand pluck from the crops.

Nor shall the brood-kine, as of yore, for thee

Brim high the snowy milking-pail, but spend

Their udders’ fullness on their own sweet young.

 But if fierce squadrons and the ranks of war

Delight thee rather, or on wheels to glide

At Pisa, with Alpheus fleeting by,

And in the grove of Jupiter urge on

The flying chariot, be your steed’s first task

To face the warrior’s armed rage, and brook

The trumpet, and long roar of rumbling wheels,

And clink of chiming bridles in the stall;

Then more and more to love his master’s voice

Caressing, or loud hand that claps his neck.

Ay, thus far let him learn to dare, when first

Weaned from his mother, and his mouth at times

Yield to the supple halter, even while yet

Weak, tottering-limbed, and ignorant of life.

But, three years ended, when the fourth arrives,

Now let him tarry not to run the ring

With rhythmic hoof-beat echoing, and now learn

Alternately to curve each bending leg,

And be like one that struggleth; then at last

Challenge the winds to race him, and at speed

Launched through the open, like a reinless thing,

Scarce print his footsteps on the surface-sand.

As when with power from Hyperborean climes

The north wind stoops, and scatters from his path

Dry clouds and storms of Scythia; the tall corn

And rippling plains ‘gin shiver with light gusts;

A sound is heard among the forest-tops;

Long waves come racing shoreward: fast he flies,

With instant pinion sweeping earth and main.

 A steed like this or on the mighty course

Of Elis at the goal will sweat, and shower

Red foam-flakes from his mouth, or, kindlier task,

With patient neck support the Belgian car.

Then, broken at last, let swell their burly frame

With fattening corn-mash, for, unbroke, they will

With pride wax wanton, and, when caught, refuse

Tough lash to brook or jagged curb obey.

 But no device so fortifies their power

As love’s blind stings of passion to forefend,

Whether on steed or steer thy choice be set.

Ay, therefore ’tis they banish bulls afar

To solitary pastures, or behind

Some mountain-barrier, or broad streams beyond,

Or else in plenteous stalls pen fast at home.

For, even through sight of her, the female wastes

His strength with smouldering fire, till he forget

Both grass and woodland. She indeed full oft

With her sweet charms can lovers proud compel

To battle for the conquest horn to horn.

In Sila’s forest feeds the heifer fair,

While each on each the furious rivals run;

Wound follows wound; the black blood laves their limbs;

Horns push and strive against opposing horns,

With mighty groaning; all the forest-side

And far Olympus bellow back the roar.

Nor wont the champions in one stall to couch;

But he that’s worsted hies him to strange climes

Far off, an exile, moaning much the shame,

The blows of that proud conqueror, then love’s loss

Avenged not; with one glance toward the byre,

His ancient royalties behind him lie.

So with all heed his strength he practiseth,

And nightlong makes the hard bare stones his bed,

And feeds on prickly leaf and pointed rush,

And proves himself, and butting at a tree

Learns to fling wrath into his horns, with blows

Provokes the air, and scattering clouds of sand

Makes prelude of the battle; afterward,

With strength repaired and gathered might breaks camp,

And hurls him headlong on the unthinking foe:

As in mid ocean when a wave far of

Begins to whiten, mustering from the main

Its rounded breast, and, onward rolled to land

Falls with prodigious roar among the rocks,

Huge as a very mountain: but the depths

Upseethe in swirling eddies, and disgorge

The murky sand-lees from their sunken bed.

 Nay, every race on earth of men, and beasts,

And ocean-folk, and flocks, and painted birds,

Rush to the raging fire: love sways them all.

Never than then more fiercely o’er the plain

Prowls heedless of her whelps the lioness:

Nor monstrous bears such wide-spread havoc-doom

Deal through the forests; then the boar is fierce,

Most deadly then the tigress: then, alack!

Ill roaming is it on Libya’s lonely plains.

Mark you what shivering thrills the horse’s frame,

If but a waft the well-known gust conveys?

Nor curb can check them then, nor lash severe,

Nor rocks and caverned crags, nor barrier-floods,

That rend and whirl and wash the hills away.

Then speeds amain the great Sabellian boar,

His tushes whets, with forefoot tears the ground,

Rubs ‘gainst a tree his flanks, and to and fro

Hardens each wallowing shoulder to the wound.

What of the youth, when love’s relentless might

Stirs the fierce fire within his veins? Behold!

In blindest midnight how he swims the gulf

Convulsed with bursting storm-clouds! Over him

Heaven’s huge gate thunders; the rock-shattered main

Utters a warning cry; nor parents’ tears

Can backward call him, nor the maid he loves,

Too soon to die on his untimely pyre.

What of the spotted ounce to Bacchus dear,

Or warlike wolf-kin or the breed of dogs?

Why tell how timorous stags the battle join?

O’er all conspicuous is the rage of mares,

By Venus’ self inspired of old, what time

The Potnian four with rending jaws devoured

The limbs of Glaucus. Love-constrained they roam

Past Gargarus, past the loud Ascanian flood;

They climb the mountains, and the torrents swim;

And when their eager marrow first conceives

The fire, in Spring-tide chiefly, for with Spring

Warmth doth their frames revisit, then they stand

All facing westward on the rocky heights,

And of the gentle breezes take their fill;

And oft unmated, marvellous to tell,

But of the wind impregnate, far and wide

O’er craggy height and lowly vale they scud,

Not toward thy rising, Eurus, or the sun’s,

But westward and north-west, or whence up-springs

Black Auster, that glooms heaven with rainy cold.

Hence from their groin slow drips a poisonous juice,

By shepherds truly named hippomanes,

Hippomanes, fell stepdames oft have culled,

And mixed with herbs and spells of baneful bode.

 Fast flies meanwhile the irreparable hour,

As point to point our charmed round we trace.

Enough of herds. This second task remains,

The wool-clad flocks and shaggy goats to treat.

Here lies a labour; hence for glory look,

Brave husbandmen. Nor doubtfully know

How hard it is for words to triumph here,

And shed their lustre on a theme so slight:

But I am caught by ravishing desire

Above the lone Parnassian steep; I love

To walk the heights, from whence no earlier track

Slopes gently downward to Castalia’s spring.

 Now, awful Pales, strike a louder tone.

First, for the sheep soft pencotes I decree

To browse in, till green summer’s swift return;

And that the hard earth under them with straw

And handfuls of the fern be littered deep,

Lest chill of ice such tender cattle harm

With scab and loathly foot-rot. Passing thence

I bid the goats with arbute-leaves be stored,

And served with fresh spring-water, and their pens

Turned southward from the blast, to face the suns

Of winter, when Aquarius’ icy beam

Now sinks in showers upon the parting year.

These too no lightlier our protection claim,

Nor prove of poorer service, howsoe’er

Milesian fleeces dipped in Tyrian reds

Repay the barterer; these with offspring teem

More numerous; these yield plenteous store of milk:

The more each dry-wrung udder froths the pail,

More copious soon the teat-pressed torrents flow.

Ay, and on Cinyps’ bank the he-goats too

Their beards and grizzled chins and bristling hair

Let clip for camp-use, or as rugs to wrap

Seafaring wretches. But they browse the woods

And summits of Lycaeus, and rough briers,

And brakes that love the highland: of themselves

Right heedfully the she-goats homeward troop

Before their kids, and with plump udders clogged

Scarce cross the threshold. Wherefore rather ye,

The less they crave man’s vigilance, be fain

From ice to fend them and from snowy winds;

Bring food and feast them with their branchy fare,

Nor lock your hay-loft all the winter long.

 But when glad summer at the west wind’s call

Sends either flock to pasture in the glades,

Soon as the day-star shineth, hie we then

To the cool meadows, while the dawn is young,

The grass yet hoary, and to browsing herds

The dew tastes sweetest on the tender sward.

When heaven’s fourth hour draws on the thickening drought,

And shrill cicalas pierce the brake with song,

Then at the well-springs bid them, or deep pools,

From troughs of holm-oak quaff the running wave:

But at day’s hottest seek a shadowy vale,

Where some vast ancient-timbered oak of Jove

Spreads his huge branches, or where huddling black

Ilex on ilex cowers in awful shade.

Then once more give them water sparingly,

And feed once more, till sunset, when cool eve

Allays the air, and dewy moonbeams slake

The forest glades, with halcyon’s song the shore,

And every thicket with the goldfinch rings.

 Of Libya’s shepherds why the tale pursue?

Why sing their pastures and the scattered huts

They house in? Oft their cattle day and night

Graze the whole month together, and go forth

Into far deserts where no shelter is,

So flat the plain and boundless. All his goods

The Afric swain bears with him, house and home,

Arms, Cretan quiver, and Amyclaean dog;

As some keen Roman in his country’s arms

Plies the swift march beneath a cruel load;

Soon with tents pitched and at his post he stands,

Ere looked for by the foe. Not thus the tribes

Of Scythia by the far Maeotic wave,

Where turbid Ister whirls his yellow sands,

And Rhodope stretched out beneath the pole

Comes trending backward. There the herds they keep

Close-pent in byres, nor any grass is seen

Upon the plain, nor leaves upon the tree:

But with snow-ridges and deep frost afar

Heaped seven ells high the earth lies featureless:

Still winter? still the north wind’s icy breath!

Nay, never sun disparts the shadows pale,

Or as he rides the steep of heaven, or dips

In ocean’s fiery bath his plunging car.

Quick ice-crusts curdle on the running stream,

And iron-hooped wheels the water’s back now bears,

To broad wains opened, as erewhile to ships;

Brass vessels oft asunder burst, and clothes

Stiffen upon the wearers; juicy wines

They cleave with axes; to one frozen mass

Whole pools are turned; and on their untrimmed beards

Stiff clings the jagged icicle. Meanwhile

All heaven no less is filled with falling snow;

The cattle perish: oxen’s mighty frames

Stand island-like amid the frost, and stags

In huddling herds, by that strange weight benumbed,

Scarce top the surface with their antler-points.

These with no hounds they hunt, nor net with toils,

Nor scare with terror of the crimson plume;

But, as in vain they breast the opposing block,

Butcher them, knife in hand, and so dispatch

Loud-bellowing, and with glad shouts hale them home.

Themselves in deep-dug caverns underground

Dwell free and careless; to their hearths they heave

Oak-logs and elm-trees whole, and fire them there,

There play the night out, and in festive glee

With barm and service sour the wine-cup mock.

So ‘neath the seven-starred Hyperborean wain

The folk live tameless, buffeted with blasts

Of Eurus from Rhipaean hills, and wrap

Their bodies in the tawny fells of beasts.

 If wool delight thee, first, be far removed

All prickly boskage, burrs and caltrops; shun

Luxuriant pastures; at the outset choose

White flocks with downy fleeces. For the ram,

How white soe’er himself, be but the tongue

‘Neath his moist palate black, reject him, lest

He sully with dark spots his offspring’s fleece,

And seek some other o’er the teeming plain.

Even with such snowy bribe of wool, if ear

May trust the tale, Pan, God of Arcady,

Snared and beguiled thee, Luna, calling thee

To the deep woods; nor thou didst spurn his call.

 But who for milk hath longing, must himself

Carry lucerne and lotus-leaves enow

With salt herbs to the cote, whence more they love

The streams, more stretch their udders, and give back

A subtle taste of saltness in the milk.

Many there be who from their mothers keep

The new-born kids, and straightway bind their mouths

With iron-tipped muzzles. What they milk at dawn,

Or in the daylight hours, at night they press;

What darkling or at sunset, this ere morn

They bear away in baskets — for to town

The shepherd hies him — or with dash of salt

Just sprinkle, and lay by for winter use.

 Nor be thy dogs last cared for; but alike

Swift Spartan hounds and fierce Molossian feed

On fattening whey. Never, with these to watch,

Dread nightly thief afold and ravening wolves,

Or Spanish desperadoes in the rear.

And oft the shy wild asses thou wilt chase,

With hounds, too, hunt the hare, with hounds the doe;

Oft from his woodland wallowing-den uprouse

The boar, and scare him with their baying, and drive,

And o’er the mountains urge into the toils

Some antlered monster to their chiming cry.

 Learn also scented cedar-wood to burn

Within the stalls, and snakes of noxious smell

With fumes of galbanum to drive away.

Oft under long-neglected cribs, or lurks

A viper ill to handle, that hath fled

The light in terror, or some snake, that wont

‘Neath shade and sheltering roof to creep, and shower

Its bane among the cattle, hugs the ground,

Fell scourge of kine. Shepherd, seize stakes, seize stones!

And as he rears defiance, and puffs out

A hissing throat, down with him! see how low

That cowering crest is vailed in flight, the while,

His midmost coils and final sweep of tail

Relaxing, the last fold drags lingering spires.

Then that vile worm that in Calabrian glades

Uprears his breast, and wreathes a scaly back,

His length of belly pied with mighty spots —

While from their founts gush any streams, while yet

With showers of Spring and rainy south-winds earth

Is moistened, lo! he haunts the pools, and here

Housed in the banks, with fish and chattering frogs

Crams the black void of his insatiate maw.

Soon as the fens are parched, and earth with heat

Is gaping, forth he darts into the dry,

Rolls eyes of fire and rages through the fields,

Furious from thirst and by the drought dismayed.

Me list not then beneath the open heaven

To snatch soft slumber, nor on forest-ridge

Lie stretched along the grass, when, slipped his slough,

To glittering youth transformed he winds his spires,

And eggs or younglings leaving in his lair,

Towers sunward, lightening with three-forked tongue.

 Of sickness, too, the causes and the signs

I’ll teach thee. Loathly scab assails the sheep,

When chilly showers have probed them to the quick,

And winter stark with hoar-frost, or when sweat

Unpurged cleaves to them after shearing done,

And rough thorns rend their bodies. Hence it is

Shepherds their whole flock steep in running streams,

While, plunged beneath the flood, with drenched fell,

The ram, launched free, goes drifting down the tide.

Else, having shorn, they smear their bodies o’er

With acrid oil-lees, and mix silver-scum

And native sulphur and Idaean pitch,

Wax mollified with ointment, and therewith

Sea-leek, strong hellebores, bitumen black.

Yet ne’er doth kindlier fortune crown his toil,

Than if with blade of iron a man dare lance

The ulcer’s mouth ope: for the taint is fed

And quickened by confinement; while the swain

His hand of healing from the wound withholds,

Or sits for happier signs imploring heaven.

Aye, and when inward to the bleater’s bones

The pain hath sunk and rages, and their limbs

By thirsty fever are consumed, ’tis good

To draw the enkindled heat therefrom, and pierce

Within the hoof-clefts a blood-bounding vein.

Of tribes Bisaltic such the wonted use,

And keen Gelonian, when to Rhodope

He flies, or Getic desert, and quaffs milk

With horse-blood curdled.

    Seest one far afield

Oft to the shade’s mild covert win, or pull

The grass tops listlessly, or hindmost lag,

Or, browsing, cast her down amid the plain,

At night retire belated and alone;

With quick knife check the mischief, ere it creep

With dire contagion through the unwary herd.

Less thick and fast the whirlwind scours the main

With tempest in its wake, than swarm the plagues

Of cattle; nor seize they single lives alone,

But sudden clear whole feeding grounds, the flock

With all its promise, and extirpate the breed.

Well would he trow it who, so long after, still

High Alps and Noric hill-forts should behold,

And Iapydian Timavus’ fields,

Ay, still behold the shepherds’ realms a waste,

And far and wide the lawns untenanted.

 Here from distempered heavens erewhile arose

A piteous season, with the full fierce heat

Of autumn glowed, and cattle-kindreds all

And all wild creatures to destruction gave,

Tainted the pools, the fodder charged with bane.

Nor simple was the way of death, but when

Hot thirst through every vein impelled had drawn

Their wretched limbs together, anon o’erflowed

A watery flux, and all their bones piecemeal

Sapped by corruption to itself absorbed.

Oft in mid sacrifice to heaven — the white

Wool-woven fillet half wreathed about his brow —

Some victim, standing by the altar, there

Betwixt the loitering carles a-dying fell:

Or, if betimes the slaughtering priest had struck,

Nor with its heaped entrails blazed the pile,

Nor seer to seeker thence could answer yield;

Nay, scarce the up-stabbing knife with blood was stained,

Scarce sullied with thin gore the surface-sand.

Hence die the calves in many a pasture fair,

Or at full cribs their lives’ sweet breath resign;

Hence on the fawning dog comes madness, hence

Racks the sick swine a gasping cough that chokes

With swelling at the jaws: the conquering steed,

Uncrowned of effort and heedless of the sward,

Faints, turns him from the springs, and paws the earth

With ceaseless hoof: low droop his ears, wherefrom

Bursts fitful sweat, a sweat that waxes cold

Upon the dying beast; the skin is dry,

And rigidly repels the handler’s touch.

These earlier signs they give that presage doom.

But, if the advancing plague ‘gin fiercer grow,

Then are their eyes all fire, deep-drawn their breath,

At times groan-laboured: with long sobbing heave

Their lowest flanks; from either nostril streams

Black blood; a rough tongue clogs the obstructed jaws.

’Twas helpful through inverted horn to pour

Draughts of the wine-god down; sole way it seemed

To save the dying: soon this too proved their bane,

And, reinvigorate but with frenzy’s fire,

Even at death’s pinch — the gods some happier fate

Deal to the just, such madness to their foes —

Each with bared teeth his own limbs mangling tore.

See! as he smokes beneath the stubborn share,

The bull drops, vomiting foam-dabbled gore,

And heaves his latest groans. Sad goes the swain,

Unhooks the steer that mourns his fellow’s fate,

And in mid labour leaves the plough-gear fast.

Nor tall wood’s shadow, nor soft sward may stir

That heart’s emotion, nor rock-channelled flood,

More pure than amber speeding to the plain:

But see! his flanks fail under him, his eyes

Are dulled with deadly torpor, and his neck

Sinks to the earth with drooping weight. What now

Besteads him toil or service? to have turned

The heavy sod with ploughshare? And yet these

Ne’er knew the Massic wine-god’s baneful boon,

Nor twice replenished banquets: but on leaves

They fare, and virgin grasses, and their cups

Are crystal springs and streams with running tired,

Their healthful slumbers never broke by care.

Then only, say they, through that country side

For Juno’s rites were cattle far to seek,

And ill-matched buffaloes the chariots drew

To their high fanes. So, painfully with rakes

They grub the soil, aye, with their very nails

Dig in the corn-seeds, and with strained neck

O’er the high uplands drag the creaking wains.

No wolf for ambush pries about the pen,

Nor round the flock prowls nightly; pain more sharp

Subdues him: the shy deer and fleet-foot stags

With hounds now wander by the haunts of men

Vast ocean’s offspring, and all tribes that swim,

On the shore’s confine the wave washes up,

Like shipwrecked bodies: seals, unwonted there,

Flee to the rivers. Now the viper dies,

For all his den’s close winding, and with scales

Erect the astonied water-worms. The air

Brooks not the very birds, that headlong fall,

And leave their life beneath the soaring cloud.

Moreover now nor change of fodder serves,

And subtlest cures but injure; then were foiled

The masters, Chiron sprung from Phillyron,

And Amythaon’s son Melampus. See!

From Stygian darkness launched into the light

Comes raging pale Tisiphone; she drives

Disease and fear before her, day by day

Still rearing higher that all-devouring head.

With bleat of flocks and lowings thick resound

Rivers and parched banks and sloping heights.

At last in crowds she slaughters them, she chokes

The very stalls with carrion-heaps that rot

In hideous corruption, till men learn

With earth to cover them, in pits to hide.

For e’en the fells are useless; nor the flesh

With water may they purge, or tame with fire,

Nor shear the fleeces even, gnawed through and through

With foul disease, nor touch the putrid webs;

But, had one dared the loathly weeds to try,

Red blisters and an unclean sweat o’erran

His noisome limbs, till, no long tarriance made,

The fiery curse his tainted frame devoured.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01