Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Spring in Vergil's Georgics

Vergil, Georgics 2.323-342, tr. L.P. Wilkinson in The Georgics of Vergil: A Critical Survey, new ed. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), p. 192:
Spring it is that favours the woodland leaves, spring the forests; in spring the ground swells and calls for the fertile seeds. Then the almighty Father of heaven descends in fruitful showers into the lap of his joyful spouse and mingling with her great body greatly breeds all kinds of fruit. Then do the pathless copses resound to the singing of birds and the beasts of the herd know that their time to seek a mate is come again, and the bountiful earth bares its bosom to the warm west winds. Everywhere a mild moisture prevails, and the grasses can safely venture up to meet the young suns, nor do the vine-shoots fear gales rising from the south or storms driven down the sky by mighty north winds, but thrust their buds out and unfold all their leaves. Such days shone out, I believe, when the infant world began, and even so they ran. It was springtime then, the great world was keeping spring and the east winds forbore their wintry blasts, when the first cattle drank in the light, and the earthborn race of men raised its head in the hard fields, and the wild beasts were sent forth into the forests and the stars into the sky.
Wilkinson's excerpt omits the last three lines of Vergil's description of spring. Here is the entire passage in Latin (2.323-345):
ver adeo frondi nemorum, ver utile silvis,
vere tument terrae et genitalia semina poscunt.
tum pater omnipotens fecundis imbribus Aether
coniugis in gremium laetae descendit, et omnis
magnus alit magno commixtus corpore fetus.
avia tum resonant avibus virgulta canoris,
et Venerem certis repetunt armenta diebus;
parturit almus ager Zephyrique trementibus auris
laxant arva sinus; superat tener omnibus umor,
inque novos soles audent se gramina tuto
credere, nec metuit surgentis pampinus Austros
aut actum caelo magnis Aquilonibus imbrem,
sed trudit gemmas et frondes explicat omnis.
non alios prima crescentis origine mundi
inluxisse dies aliumve habuisse tenorem
crediderim: ver illud erat, ver magnus agebat
orbis, et hibernis parcebant flatibus Euri,
cum primae lucem pecudes hausere, virumque
terrea progenies duris caput extulit arvis,
immissaeque ferae silvis et sidera caelo.
nec res hunc tenerae possent perferre laborem,
si non tanta quies iret frigusque caloremque
inter, et exciperet caeli indulgentia terras.
I am indebted to Dr. Karl Maurer for sharing with me his verse translation of this passage:
But spring is kind to orchard leaves, to forest.
Spring earth swells, asking for life-giving seeds.
Almighty father, Aether, in long deep rains
falls to his wife's glad hug and, great and coupled
with her great body, quickens all that grows.
In spring each pathless thicket rings with bird-song.
In the sure days all herds find love again.
Earth labors, teeming. Warm breaths of a West Wind
loosen fields; in all things is tender moisture.
Safely a grass-blade dares to trust new suns.
The vine-spray does not fear a rising South Wind,
nor sky wiped clean of rain by deep North Wind,
but puts out buds; it dares unfold its leaves.
Such days (I could believe) lit up the world
when first it grew. Then each day had this freshness.
Then it was spring, the whole globe quick with Springtime.
No East Wind out-breathed winter, as the herds
first drank the light, and men, sprung from the earth,
in the rough fields were rearing up their heads,
as forests filled with beasts, the sky with stars.
And now, small things could not endure earth's roughness
unless, between cold-time and hot, this peace came,
and the fields felt this quietness in the sky.

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