Two Eclogues of Virgil (5 & 9)

 translated from the Latin by Kristina Chew

Eclogue 5


Us two it is, Mopsus.

Here we are together,
you good to play a sleek pipe,
I to say verses,
where—why not sitting down?—
elms and willows join.


You're the main player, Menalcas.

It’s fine I go along with you,
we can end up under zephyrs
blowing shadows in and out or,
better yet, a rocky hollow. Look.
Wild vines crisscross, tinsel
strung with grape bunches.

In our mountains only Amyntas
duels with you.

What if he steps into the ring singing
to fight Apollo?

Go first, Mopsus, start
if passion fires for Phyllis
or praises of Alcon
or a vendetta with Codrus
you nurse.
Tityrus will watch the grazing goats.

Willows sway and give way to
the silvering olive, lowly wild nard
to the red roses of Carthage.
So by my reckoning
Amyntas gives way to you.
But no more talk, my friend,
we’ve come to the hollow.

No. But these songs—
not so long ago
I carved in a beech’s virgin bark
notching parts for voice and flute—
I will attempt.
So tell Amyntas
to step up to fight.


A life cut short,
nymphs wailed,
so cruel his funeral.
Willows and rivers, testify.
Entwining her son’s poor body
his mother calls on the gods,
the stars cruel.

That was when not one soul
played the shepherd, Daphnis,
led the cows to cooling streams
when not one animal tasted river water
or mouthed a blade of grass.

Barbary lions wept
your death
say the mountains, say the wild beasts,
say trees.

Daphnis ordained how
to harness Armenia’s tigers
behind a chariot,
Daphnis to dance
under Bacchus’ grip,
to weave whiplike weapons
from tender leaves.

A grace
to trees is the vine,
to vineyards are grapes,
to herds are bulls,
to fertile fields are crops.
To those you love and cherish
you are every grace.

After the Fates took you away,
Pales and Apollo forsook
the fields, the furrows we trusted
seed barley grains to sprouted
hard luck darnel, infertile oats.
Tender petaled stocks,
redwine ringed poet’s daffodil
lost their place to thistles
and Christ's thorn’s needles.

Scatter leaves over the earth,
curtain sweetwater in shade,
shepherds, Daphnis charges
these be done for his sake.
Build a burial mound
and carve this poem on it:
I was Daphnis of the woods
known even among the stars
watchman of a beautiful flock,
I was too beautiful.

Godlike Poet,
to us your song is like
sleep in the grass for the weary,
a dancing sweetstream in summer,
thirst’s counterpunch.
You equal your teacher not
just on the pipe but your voice—
lucky, yet a child, always you
will be his aftersent. We still
will return our verses to you
in the way we will, we will raise
Daphnis to the stars, take
Daphnis to the stars,
Daphnis loved us too.



Could there be something beyond
what we can offer? He was young,
a worthy subject of song
and Stimichon long ago to us
praised those songs of yours.

Beaming white he marvels
at Olympus’ unknown gateway,
below his feet, the clouds and stars
Daphnis sees.

Full-hearted pleasure enfolds
the woods and country all around,
Pan and shepherds, Dryads too.
No traps for flocks the wolf plots,
no tricks for deer the nets set.
Good Daphnis, he loves peace.

Craggy mountains cast their voices
to startops all in joy,
the very stones ring,
tree groves too in song:
‘A god, Menalcas, a god is he.’
Be of good will, bring
for your own prosperity.

See the four altars,
two for you, Daphnis,
two for Phoebus Apollo.
For you every year I will set out
two cups with milk to the brim,
two winebowls oozing oil.
We will start with wine-steeped revels
before the hearth, in the cold,
if in harvest-time, in shade.
I will fill wine cups up
with Chios’ newest nectar.

Damoetas and Aegon of Crete
will serenade at my request,
Alphesiboeus mimic Satyrs
in full saunter. Always these
will be for you, when we tender
our annual vows to the Nymphs,
when we walk around the fields.

So long as the boar
loves mountain ridges,
as fish running waters;
as bees feed on thyme,
as cicadas on dew,
always your glory,
your name, your praises
will live. Just as
to Bacchus and Ceres
farmers make promises
year after year will they to you.
You too will bind them
to your vows.



For such a song what can I give back
to you, what gifts? Auster whispers near,
the surf pounds on the shore, rivers run
through rocky valleys: None aid me.

First we will give you this,
the fragile hemlock pipe
that taught me ‘Shepherd Corydon
was aflame for beauteous Alexis,’ and
‘Damoetas, whose animals? Meliboeus’?’



But take this crook, the one
Antigenes—he was worthy
to be loved back—
did not, and he asked me
over and over.
It is beautiful,
bronze knots inset,
in circle-perfect measures.

Eclogue 9


Where, Moeris, do you go? Where
the road travels, into the city?



we have lived to see it come to this,
a foreigner—a thing we’d never feared—
and claimant to our small land-plot has said:
‘This is mine. You get out, aging farmboy.’
I’m beaten and sad, Fortune’s tumulted all
upside down, these goats I’m letting go
to please the man—good going it won’t be.

Yes I'd heard, from where hills start to slope up
and a ridge runs down in a gentle incline
as far as the water and the ancient beeches
with splintered tops, all of this your Menalcas
has preserved in poetry.



You'd heard and that’s the story
but our poems count as much only, Lycidas,
as in a hail of arms of Mars do doves
of Chaonia, an eagle on their tailfeathers.
And if I had not cut short new disputes
—a raven from a hollow oak’s left side warned
me before—your own Moeris would not be alive
and not Menalcas either.

No what—so heinous a crime could
someone do? No—all but snatched
from us, the comforts your song carried?
Who sung of Nymphs, earth sprinkled
with flowers in bloom or freshwaters cast
in leaves and shadow? What of the songs
I overheard from you when Amaryllis,
your heart’s joy, you were elaborating on?

Tityrus, till I come back—brief’s
my journey—graze my goats,
let them drink once fed, Tityrus,
and as you work beware they run
ahead into a he-goat horns stuck out.



Yes it was so, he sang to Varus uncut verses:

Varus, your name, if only Mantova
survive us—oh Mantova, too close
neighbor of poor Cremona, may swans
bring their song high up to the stars.

So let your bee swarm fly from yews giving
honey like Corsica’s, so let your cows feed
and swell their udders with moon trefoil.
Begin if you have anything to sing.

A poet the Muses have made of me, I have my songs,
I am he the shepherds say’s a poet though
I am not inclined to take them at their word.
I still to Varus do not seem so, Cinna says
my songs are not respectable but honk
like a goose among silver-toned swans.



I can sing it, think it over in silence with
myself, in case I can recall it, it is no
low-class song.

Come here, Galatea, what good
to frolic in the waves? Spring time
is brilliant, all around the rivers
earth pours flowers. A white poplar
overhangs the grotto and wisps
of shadow woven of curling vines.
Come—let crazed waves pound sand.

What about the lines I heard you singing
one clear night? I recall the rhythm, if only
I had the words.

Daphnis, why steal glances
at the origins of age-old signs?
See, the star of Dione’s Caesar
is come forth, under this star
crops rejoice in their fruits and
grapes seep color into hills kissed
by the sun. Graft your pear trees,
Daphnis, may your grandsons
pick your apples own-grown.



Time takes away all, even the spirit.
Often in singing of that boy I recall
I spent long days. Now forgotten are
so many of my songs, my own voice
runs away from me, Moeris; Moeris
yesterday’s wolves have seen. Menalcas
though can yet recite those verses
that you want well enough and much.

Your pleadings have taken us deep
into our love; now all the plain of the sea
is silent for you; see, all the breezes full
of airy whirrs have ceased. From here on
our journey is at its midpoint for just
coming into view is Bianor’s tomb.
Farmers are spreading out branches
in swaths—here, Moeris, let us sing,
here let your goats go. Come what may,
we will come to the city. Or if we fear
the night may sooner unleash rain
we might keep singing as we go,
it makes the road less boring.
Let’s go on and sing, I will lighten
you of this load.



No more, boy, and let us get on
with what presses now, songs we will sing
in a better key when he will come.


Translator's Note

Translating pastoral poetry in the early 21st century requires a translator not only to adapt generic equivalents in contemporary poetry such as Seamus Heaney’s evocations of a lost rural world in Electric Light (2002) but to summon pastoral’s literary-historical-generic context. For me, alongside Virgil’s Latin, such is comprised of Keats’ Odes (to a Grecian Urn, the Nightingale, Autumn, Melancholy), Milton’s “Lycidas,” and Yeats’ “Easter 1916.”

The sound and the words and the rhythm of these poems were all in my mind while working on bringing Virgil’s Eclogues into English.

Milton’s pastoral elegy—“Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more”—most overtly echoes Virgil’s motifs and themes down to mentioning Amaryllis—Tityrus’ beloved in Eclogue 1—the Muse, Orpheus and, indeed, Lycidas (in Eclogue 9). Keats’ language thick with a replenishing of vowel sounds and syntactical patterns (“To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells / With a sweet kernel; to set budding more”) was even more present in my choice of words and why, at times, the wording is dense and complicating, words piling up on words. Yeats’ shorter line in “Easter 1916” is what I was hearing while writing the dialogic lines between Menalcas and Mopsus, between Lycidas and Moeris, and, as well, the songs of Daphnis dying and the agonistic repartee of Eclogue 9. I was also seeking to capture the repressed emotion—the rage, the passion, unbending sorrow—that I hear in Yeats’ poem (“Too long a sacrifice / Can make a stone of the heart. / O when may it suffice?”) and to infuse it into the translation.

This is all to say, the method behind my translation praxis in these Eclogues is the echo of the poems that I was reading while learning how to read Latin poetry when I was in high school and working through books 1, 4 and 6 of the Aeneid in the “purple Vergil” (the book with the commentary by Clyde Pharr), prepping for the Advanced Placement examination and after finishing up my homework for Calculus and Chemistry and European History and French.

If the language of these Eclogues tends towards the overwrought, it is to capture how Virgil’s Latin, in these first of his poetic works, is, finely turned, carefully constructed (to a fault), highly (albeit quietly) conscious of how others would receive the words written. These conceits all play below the surface of Virgil’s Eclogues and are a quality I try to evoke in my own working of his first outing of poetry, before the well-wrought creation that is the Georgics and the programmatizing epic power of the Aeneid. Virgil composing the Eclogues was, while confident in what he could do as a poet of dactylic hexameters in the manner of Theocritus, endowed with a comfortable ease in displaying those poetic gifts that are more carefully limned in his later works. This translator offers these versions of Virgil’s first poetic sorties when she is a year beyond the age that he himself lived to before dying in 19 BCE in Brundisium, and years after when she produced her first version of Virgil’s work, his Georgics, begun in the previous millennium. So these Eclogues, the poems of the youth of her poetic forebear and even Muse have become a work of a middle period when the translator’s own boy (my son Charlie; he is nearing 24 years old, severely autistic with intellectual disabilities, and it has been almost that long we have been living while learning his way of understanding the world through colors and shapes and without language)—is young as Daphnis and pulcher (= “beautiful, handsome”), and with a song to keep on singing.

Kristina Chew


In the Classroom