The Georgics - Virgil - ebook

Virgil was born to a farming family, and his poetic work named The Georgics comes as close to his heart as it possibly can. He dedicated this work to the land, the farming communities and the issues surrounding complex relationships and political situation of the time. Virgil's love for the earth and everything that grows and lives there makes this poem one of his most expressive and passionate.

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The Georgics





New Edition

Published by The Big Nest

This Edition first published in 2014

Copyright © 2014 The Big Nest

Cover design and artwork © 2014

Images and Illustrations © 2014

All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9781910343432 (ebk)







What makes the cornfield smile; beneath what star

Maecenas, it is meet to turn the sod

Or marry elm with vine; how tend the steer;

What pains for cattle-keeping, or what proof

Of patient trial serves for thrifty bees;-

Such are my themes.

O universal lights

Most glorious! ye that lead the gliding year

Along the sky, Liber and Ceres mild,

If by your bounty holpen earth once changed

Chaonian acorn for the plump wheat-ear,

And mingled with the grape, your new-found gift,

The draughts of Achelous; and ye Fauns

To rustics ever kind, come foot it, Fauns

And Dryad-maids together; your gifts I sing.

And thou, for whose delight the war-horse first

Sprang from earth’s womb at thy great trident’s stroke,

Neptune; and haunter of the groves, for whom

Three hundred snow-white heifers browse the brakes,

The fertile brakes of Ceos; and clothed in power,

Thy native forest and Lycean lawns,

Pan, shepherd-god, forsaking, as the love

Of thine own Maenalus constrains thee, hear

And help, O lord of Tegea! And thou, too,

Minerva, from whose hand the olive sprung;

And boy-discoverer of the curved plough;

And, bearing a young cypress root-uptorn,

Silvanus, and Gods all and Goddesses,

Who make the fields your care, both ye who nurse

The tender unsown increase, and from heaven

Shed on man’s sowing the riches of your rain:

And thou, even thou, of whom we know not yet

What mansion of the skies shall hold thee soon,

Whether to watch o’er cities be thy will,

Great Caesar, and to take the earth in charge,

That so the mighty world may welcome thee

Lord of her increase, master of her times,

Binding thy mother’s myrtle round thy brow,

Or as the boundless ocean’s God thou come,

Sole dread of seamen, till far Thule bow

Before thee, and Tethys win thee to her son

With all her waves for dower; or as a star

Lend thy fresh beams our lagging months to cheer,

Where ‘twixt the Maid and those pursuing Claws

A space is opening; see! red Scorpio’s self

His arms draws in, yea, and hath left thee more

Than thy full meed of heaven: be what thou wilt-

For neither Tartarus hopes to call thee king,

Nor may so dire a lust of sovereignty

E’er light upon thee, howso Greece admire

Elysium’s fields, and Proserpine not heed

Her mother’s voice entreating to return-

Vouchsafe a prosperous voyage, and smile on this

My bold endeavour, and pitying, even as I,

These poor way-wildered swains, at once begin,

Grow timely used unto the voice of prayer.

In early spring-tide, when the icy drip

Melts from the mountains hoar, and Zephyr’s breath

Unbinds the crumbling clod, even then ‘tis time;

Press deep your plough behind the groaning ox,

And teach the furrow-burnished share to shine.

That land the craving farmer’s prayer fulfils,

Which twice the sunshine, twice the frost has felt;

Ay, that’s the land whose boundless harvest-crops

Burst, see! the barns.

But ere our metal cleave

An unknown surface, heed we to forelearn

The winds and varying temper of the sky,

The lineal tilth and habits of the spot,

What every region yields, and what denies.

Here blithelier springs the corn, and here the grape,

There earth is green with tender growth of trees

And grass unbidden. See how from Tmolus comes

The saffron’s fragrance, ivory from Ind,

From Saba’s weakling sons their frankincense,

Iron from the naked Chalybs, castor rank

From Pontus, from Epirus the prize-palms

O’ the mares of Elis.

Such the eternal bond

And such the laws by Nature’s hand imposed

On clime and clime, e’er since the primal dawn

When old Deucalion on the unpeopled earth

Cast stones, whence men, a flinty race, were reared.

Up then! if fat the soil, let sturdy bulls

Upturn it from the year’s first opening months,

And let the clods lie bare till baked to dust

By the ripe suns of summer; but if the earth

Less fruitful just ere Arcturus rise

With shallower trench uptilt it- ‘twill suffice;

There, lest weeds choke the crop’s luxuriance, here,

Lest the scant moisture fail the barren sand.

Then thou shalt suffer in alternate years

The new-reaped fields to rest, and on the plain

A crust of sloth to harden; or, when stars

Are changed in heaven, there sow the golden grain

Where erst, luxuriant with its quivering pod,

Pulse, or the slender vetch-crop, thou hast cleared,

And lupin sour, whose brittle stalks arise,

A hurtling forest. For the plain is parched

By flax-crop, parched by oats, by poppies parched

In Lethe-slumber drenched. Nathless by change

The travailing earth is lightened, but stint not

With refuse rich to soak the thirsty soil,

And shower foul ashes o’er the exhausted fields.

Thus by rotation like repose is gained,

Nor earth meanwhile uneared and thankless left.

Oft, too, ‘twill boot to fire the naked fields,

And the light stubble burn with crackling flames;

Whether that earth therefrom some hidden strength

And fattening food derives, or that the fire

Bakes every blemish out, and sweats away

Each useless humour, or that the heat unlocks

New passages and secret pores, whereby

Their life-juice to the tender blades may win;

Or that it hardens more and helps to bind

The gaping veins, lest penetrating showers,

Or fierce sun’s ravening might, or searching blast

Of the keen north should sear them. Well, I wot,

He serves the fields who with his harrow breaks

The sluggish clods, and hurdles osier-twined

Hales o’er them; from the far Olympian height

Him golden Ceres not in vain regards;

And he, who having ploughed the fallow plain

And heaved its furrowy ridges, turns once more

Cross-wise his shattering share, with stroke on stroke

The earth assails, and makes the field his thrall.

Pray for wet summers and for winters fine,

Ye husbandmen; in winter’s dust the crops

Exceedingly rejoice, the field hath joy;

No tilth makes Mysia lift her head so high,

Nor Gargarus his own harvests so admire.

Why tell of him, who, having launched his seed,

Sets on for close encounter, and rakes smooth

The dry dust hillocks, then on the tender corn

Lets in the flood, whose waters follow fain;

And when the parched field quivers, and all the blades

Are dying, from the brow of its hill-bed,

See! see! he lures the runnel; down it falls,

Waking hoarse murmurs o’er the polished stones,

And with its bubblings slakes the thirsty fields?

Or why of him, who lest the heavy ears

O’erweigh the stalk, while yet in tender blade

Feeds down the crop’s luxuriance, when its growth

First tops the furrows? Why of him who drains

The marsh-land’s gathered ooze through soaking sand,

Chiefly what time in treacherous moons a stream

Goes out in spate, and with its coat of slime

Holds all the country, whence the hollow dykes

Sweat steaming vapour?

But no whit the more

For all expedients tried and travail borne

By man and beast in turning oft the soil,

Do greedy goose and Strymon-haunting cranes

And succory’s bitter fibres cease to harm,

Or shade not injure. The great Sire himself

No easy road to husbandry assigned,

And first was he by human skill to rouse

The slumbering glebe, whetting the minds of men

With care on care, nor suffering realm of his

In drowsy sloth to stagnate. Before Jove

Fields knew no taming hand of husbandmen;

To mark the plain or mete with boundary-line-

Even this was impious; for the common stock

They gathered, and the earth of her own will

All things more freely, no man bidding, bore.

He to black serpents gave their venom-bane,

And bade the wolf go prowl, and ocean toss;

Shook from the leaves their honey, put fire away,

And curbed the random rivers running wine,

That use by gradual dint of thought on thought

Might forge the various arts, with furrow’s help

The corn-blade win, and strike out hidden fire

From the flint’s heart. Then first the streams were ware

Of hollowed alder-hulls: the sailor then

Their names and numbers gave to star and star,

Pleiads and Hyads, and Lycaon’s child

Bright Arctos; how with nooses then was found

To catch wild beasts, and cozen them with lime,

And hem with hounds the mighty forest-glades.

Soon one with hand-net scourges the broad stream,

Probing its depths, one drags his dripping toils

Along the main; then iron’s unbending might,

And shrieking saw-blade,- for the men of old

With wedges wont to cleave the splintering log;-

Then divers arts arose; toil conquered all,

Remorseless toil, and poverty’s shrewd push

In times of hardship. Ceres was the first

Set mortals on with tools to turn the sod,

When now the awful groves ‘gan fail to bear

Acorns and arbutes, and her wonted food

Dodona gave no more. Soon, too, the corn

Gat sorrow’s increase, that an evil blight

Ate up the stalks, and thistle reared his spines

An idler in the fields; the crops die down;

Upsprings instead a shaggy growth of burrs

And caltrops; and amid the corn-fields trim

Unfruitful darnel and wild oats have sway.

Wherefore, unless thou shalt with ceaseless rake

The weeds pursue, with shouting scare the birds,

Prune with thy hook the dark field’s matted shade,

Pray down the showers, all vainly thou shalt eye,

Alack! thy neighbour’s heaped-up harvest-mow,

And in the greenwood from a shaken oak

Seek solace for thine hunger.

Now to tell

The sturdy rustics’ weapons, what they are,

Without which, neither can be sown nor reared

The fruits of harvest; first the bent plough’s share

And heavy timber, and slow-lumbering wains

Of the Eleusinian mother, threshing-sleighs

And drags, and harrows with their crushing weight;

Then the cheap wicker-ware of Celeus old,

Hurdles of arbute, and thy mystic fan,

Iacchus; which, full tale, long ere the time

Thou must with heed lay by, if thee await

Not all unearned the country’s crown divine.

While yet within the woods, the elm is tamed

And bowed with mighty force to form the stock,

And take the plough’s curved shape, then nigh the root

A pole eight feet projecting, earth-boards twain,

And share-beam with its double back they fix.

For yoke is early hewn a linden light,

And a tall beech for handle, from behind

To turn the car at lowest: then o’er the hearth

The wood they hang till the smoke knows it well.

Many the precepts of the men of old

I can recount thee, so thou start not back,

And such slight cares to learn not weary thee.

And this among the first: thy threshing-floor

With ponderous roller must be levelled smooth,

And wrought by hand, and fixed with binding chalk,

Lest weeds arise, or dust a passage win

Splitting the surface, then a thousand plagues

Make sport of it: oft builds the tiny mouse

Her home, and plants her granary, underground,

Or burrow for their bed the purblind moles,

Or toad is found in hollows, and all the swarm

Of earth’s unsightly creatures; or a huge

Corn-heap the weevil plunders, and the ant,

Fearful of coming age and penury.

Mark too, what time the walnut in the woods

With ample bloom shall clothe her, and bow down

Her odorous branches, if the fruit prevail,

Like store of grain will follow, and there shall come

A mighty winnowing-time with mighty heat;

But if the shade with wealth of leaves abound,

Vainly your threshing-floor will bruise the stalks

Rich but in chaff. Many myself have seen

Steep, as they sow, their pulse-seeds, drenching them

With nitre and black oil-lees, that the fruit

Might swell within the treacherous pods, and they

Make speed to boil at howso small a fire.

Yet, culled with caution, proved with patient toil,

These have I seen degenerate, did not man

Put forth his hand with power, and year by year

Choose out the largest. So, by fate impelled,

Speed all things to the worse, and backward borne

Glide from us; even as who with struggling oars

Up stream scarce pulls a shallop, if he chance

His arms to slacken, lo! with headlong force

The current sweeps him down the hurrying tide.

Us too behoves Arcturus’ sign observe,

And the Kids’ seasons and the shining Snake,

No less than those who o’er the windy main

Borne homeward tempt the Pontic, and the jaws