This poem is taken from PN Review 180, Volume 34 Number 4, March - April 2008.Two Eclogues (translated by Len Krisak)
The Eclogues of Publius Virgilius Maro (70-19 BC; friend of Horace and client - if not confidant - of Maecenas and the emperor Augustus), adopt the conventions of the third-century BC Greek poet Theocritus, who in his Idylls creates a pastoral world of artifice and elegance, where shepherds are musically sophisticated and marvellously learned.
The Eclogues, laced with specific verbal echoes of this pastoral tradition, can be said to have passed on the favour, since it would be hard to imagine 'Lycidas' without Virgil, and the doves in Tennyson's 'Princess' would probably never have moaned 'in immemorial elms' without the First Eclogue's nec gemere aeria cessabit turtur ab ulmo.
These poems, composed between 42 and 37 BC, represent Virgil's first great work - a cultural redaction, in dactylic hexameters and occasionally archaic diction, of the Theocritean aesthetic of difficulty and polish. But in his re-invention of the style and stage machinery of this poetic world, Virgil deepens its significance with social and political poignancy. The poems are valued for their plangent note of loss and dislocation, as when, for example, Augustus's de-mobbed soldiers are awarded the small-holdings of the poems' poet-shepherds and farmers.
In Eclogue VI, Silenus the satyr has much to 'quote' from Apollonian poetry, and in Eclogue IX, what should be a pleasant singing contest, teasingly put off, is introduced with almost bitter commentary.
The translation is in iambic hexameters.
She never blushed at woodland living - not my Muse -
For Thalia first approved of verse from Syracuse.
But when I sang of royal broils, the Cynthian tugged
My ear and counselled: 'Tityrus, a shepherd ought
To feed sheep fat, but sing a song that's spun out thin.' 5
Varus, there'll always be a superfluity
Singing your praises, writing frightening martial lays.
So I will court the country Muse on slender reed,
Singing as ordered. But if anyone should heed
These lines, and captivated, love them, all our groves 10
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