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This review is taken from PN Review 28, Volume 9 Number 2, November - December 1982.

AIRY SHADE Virgil, The Georgics, tr. Robert Wells (Carcanet) £5.95

The Georgics may not really be the best poem of the best poet, but they certainly give great pleasure, and their influence in English has been fertile in many pleasures. It is interesting that such deeply pleasurable and mysteriously nourishing poems should also be the most fully reasoned. Virgil is obviously and continually thinking through his theories of poetry from beginning to end of The Georgics. Robert Wells has caught that precisely, as he has caught other things. Readers of The Winter's Task know Wells already for the crisp and cool sensuous quality of his verse, and for its lucidity. Maybe he is the ideal poet to attempt this mighty task, being a poet with a thorough knowledge of Latin and a personal experience of the subject of these poems. The result is dazzling. It is one of the best of all modern translations of Latin poetry.

The 1940 version by C. Day Lewis has rather yellowed with age, like the wartime paper it was printed on. Its tone is what one remembers; it is not without merit, but I have discovered that in any detailed comparison Wells would look so much better that producing them together would be to mock Day Lewis, which I have no wish to do. Where the new version is best is where Virgil is best, in those strange episodes which occur in all his works and suggest a quite different kind of genius, Ovid's master and Dante's guide and maybe Botticelli's ...


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