trans. Kimberly Johnson


(lines 322-338)

But sure, when at Zephyr's summons bright summer
into clearings and pastures sends sheep and goats,
at first light of the morning star let us take to the cool
meadows, while morning's new, while grasses pale,
while dew upon the tender green most cordial to the flocks.
Then when the fourth hour of the sky has built their thirst
and with plaints the fretful cicadas shatter the woodlands,
beside wells and beside deep pools I'll bid the flocks
to drink the water rushing in oaken gutters,
in midday heat to seek a shady swale,
wherever with its ancient strength the mighty oak of Jove
spreads spacious branches, or wherever dark
with holm-oaks lush the grove lounges in holy shade.
Then offer again the trickling water and graze them again
to sunset, when cool the evening soothes the air
and the moon bedewed refreshes the thickets,
when the frith cries with the kingfisher, the furze with finch.


But let him whose love is for milk fetch to the stalls
lotus and clover by his own hand, and salted feed,
whence they crave streams the more, and more their udders swag,
and in their milk retain a sneaking smack of salt.
Many even keep the kids corralled from their nannies
and from the first with iron muzzles cap their mouths.
What they milk at daybreak or in daylight hours
at night they press, and what at sunset or at night they milk
at first light carry off in baskets (if to town a goatherd go),
or touch it with scant salt and lay it in for winter.


Learn to smudge your stalls with fragrant cedar,
with fennel smoke to rout out noisome watersnakes.
Often beneath unscoured cribs the viper lurks,
death to touch, recoiling from the sun uneasy,
or else an adder—wont to climb into the roof and from its shelter
(bitter plague of oxen) sprinkle venom on the cattle—
hugs the ground. Grab stones in hand, grab cudgels, shepherd,
and as he coils up his threats and puffs out his hissing neck,
clobber him. Now in flight, low he ducks his cowered head
while the twines of his guts and his trailing tail-tip
unwind, and the last coil drags its slow knots.
And then there's that dire serpent in Calabrian dells,
twisting her scaly back with upreared breast
and streaked with big splotches on her long belly,
who—while any streams yet jet from their fountainhead,
while the earth oozes under spring humors or stormy southwinds—
works the turlough, and holing up on shore implacable
she crams her venom-black maw with fish and chattering frogs.
Later when the marshland's parched, when the soil gapes with heat,
she dives onto dry land, and rolling her fiery glare
furies through the fields savage with thirst and panicked by the heat.
O let me not hanker to woo easy sleep
beneath an open sky nor to loll among the grasses along a timbered ridge,
when then, her molt sloughed off, fresh and sleek with youth
she winds, leaving hatchlings or eggs in her nest,
craning toward the sun, and flickering at the mouth with a three-forked tongue.



This translation of The Georgics attempts to reproduce in English the experience of reading the text in Latin. It's Virgil's great unappreciated work (insofar as Virgil is unappreciated). Read the section at the end of Book 3, about the plague, to get the willies.