16 September 2011

Virgil via Kimberly Johnson

[from Virgil's The Georgics: A Poem of the Land, tr. Kimberly Johnson, Penguin, 2009]

Book One [excerpt]

For this the golden sun maintains its orbit
marked through the zodiacal twelve in marches fixed.
Five zones comprise the firmament, of which one ever blushes
under the flaring sun, ever scorched by its fire.
Around this at the poles to right and left stretch
bleak zones, ice-crusted and dark with storms.
Between the ice and middle fire, two zones to frail humanity
by grace of God are granted. A path cuts through them both
on which oblique the ranks of constellations spin.
As the earth surges steeply up to Scythia
and the Rhipean crags, so it sinks sloping to Libya's south.
The zenith ever vaults above us, the nadir
underfoot glowers at inky Styx and shades infernal.
Vast with sinuous coils here glides the Serpent,
weaving like a river round and through the Bears –
two Bears that fear to plunge the ocean's plane.
There, they say, may lurk dank night
and the shadows ever clotting under night's shroud . . .
or else Dawn removes from us, returns their day
and when sunrise with his panting team first breathes
on us, there ruddy Vesper kindles the late hour's lights.
So we can forecast weather though the sky
equivocate, so know the harvest-day, the time to sow,
when to smack with oars the sea's treacherous slate
and when to launch the bristling fleet
or in the woods to topple the ready pine.
Not in vain do we observe the rise and set of signs
and the year, orderly in its four dissimilar seasons.

Liber I [excerpt]

Idcirco certis dimensum partibus orbem
per duodena regit mundi sol aureus astra.
quinque tenent caelum zonae; quarum una corusco
semper sole rubens et torrida semper ab igni;
quam circum extremae dextra laevaque trahuntur
caeruleae, glacie concretae atque imbribus atris;
has inter mediamque duae mortalibus aegris
munere concessae divum, et via secta per ambas,
obliquus qua se signorum verteret ordo.
mundus ut ad Scythiam Rhipaeasque arduus arces
consurgit, premitur Libyae devexus in Austros.
hic vertex nobis semper sublimis; at illum
sub pedibus Styx atra videt Manesque profundi.
maximus hic flexu sinuoso elabitur Anguis
circum perque duas in morem fluminis Arctos,
Arctos Oceani metuentis aequore tingui.
illic, ut perhibent, aut intempesta silet nox,
semper et obtenta densentur nocte tenebrae;
aut redit a nobis Aurora diemque reducit,
nosque ubi primus equis Oriens adflavit anhelis,
illic sera rubens accendit lumina Vesper.
hinc tempestates dubio praediscere caelo 
possumus, hinc messisque diem tempusque serendi,
et quando infidum remis impellere marmor
conveniat, quando armatas deducere classis,
aut tempestivam silvis evertere pinum.
nec frustra signorum obitus speculamur et ortus,
temporibusque parem diversis quattuor annum.

Kimberly Johnson