English Literature » Virgil » Eclogue IX

Eclogue IX by


Where are you heading, Moeris? To town, where the path leads?


O Lycidas, we’ve lived to see the time when a stranger,

owner of our land, could say (as we never thought could happen):

‘These lands are mine: you old tenants move on.’

Now sad and defeated, since chance overturns all,

we send him these kids (may no good come of it).


Surely I’d heard that your Menalcas, with his songs,

had rescued all your land, from where the hills end,

where they descend, in a gentle slope, to the water

and to the ancient beeches, with shattered tops?


You heard it, and that was the tale: but our songs

are as much use, Lycidas, among the clash of weapons,

as they say the Chaonian doves are when the eagle’s near.

So that if a raven hadn’t warned me from a hollow oak

on the left hand side, to cut short the dispute somehow,

neither Menalcas himself, nor your Moeris, here, would be alive.


Ah, can such evil happen to anyone? Ah, was our solace in you

nearly torn from us, along with yourself, Menalcas?

Who would sing the Nymphs? Who’d sprinkle the ground

with flowering herbs or clothe the springs with green shade?

And what of those songs of yours I secretly heard the other day,

when you were celebrating Amarayllis, our delight?

‘Tityrus feed my goats till I return (the road is short),

and drive them to the water when they’ve grazed, and Tityrus,

mind not to get in the he-goat’s way (he butts with his horn).’


Yes, and those he’s not yet perfected he sang to Varus:

‘Varus, singing swans will bear your name to the stars

above us, if only Mantua is left to us,

Mantua, alas, too near to wretched Cremona.’


If you have anything to sing, begin: as you would have

your bees flee Corsican yews, and your cows browse clover,

and swell their udders. The Muses have made me a poet too,

and I too have songs: the shepherds call me also

a singer: but I don’t put any trust in them.

Since, as yet, I don’t think my singing worthy of Varius

or Cinna, but cackle like a goose among melodious swans.


That’s what I’m doing, Lycidas, discussing it silently with myself

to see if I’m able to recall it: it’s no mean song.

‘O Galatea, come: what fun can there be in the waves?

Here is rosy spring, here, by the streams, earth scatters

her varied flowers: here the white poplar leans above the cave,

and the clinging vines weave shadowy arbours:

Come: let the wild waves strike the shores.’


And what of your singing alone, I heard, in the clear night?

I remember the tune, if I can recall the words.

‘Daphnis, why are you watching the ancient star signs rising?

See Caesar’s comet, born of Dione, has mounted,

that star by which the fields ripen with wheat,

and the grape deepens its colour on the sunny hills. Graft

your pears, Daphnis: your grandchildren will gather their fruit.’


Time takes away all things, memory too: often,

as a boy, I remember spending long days singing:

now all my songs are forgotten: even my voice itself

fails Moeris: the wolves see Moeris first.

But Menalcas will repeat your songs often enough to you.


You deflect my passion with endless excuses.

And now the calm waters are silent, and see,

every whisper of murmuring wind has died.

Half our journey lies beyond: since Bianor’s tomb

is coming in sight: here where the labourers

are lopping the dense branches, here, Moeris, let’s sing:

Set the kids down here, we’ll still reach the town.

Or if we’re afraid that night will bring rain before,

we might go along singing (the road will be less tedious):

I’ll carry your burden, so we can go on singing.


No more, boy, and press on with the work in hand:

then we’ll sing our songs the better when he comes.

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