on 22 September 2010
A poem about nature and farming? Are you kidding me? I still remember the pain and blood shed reading Blake. I was only going to read Georgics because it's said to be a classic. And what a silly bugger I am! It is about farming all right and all four books of it (the last book is more about bees) but I tell you I never read verse more racy. The pace is relentless. I'm not even sure I was this excited reading Pushkin. Georgics is not about rolling hills or the soft change of the seasons or lazy days in the fields. After Virgil pays homage to the gods and Caesar Augustus, he launches into bulls and gushing streams, wooded fields and fiery horses, easterly winds and the blazing sun, and olive trees and trees and crops of every kind. Just what you'd expect? But the beauty is in the telling! His description of nature is fantastic to read. I never knew farming could be this exciting. Thankfully there is none of the forced rhymes that make most poetry sound stilted. In fact there are no rhymes really yet this reading this is like singing a song steeped in tradition and culture and well-being. Magnificent.
Peter Fallon has done a brilliant job of translating what is probably Virgil's least read poetry into something accurate, accessible, lively (in the appropriate places) and even beautiful in parts (the Orpheus and Eurydice episode from Georgics 4).
Situated chronologically between the pastoral Eclogues and the epic Aeneid, these are poems about the land and farming - sometimes allegorical (the bees), sometimes little more than an agricultural manual.
Many other translations have rendered the verse dull (Penguin), even close to unreadable (Loeb), but Fallon has regenerated the text in an inspired fashion.
The introduction is a little slight, and the biography perhaps abbreviated with nothing later than 2002, thus ignoring the last 11 years of scholarship on the text - but there's a large enough literature for this to be no more than a minor niggle.
If you're unfamiliar with Virgil or Latin poetry more generally, this certainly isn't the place to start - but anyone who's been struggling to find a decent translation either for teaching or for general reading should look no further.