An Experiment In Translation

by Alfred Austin

Alfred Austin

Blest husbandmen! if they but knew their bliss!
For whom, from war remote, fair-minded Earth
Teems, to light toil, with ready sustenance.
What though from splendid palace streams at dawn
No servile train, gaping at inlaid gates,
Corinthian bronzes, garments tricked with gold;
What though for them no snow-white wool be stained
By Eastern dyes, nor oil be smeared with nard,
Secure tranquillity is theirs, a life
Of rural wealth, from galling failure free,
Of ample leisure amid broad domains,
Cool grots, and shimmering pools, and shady groves,
Lowing of kine, and, after woodland chase,
Delight of slumber under noonday boughs:
Hard-working hinds to homely fare inured,
Fear of the Gods, and reverence for age.
Justice, deserting Earth, forsook them last.
For me, enamoured of the darling Muse,
Whose badge I bear, may she to me reveal
The secret of the stars, the sun's eclipse,
Moon's endless labour, earthquake, storm, and calm,
Why winter suns subside into the sea
So soon, and summer twilights stay so long.
But if not mine the native fire and force
To find my way to Nature's very heart,
Leave me green vales and irrigating rills,
And soothe my lack of fame with woods and streams.
Where are the braes and burns of Thessaly,
And Spartan maidens wantoning in the woods!
O who will hence now wizard me away
To Haemus' dewy dingles, and with dense
Umbrageous branches curtain my retreat!
Thrice blest indeed is he that apprehends
The root and real significance of things,
Who tramples under foot both fear and fate,
Nor dreads the roar of Acheron's yawning surge.
Nor happy less, who knows the rustic gods,
Pan, old Sylvanus, and the sister nymphs.
To menace of the mob or regal frown,
To Dacian hosts and fratricidal strife,
Future of Rome, and perishable realms,
Insensible alike, his heart is spared
Pain for the poor and envy of the rich.
His wealth the harvest trunk and furrow yield,
Nothing he recks of edicts cast in bronze,
News of the hour, or Senate's wrangling strife.
Some scour the seas in search of war, and storm
The gates of Kings, put cities to the sword,
To drain gemmed goblets, snore in Tyrian sheets;
Some gloat upon their golden hoards, while some
Are dazed by sounding rhetoric or befooled
By cheers repeated from patrician lips
And plebs alike; exult in brother's blood;
Or in sheer lust of exile quit their home
To seek a roof beneath some other sky.
With his curved share the wise swain stirs the soil,
Source of his constant care, and sustenance
Of country, kin, sleek kine, and generous steers.
Respite is none; for still the season teems
With fruits, or lambing flocks; or mellow sheaves
Crest the long furrows, and restock the barns.
Then Winter comes; the olives must be pressed,
The hogs grunt homeward gorged with mast; the grove
Yields arbutus, the Autumn peach and pear,
And the grapes ripen on the warm dry soil.
Meanwhile his children clamber to be kissed,
His honour lives unstained, the foaming pail
Brims with abounding milk, and on the sward
Young kids do mimic battle with their horns.
'Tis he that leads the Feast; and when his folk
Have lit the altar-fire and wreathed the cup,
Thee, Bacchus, with libation he invokes, and then
Tests at the target his head-shepherds' skill,
Or bids them strip and wrestle for the prize.
Such was the life the Sabines led of old,
Such Remus and his twin; and thus it was
Etruria throve; thus seven-hilled Rome became
One with itself, the glory of the world.
Such, too, ere yet unnatural Minos reigned,
And impious mortals banqueted on flesh,
The simple manners of the Golden Age.

Last updated January 14, 2019