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Virgil — Choose your Season, Choose your Ground

Georgics, book 1, lines 43–70

When spring is new, when icy water trickles down
from snowy mountains, and the warm west wind
breaks up the crumbling clods, that is the time
my groaning bull should drag the plough deep through the earth
so that the ploughshare glistens as it rubs the furrow.
Only a field which for two years has lain fallow,
under sun and frost, will grant the anxious farmer’s prayer;
it yields the mighty harvests which will burst his barns.

Before your iron cuts into an unfamiliar plain
make sure you’ve studied well
the winds which blow there and the changing humours of the sky,
the nature of the ground,
the ways that men have worked the land before —
what prospers in each district, and what fails.
Corn thrives in this place; there is good for grapes;
elsewhere fruit trees spring up; here grass grows readily, no need to plant.

Surely you know: Mount Tmolus sends us fragrant saffron;
India, her ivory; the epicene Sabaeans, frankincense;
the Chalybes, who labour naked at the forge, supply our iron;
Pontus sends the beaver’s pungent oil;
and Epirus provides victorious mares at our Olympic games.
These laws, these everlasting covenants,
were laid on certain lands by Nature from the earliest times,
from when Deucalion threw stones into an empty world
from which men sprang: a hardy race.

So, where the soil is fertile, let your sturdy oxen
turn it over early, in the year’s first months,
and let the dusty summer bake the fallen clods
in its increasing heat. But if the land is poor,
then you can wait until September,
when Arcturus rises; lightly lift the soil,
leaving a shallow furrow. Otherwise, in rich ground,
weeds may choke the hopeful corn; and, in poor,
the barren sand may lose the meagre moisture that it holds.

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Listen to this translation — read by Peter Hetherington

Virgil — Georgics, book 1, lines 43-70

Vere novo, gelidus canis cum montibus umor
liquitur et Zephyro putris se glaeba resolvit,
depresso incipiat iam tum mihi taurus aratro
ingemere, et sulco attritus splendescere vomer.
illa seges demum votis respondet avari
agricolae, bis quae solem, bis frigora sensit;
illius inmensae ruperunt horrea messes.
ac prius ignotum ferro quam scindimus aequor,
ventos et varium caeli praediscere morem
cura sit ac patrios cultusque habitusque locorum,
et quid quaeque ferat regio et quid quaeque recuset.
hic segetes, illic veniunt felicius uvae,
arborei fetus alibi, atque iniussa virescunt
gramina. nonne vides, croceos ut Tmolus odores,
India mittit ebur, molles sua tura Sabaei,
at Chalybes nudi ferrum, virosaque Pontus
castorea, Eliadum palmas Epiros equarum?
continuo has leges aeternaque foedera certis
inposuit natura locis, quo tempore primum
Deucalion vacuum lapides iactavit in orbem,
unde homines nati, durum genus. ergo age, terrae
pingue solum primis extemplo a mensibus anni
fortes invertant tauri glaebasque iacentis
pulverulenta coquat maturis solibus aestas;
at si non fuerit tellus fecunda, sub ipsum
Arcturum tenui sat erit suspendere sulco:
illic, officiant laetis ne frugibus herbae,
hic, sterilem exiguus ne deserat humor harenam.