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Virgil — Signs of Rain and of Fair Weather

Georgics, book 1, lines 373–423

The trouble that rain brings is never unannounced.
Either the cranes, high flyers normally,
are chased into the valley bottoms by the coming storm;
or else the heifer looks up to the sky
and flares her nostrils as she sniffs the wind;
or cheeping swallows circle round the ponds
while in the mud the frogs revive their old complaint.

Often, too, the ant brings out her eggs from shelter underground,
wearing a narrow pathway as she goes;
above, a giant rainbow stoops to drink;
and from their feeding grounds, in cawing multitudes,
great flocks of rooks take wing.

All kinds of seabirds come to forage in fresh water
in the river Cayster’s standing pools. Watch them outdo each other
in their splashing game; big drops run down their backs.
They duck their heads, or rush into the water,
eagerly delighting in their ineffective bath.

On dry sea sand, the raven, bird of evil omen,
struts alone, his harsh call summoning the rain.

Even at night, girls working late at spinning wheels
are quick to spot the oil that sputters in their lamp
and lumps of mouldy fungus forming round the wick.

Equally, from the storm itself you can foresee
the sun’s return, and newly opened skies;
the certain signs are there.
The stars are seen to shine with piercing brightness
and the rising moon owes nothing to her brother’s light;
no wispy clouds are borne across the sky.

It is too early yet for kingfishers
— those birds the sea nymph Thetis loved —
to spread their wings along the shore to catch the warming sun;
the muddy pigs have not yet thought
to break up with their snouts their bales of straw
and toss them in the air.
But mists drift down into the valleys, settling on the plain,
and from his lofty perch the owl observes the sunset;
though none hears, he practises his twilit song.

The hawk appears high up in the unclouded sky;
he punishes the lark who stole his lock of purple hair.
Wherever she takes flight
on wings which cleave the lightness of the upper air,
look how her cruel, ruthless enemy pursues her;
hear the sound of his great whirring wings.
He mounts; she swiftly flees, and once again
her wings cut through the sparse expanses of the sky.

The rooks repeat their liquid, muted call, three or four times now,
and often in their airy nests,
joyful at some mysterious admission of delight,
they chatter each to each among the leaves.
They’re glad, now that the rain has stopped,
to see once more their baby offspring and the homes they love.

It’s not, I think, that they have this intelligence from heaven
or that greater foresight in them is a gift of Fate;
but when the weather changes course, when moisture in the air is volatile,
when from the south the rainy wind
condenses that which formerly was rare
and rarefies what formerly was dense,
some aspect of their mind is turned around
and other, different impulses are quickened in their breasts
from those they followed when the wind was driving on the clouds.
That’s why we hear the birds in concert in the field,
the joyful lowing of the cattle, and the rooks’ exultant cries.

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Listen to this translation — read by Peter Hetherington

Virgil — Georgics, book 1, lines 373–423

                Numquam inprudentibus imber
obfuit: aut illum surgentem vallibus imis
aëriae fugere grues, aut bucula caelum
suspiciens patulis captavit naribus auras,
aut arguta lacus circumvolitavit hirundo
et veterem in limo ranae cecinere querelam.
saepius et tectis penetralibus extulit ova
angustum formica terens iter, et bibit ingens
arcus, et e pastu decedens agmine magno
corvorum increpuit densis exercitus alis.
iam variae pelagi volucres et quae Asia circum
dulcibus in stagnis rimantur prata Caystri,
certatim largos umeris infundere rores,
nunc caput obiectare fretis, nunc currere in undas
et studio incassum videas gestire lavandi.
tum cornix plena pluviam vocat improba voce
et sola in sicca secum spatiatur harena.
ne nocturna quidem carpentes pensa puellae
nescivere hiemem, testa cum ardente viderent
scintillare oleum et putris concrescere fungos.

Nec minus ex imbri soles et aperta serena
prospicere et certis poteris cognoscere signis:
nam neque tum stellis acies obtunsa videtur
nec fratris radiis obnoxia surgere Luna,
tenuia nec lanae per caelum vellera ferri;
non tepidum ad solem pinnas in litore pandunt
dilectae Thetidi alcyones, non ore solutos
inmundi meminere sues iactare maniplos.
at nebulae magis ima petunt campoque recumbunt,
solis et occasum servans de culmine summo
nequiquam seros exercet noctua cantus.
apparet liquido sublimis in aëre Nisus
et pro purpureo poenas dat Scylla capillo:
quacumque illa levem fugiens secat aethera pinnis,
ecce inimicus, atrox, magno stridore per auras
insequitur Nisus; qua se fert Nisus ad auras,
illa levem fugiens raptim secat aethera pinnis.
tum liquidas corvi presso ter gutture voces
aut quater ingeminant, et saepe cubilibus altis
nescio qua praeter solitum dulcedine laeti
inter se in foliis strepitant; iuvat imbribus actis
progeniem parvam dulcisque revisere nidos.
haud equidem credo, quia sit divinitus illis
ingenium aut rerum Fato prudentia maior;
verum ubi tempestas et caeli mobilis umor
mutavere vias et Iuppiter uvidus Austris
denset erant quae rara modo, et quae densa relaxat,
vertuntur species animorum, et pectora motus
nunc alios, alios, dum nubila ventus agebat,
concipiunt: hinc ille avium concentus in agris
et laetae pecudes et ovantes gutture corvi.