As I don’t read Latin, this can’t be called a true translation, but I thought I would take David Ferry’s English translation and convert it into a stricter blank verse. Unencumbered by the original, I allowed myself plenty of liberties, removing some material and adding other material, so this should really not be taken as anything other than an original English poem, though the majority of it derives fairly directly from Virgil’s poem.
The poem is a dialogue between Menalcas and Mopsus. The speaker is indicated to the left of the text.
Join me in music, Mopsus, in this grove
of elm and hazel. Take your shepherd’s pipe,
and I shall rouse my golden voice to sing.
Menalcas, as my elder you must choose
the place: beneath these trees, in shadows fingered
by the winds, or else this vine-girt cave.
Our hills know but Amyntas as your rival.
What? Would he outsing Apollo, too?
Sing first, Mopsus, a song in praise of Phyllis,
your love, or Alcon, or in mocking praise
of Codrus. Let Tityrus tend the flock.
I’ll try instead the lines that yesterday
I carved in beech, incising both the words
and music. Watch, Amyntas! Amyntas, hear!
As willow bows before the olive, and
as nard gives way to rose, Amyntas yields.
Begin – for we have reached our theater.
The hazels, old, and rivers, older, keep
the memory of Daphnis. They watched as Nymphs
wept over him, recorded as his mother
in grief loosed heresies against the gods,
against the stars. Nobody then drove cattle
down to the brooks, nor did the beasts consent
to drink. Even in Africa, the lions
were scorched with sorrow, parched by double suns.
Daphnis it was who yoked the tigers, made
them carry Bacchus’ chariot. And Daphnis
led the Bacchic dance, and Daphnis bound
leaves of the vine with fennel – thus he made
the thyrsus. As the vine glories the tree
that holds it, as the grape glories the vine,
the bull the herd, the corn the soil, so, Daphnis,
you are the glory of the rest of us.
The Fates, in stealing you, stole more: Apollo
has left our fields, and Pales, too. In furrows
we had filled with hopes now tares and darnel
and sterile oat-grass grow. Purple narcissus
is selfless now; it gives its place to thistles,
calls bristling thistles the greater beauty. Shepherds,
perplex the ground with flowers, shade the springs
with light-denying trees. So Daphnis would
have liked. Then carve this for his epitaph:
‘The woods knew Daphnis, stars envy the woods;
Lovely the flock, still lovelier the shepherd.’
As sleep is soothing to the weary, as
the brook quenches the summer’s thirst, your song
relieves my soul of lethargy, and proves
you worthy of your master. My turn now
to raise up Daphnis to the stars. I knew
the love of Daphnis well, while he yet lived.
I, having heard the praise that Stimichon
has lavished on your singing, am now restless
to taste of it myself. Begin your song.
Aware that Daphnis must by now have reached
Olympus’ threshold, must see clouds and stars
beneath his feet, so woods and shepherds fill
with joy, and know tranquility. No wolves
beset the sheep, no traps the deer, for Daphnis
loved peace. Wild mountains shout their joy to heaven,
while groves and rocky places sing together,
‘He is a god, Menalcas!’ Daphnis, look,
I give you reason to remember us
with love. Here are two altars for Apollo,
two for Daphnis. Yearly I will bring
fresh milk, rich olive oil, and best of all –
whether in winter’s fire-fleeing cold
or in autumnal shade – I will bring wine.
Then Aegon and Damoetas will sing songs
and satyrs will possess Alphesiboeus
to dance. So will it be for ever more,
that when we bless the nymphs as when we bless
the fields, so shall we bless heroic Daphnis.
So long as boars adore the mountain’s ridges,
so long as fish delight in flowing rivers,
so long as bees shall harvest the thyme fields,
cicadas gather morning dew, this long
will Daphnis’ glory last. Each year, as farmers
each year make binding vows to Bacchus and
to Ceres, we will bind ourselves to you.
For such a song, what payment? The first sounds
of the South Wind as spring begins, the sounds
of waves breaking upon the beach, the sounds
of mountain waters flowing over stones –
these sounds are struck with envy by your song.
None needed. Take this hemlock pipe, the one
I used to play ‘Corydon loved the fair
Alexis’ and ‘Whose flock is this before me?’
Here is a shepherd’s staff. Antigenes
oft asked me for it, oft he was refused,
though he deserved my love. The knots are spaced
at even intervals, the rings are brass.