David Hadbawnik translating Virgil

The Golden Age – “dystranslations” of some of Virgil’s Eclogues
A Pastoral

Wrong from the start.
You’ve let your vines go
to fuzz and that babe
Alexis don’t give a damn
about you now,
Corydon. What you need
is to put your lips
to this pipe, relax,
don’t try so hard, let
nature take its course.
I’ll bind laurel to myrtle
in a pleasant zone
and work in some
blueberry, honor
the quince             chestnuts
       and even the
            humble plum.
Everything goes
according to plan
chases what they most
want.   The junkie
his dope, the sex-fiend
pussy or cock, and
I, you know,
chase you.

The Golden Age

They spun such high-grade bullshit
the very meadows got drunk
            on it—
            a lie
perpetuated by Apollo
who comes now
in the form of a
leather-clad little
            rent boy
looking to score,
sticking his nose
where it doesn’t
heralding a new goddamned
            golden age.
An age of laughter
that hides a sneer,
an age of blunted wit
and apathetic jesters
whose jokes conceal
the most brutal
political instruments
ever fashioned—
            Shut up!
cries the poem
take a hit of this
            don’t worry
            and hurry
hurry, slow down…

Go, little boy
the goddess awaits you
in her bed, the god
smiles at you from
the trainer’s table, the odor
of honeydew wafts from the meadow
            for you, for you
all of creation is
zonked out on the smell
of chrysanthemums
it’s your moment — the whistle
            has blown
the puck’s been dropped
the first pitch thrown
and the orb floats end
over end from the
opening kickoff—
so what if Empire
sneaks in amidst whiffs
of popcorn and bodies
explode into each other
all over the field—
who cares Endless War
whittles a hole in our pockets
through which a second Ulysses
arrives, waving in Greeks
and the Death they bring?
We’ll take solace in the crack
of the bat, the sweet one-timer
from the top of the face-off circle,
the rainbow from beyond
            the arc—
you’re Fate’s number-one
draft pick, the whole world’s
been tanking for you—
            go, go
if I could open my mouth wide enough
no two-bit Pan or Apollo could
withstand the song I’d sing

The Singing Contest

I was kicking back with my flock
when I caught sight of Daphnis
loitering under a big tree with
a couple other shepherds
sharing around hits off
a pipe, laughing and passing
a bottle back and forth.
They tossed an empty
into the woods and it whizzed
past my head – “Hey”
Daphnis said, “is that you,
Get your ass over here, mister.
It’s such a nice day, everything
is so utterly copacetic, your goats
and lambs and whatnot will
take care of themselves.
Don’t be so uptight. It’s
            all good.”
And Daphnis and the others
broke into a giggling fit
so that I had no choice
but to leave off work
and go chill with them.
Why the fuck not?
I wasn’t getting paid, not
really. Beside, I knew
the other two guys
famous poets throughout the valley
were about to throw down.

ex illo Corydon Corydon est tempore nobis

So they get high
            swap songs      huge logs
of dope crackling in flame
making the doorway
            black with smoke
but                   do these potheads
really think the rivers care
whether they grace them
with words or the weeds
tremble at their approach
or that poetry gives a shit
about their sharp wit
and language games?
The meadow is made
            of words
words come out when you
knock off a branch of a tree
but poetry’s made of
            slipperier stuff—
elusive as bong vapor
and tangy as last night’s
or whatever sated one’s
            at 3am—
you could almost say
poetry’s pure
the guns and the lone fool
standing in front of the guns
and all the soldiers
and people watching
and the laurels and honey
and bees buzzing
around them too


incipe Maenalias mecum, mea tibia, versus

Fading out
like a ‘like’
on Facebook
or that dot       dot       dot
when you’re waiting
for a text message
to materialize
            my life, my love for Nysa
she threw herself at another
spurning my bald head
and thick beard, my gruff
way of talking and the hunger
that burned in my eyes
            my life, my love for Nysa
now cops run from
black kids, politicians
talk in simple
declarative sentences
and gods become plain
janes and ordinary joes
nothing goes, even this song
comes off like a bad hit of acid
            my life, my love for Nysa
so Fuck it,
I’m quits
let life graffiti over me
whatever I’ve etched
let it go the way
of a wayward click
on a dead link
that makes everything

A Gathering

the first shepherd was like
and the second shepherd
was like
and the third shepherd
was all
but what
is the enemy
should we name it
naahhh says one
another says
            nahhhhh & naahhhhh
            the third          follow
the bouncing
            puck                pluck
these                strings
but how
            will we
            know what’s
            one shepherd
            they all go
uh oh
            uh oh
                        uh oh


parcite, ab urbe venit, iam parcite carmina, Daphnis

Dude – I scored this herb
off Moeris, biggest dealer
in all these parts—
it’s sweet and sticky
as sex. Many times
I’ve watched that guy
conjure faeries and elves
in the woods and lead them
in a little dance; other times
he changes into a werewolf
and goes leaping wild
in the moonlight—
I’m not kidding!
            Toke up!
Let the trail of smoke
lead Daphnis back
to me, spread it around
like magic and shit, like
snow falling on rooftops
in April, like
            melting snow.
            These buds
are magic, they burn
without touching them—
I was about to flick
my Bic but I didn’t
even need to. The dogs
of lust are barking
just outside the door
like whacked-out teens
on their phones.
It must be a sign.

Daphnis is coming.


“My love’s run off with a beat cop”
goes the cry
from Gallus and everyone
gathers round to listen
even the bees fervently
“like” his status
Apollo himself “shares” it
with a pithy comment
or two
the lament spreads and all the shepherds
condemn Licorice
as a dumb hag while
demanding to know the name
of this fucking cop
who probably beats her
and even worse
hates poetry–
only Pan chimes in
with a rude remark:
“Do you think Love
gives a shit for your whining
any more than hills are moved
by music or winter chill cares
for your sable coat?
Fuck you, Gallus.”
And Gallus replies
“Fuck you”
and the whole thing devolves
into a flame war with nymphs
and naiads weighing in
and in the midst of it
a voice whispers plaintive
but rough
as wind snapping on
plastic bags caught
in winter branches–
or the sound of dry reeds
when a small bird
takes off causing them all
to shake

“Do you think Love gives a shit…”
becomes a meme
that haunts Gallus across
various platforms
shepherds post sexy pics
of Licorice
on Instagram to taunt
him, even
is no safe place
secretly he loves it
misery is the fuel
that stokes poetry
so Gallus curses
poetry’s ineffectual
tropes and hunts for
some new mode of
lament, snapping pathetic
selfies on bridges
with the whole city burning
behind him
all a-riot with Love.
Never mind Licorice
never mind the many
flavors of yogurt
they once enjoyed
pomegranate and pistachio
and banana split–
all of it
fodder for some poignant
bit of narrative
a warp in the weave
a woman’s body
only a footnote
a rubbed-out mark
on a dry-erase board
a rough draft
for some new

Translator's Note

This work of engagement with Virgil’s Eclogues commenced in April 2015 as, having just completed a translation of books 1-6 of the Aeneid, I sought to challenge and extend my relationship to Virgil’s poetry. I had begun translating Virgil among many other classical and medieval poets and writers simply as homework during my Latin studies in graduate school. I was initially drawn to the undeniable symmetry – and clarity – of Virgil’s lines, as well as his expert sense of pacing, which propels the action over the course of a long poem. I know the conventional idea is that Virgil is the poet of “Empire,” an apologist if not propagandist for the project of dismantling the Republic, while Ovid is the upstart who thumbs his nose at Augustus and pays the price with exile. And it’s not that I don’t love Ovid, but the more I read of Virgil, the more I felt there was to the story. What does it look like to stand alongside Empire and survive, even thrive, keeping one’s mouth shut, perhaps, but perhaps also weaving in subtle critiques and rebellious threads for future generations to follow? That was the sense I had. Since the main subject of my academic study is Geoffrey Chaucer, another poet who managed to ride out a dicey political situation (albeit from much further out on the margin of things), Virgil resonated with me there, too.

As opposed to the more meticulous, line-by-line translation process that I made use of for Aeneid, carefully working out the Latin in notebooks and making sure of each and every word in order to fully explore the possibilities, for this project I chose to attempt quicker, looser takes on the text. Thus I quickly read the Latin, made some notes, and allowed myself considerably more freedom in proceeding with the poems. This led to not only creative translations of existing eclogues, but also to whole new eclogues or eclogue fragments, some of which are included here. As I discussed in a conversation in the journal Lana Turner about the Aeneid project, there’s a real sense of freedom in working with “classic,” canonical texts; they’ve been translated so many times over so many ages that, rather than feeling intimidated by all those versions, one should feel free to explore and move in adventurous directions. Certainly, in that sense, I’ve been inspired by poets like Jack Spicer and Anne Carson and Thomas Meyer, who have all treated the ground of older texts as full of creative potential. Thus, the deeper I got with Aeneid, the more willing I found myself to stray from the “straight path” of literal translation, and that led to resonances with current events and language that felt more personal and immediate. The work on the Eclogues seemed like the next step in that direction.

In part, by turning to the Eclogues, I was inspired by the long tradition of pastoral engagement in English verse, most notably with a poet such as Spenser, who drew on Roman and Greek models for his Shepheardes Calender. The pastoral “scene” that Virgil inherited from the Greeks and arguably perfected and politicized involves, at its most basic level, two or more shepherds talking. But of course it’s so much more than that. There is the feeling of a “better world,” or “Golden Age” just beyond the horizon of the previous generation, a world that enjoys the unsullied spoils of the countryside, where shepherds live a life of leisure and companionship far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. And this world is imagined as a paradise or birthplace of poetry, as shepherd-poets engage in “singing contests” (which almost always end in a tie) and inspire the very landscape to applaud their efforts. By the time of early modern poets like Spenser and Sidney, the pastoral world and its conventions had become a kind of safe space in which to experiment (with poetic form, language, gender, etc.) and from which to offer critiques (of the church, political issues, and so on). With that spirit of experimentation in mind, I felt warranted in my approach to the Eclogues, and hoped that it would be a jumping-off point for further explorations in Virgil and beyond.

David Hadbawnik

David Hadbawnik is a poet, translator, and medieval scholar. His Aeneid Books 1-6 was published by Shearsman Books in 2015. In 2012, he edited Thomas Meyer’s Beowulf (Punctum Books), and in 2011 he co-edited selections from Jack Spicer’s Beowulf for CUNY’s Lost and Found Document Series. He is the editor and publisher of Habenicht Press and the journal kadar koli, and a co-editor of eth press, which focuses on creative interactions with medieval texts. Recent poems and translations have appeared in Blackbox Manifold and seedings. Blog: habenichtpress.com

Publius Vergilius Maro

Publius Vergilius Maro, known to us as Virgil (70 B.C.-19 B.C.), is best remembered for his masterpiece, the Aeneid, in which he represented the Emperor Augustus as a descendant of the half-divine Aeneas, a refugee from the fall of Troy and legendary founder of Rome. Virgil’s other works include the Eclogues and the Georgics, also considered masterpieces.