A Literal Translation of Virgil's Fourth Eclogue


Washingtonian1

      1. "Sicilian" in the original; in the original-original,
      "Sicilides." "Washingtonian" is an upsidedown synecdoche

      (so to speak): a false-toned part
      of a false whole in the service,

      finally, of something a little less false,
      or so I like to think.

[Washingtonian] Muses, let's roll up our sleaze,2

      2. Puns usually announce (denounce) the excess
      of organization in language. This one gestures

      in the opposite direction: it's pretty random.
      It's hard to believe I feel

      compelled to notify people that "Washington
      is sleazy," and certainly there are more

      direct and convincing ways to do that.
      This piece is an inverted pun,

      asserting two very different things are identical.
      Perhaps the desire to be wrong

      is the heart of wanting to write.
      There must be some pleasure there.

                                          [let's roll up our sleaze,]
and invest in the grandest theme

park of them all: the past,
as basic and embodied as Fess Parker's

coonskin cap.3

      3. Do people remember Fess Parker? He played
      Disney's Davy Crockett, America's original libertarian.

                                          [Fess Parker's

coonskin cap.] If a man is wearing
another animal's tail on his head

his emotions aren't to be dismissed,
even if his speech sounds like he'll

never finish chewing Ma's final biscuit
enough to swallow it all the way.4

      4. I find it odd the way
      'subject matter' (sic) creeps into this writing.

      Somehow the couplets commit me to continuity
      –one could hardly call it narrative;

      the areas of most interest (to me
      anyway) seemingly begin as sideways moments.

      I compare the past to Fess Parker's
      coonskin cap: suddenly like the proverbial

      chicken hypnotized by a straight line,
      I find myself focusing on Fess Parker.

               [to swallow it all the way]

Never mind his noises, they're only
one of history's running gags: the back

door may creak at midnight, but meanwhile
the whole house has been repossessed.

The feelings in Fess's script are
as difficult to deflect as a hungry

ghost or loan officer. Let the world
remain imperfect food; let the mossy

stream in back of his Tennessee5

      5. Doesn't Stevens's "Anecdote of the Jar"
      –"I placed a jar in Tennessee, / and

      round it was, upon a hill"–
      anticipate the current Biosphere (the dystopic Eden

      where scientists are spending two years in
      a sealed-off greenhouse)? But "Tennessee" doesn't

      say this, without my overdetermined reading.
      Art, I want to say, saw teeth

      rasping at my branch, is not separate.
      I can hear those Disney basses

      now, those archaic corporate muses, chanting,
      –"Born on a mountaintop in Ten-ne-see . . ."

                                    [let the mossy

stream in back of his Tennessee] cabin
choke in a few decades with

the wastes of a single narrowly
chiseled narrative; let each wine-dark tree hide

its Disney savage in defiance of history's
singularity; but this copyrighted archetypal whiskey-drinking

typo-fighting individual–Fess Parker is only
one of his many names–will remain

centered in time's freshly baked diorama.
Now he squints into the sun, watching

the golf ball he's hit halfway
to Singapore disappear into the cloudless sky

to thunderous applause. There is no need
to be anxious over the path

of the ball or over the fate
of this tableau:6

      6. But of course I am anxious.
      Why else the footnotes? I began one

      poem years back: "Ed Meese is not
      relentless necessity." Soon (or already perhaps)

      I'll have to worry if people know
      the name. Mr. Memory might answer:

      "Ed Meese was District Attorney of Oakland,
      California when Ronald Reagan was governor.

      When Reagan became President, Meese was
      his Attorney General and had a particularly

      partisan sense of duty. He chaired
      the Meese Commission on Pornography." This poem

      is a reaction to the religious right's
      authoritarianism based on transcendent language (the

      bumpersticker puts it: "God said it. I
      believe it. That settles it."), and

      fear of labile pleasure. The poem,
      then, is a place of such pleasure?

      Counting to six and seven as I
      try to clear the ground for

      my desire for pleasure?? (Labile, the man
      said, make mine labile.) Who is

      Mr. Memory? Mr. Memory himself might say:
      "I was a character in Hitchcock's

      The 39 Steps. An idiot savant, I
      could remember phenomenal amounts of data

      and was used as a transmission
      device by German spies before World War

      Two, though without knowing what I was
      doing. (You could call me Ion

      [from the Ion of Plato, where
      the rhapsode, the reciter of the Muses's

      blueprint is ultimately without knowledge, the merest
      conduit]–I feel that I need

      to make these things clear. Otherwise–
      lability. Also, if you'll remember the movie,

      I couldn't help but spew facts
      when asked.) After some decades of writing,

      there comes a point when the contours
      of one's verbal habits cease to

      surprise. Or is it quite the opposite?
      –that a certain doppleganger keeps coming

      back, one's own unowned nameless body,
      in verbs, vocabulary, linebreaks, no pushing it

      away by storms of invention, inventories, concentration,
      'the magic hand of chance,' thinking

      with the words as they appear
      the dictionary's icestorm lying shattered and bright

      in the morning sun you'd think
      the inner dome of heaven had fallen

      –I had to look that up:
      Robert Frost. Who cares! A world without

      a ground of repetition is a world
      without poetry. I, Mr. Memory–remember?

      –died at the end, in cold
      Hitchcockian denouement, too fast to seem quite

      final at first, and the secret
      of the noiseless engine remained hidden inside

      my small fictional body. I never talked
      anything like this, it's only because

      I was asked that I'm forced
      to ride the rails of this answer."

                     [over the fate
of this tableau]: in a few

days (or centuries, it makes no
difference) Fess Parker may be unknown, squeezed

onto a magnetic card of 1950s America
and its actors playing colonial heroes,

his terms as President only remembered
by over- or under-paid specialists, but this

is a prophetic poem, Virgil's 4th eclogue,7

      7. Christian thinkers considered Virgil's 4th eclogue
      (37 B.C.) a prophecy of Christ's birth.

                                    [Virgil's 4th eclogue,]
and the principal attribute of such

canonical utterance is its perpetual freshness.
Time stands still and meaning is everywhere.8

      8. I like it when the couplets
      come out even. (Assuming 13 is even.)

      (But how to imagine a poem touching
      a specific time many centuries later?)

[Time stands still and meaning is everywhere.]

It's shocking but true: I'm translating literally;9

      9. I'd thought about claiming this was
      a literal translation a few hours ago.

      Half-thoughts were flitting about happily in single-winged
      narcissistic swoops in the half-lit belfry:

      I would quote the Latin. Push irony
      to its ecstatic death in lie.

      At tibi prima, puer, nullo munusucula cultu
      errantis hederas passim cum baccare tellus

      which my eye fell upon just now
      by chance would be good because

      of its structure of one seven word
      and one six word line, like

      these couplets. I wanted to say
      that the quoted Latin was a translation,

      a literal one, from the original
      Latin. At one point I half-wanted to

      refer to the original printer's error in
      Canto XIII, which has since been

      corrected without Pound's permission. (When Kenner
      pointed it out to him, he dismissed

      the problem, saying, Repeat in XIII
      sanctioned by time and the author, or

      rather first by the author, who
      never objects to the typesetter making improvements):

      And even I can remember / A day
      when historians left blanks in their

      / writings, I mean for things they
      didn't know, / But that time seems to

      be passing." / I mean for things
      they didn't know, / But that time seems

      to be passing." If I had
      any vocabulary (never mind the knowledge I

      guess!–first things first) from computer programming,
      I could make specific reference to

      something like recursive instructions: the original
      Latin would say to quote the original

      Latin in the translation. I should acknowledge
      the Monty Pythonesque qualities of these

      'thoughts'. (That's not to say they're not
      original–at least I think they

      are.) Burroughs's sense of the word
      as virus is hovering in the vicinity.

                                       [I'm translating literally;]
in fact, not only are these

Virgil's exact words, the sounds are identical
as well. Reading this, you are

reading the original Latin, a contingency
that I, Virgil, foresaw10

      10. At this point, I've decided to try
      footnotes as a way to react

      to this piece: it feels strange enough
      to merit such measures. Perhaps this

      equal strangeness will create some balance.
      For the record: this was the first

      footnote (originally written in prose, though I'm
      currently rewriting it in couplets, as

      well as adding to it), but
      the poem itself mocks origins and records.

                                          [a contingency
that I, Virgil, foresaw as I wrote:]

At tibi prima, puer, nullo, munuscula cultu
errantis hederas passim cum baccare tellus

as well as its rough translation–
But to you, first, child, little gifts

from the uncultivated earth, wandering-about ivy
with its berries (perhaps a hint there

in baccare of Bacchus and state power
torn apart and eaten by orgasmic

women out from under the so-called thumb)–11

      11. The violence of oppositional sexuality that
      most authorities fear takes a cornucopia of

      forms–face and voice altered, social
      markers shown as flesh and unanchored expression

      –isn't flesh something that gets eaten?
      Chew, grind, tongue the pulp, taste–splashed

      to pieces like a visual stick
      in water at the moment the bodies

      become, as Harlequin romances like to write,
      "one"–but the violence of state

      sexuality is the oneness of that oneness,
      mythic marriage with all the trimmings

      –Bush opposing the species diversification treaty,
      saying in the Fess-Parker-gone-to-college accent that if

      they think I'm going to do anything
      to hurt the American family . . . is

      it always state eyes that stare
      at Miss March photogenically licking Miss April

      and the invisible hand of the marketplace
      that rubs its thumb and forefinger

      together with only the glossy paper
      intervening? Looking out of the poem's eternally

      framing open window at this week's
      breaking glass, I see our nation, pinnacled

      atop its past: Macedonia, Rome, England, Cambodia
      –remember those pyramids of intellectual skulls?

                                    [orgasmic

women out from under the so-called thumb)–]
This has been written already in

the original because, with the birth
of the ruling child12

      12. There's a crucial possibility open here:
      I'm really tempted to write ruling-class child.

      The eclogue can certainly be read
      as an egregious piece of flattery: Virgil

      owes his leisure to Maecenas, Augustus's
      minister of culture more or less; this

      dependence leads him to write the Aeneid
      as an epic in the service

      of state power, transmogrifying Homer's oral-based
      aristocratic-communal technique into the protocol for imperial

      pedagogy and angst for isolate authors.
      The fourth eclogue is often preposterous under

      the strain of laying utopic pleasantries
      at the feet of a state official

      (Pollio, apparently) who has just become
      a father. I.e.: This is the ultimate

      age foretold by Sibyl's prophecy . . .
      the Golden Age returns . . . it's while you,

      Anne Imelda Radice, are consul that
      this holy age begins. Everything will happen

      a second time: Theseus will sail again
      for the golden fleece, movable type

      will be invented, we'll know what
      it means this time. The child will

      live a godlike life, and see
      the gods . . . he'll rule a world

      pacified by his father's virtue. . . . Goats will walk
      home untended with full udders, oxen

      no longer fear lions, snakes will die . . .
      the ram will dye his own

      fleece now yellow, now purple, grazing lambs
      willingly shall turn their wool red,

      you won't need your wallet, full-time child care,
      snorkeling, handsome Caribbean waiters smiling beside

      roast beef, shrimp and quartered pineapples.
      But I respond to the poem, too,

      especially the end: Begin, little child,
      recognize your mother, smile at her, she

      underwent ten tedious months, begin, little child:
      if you don't smile at your

      parents you'll never be worthy of
      sharing the feast of a god, or

      the bed of a goddess–Freud!
      where were you when that got written!

      Despite the sycophancy, the poem has
      a charge: pleasure and love are at

      the root of the intelligible world,
      and the potentialities that flow from that

      are just and beatific. That happiness
      animates Virgil's conditional claim near the end:

      if the utmost of life was available
      to him, and if he could

      sing the fact of this child
      with sufficient inspiration, then he would be

      a better poet than either Apollo
      or Pan: that's an interesting human claim.

                                    [with the birth
of the ruling child,] time becomes circular.

That circle has been completed in footnote
12, letting me step outside to

these words I wrote thirteen years ago:
Steal a few moments from the

running time Max shoving himself against
the netting of his playpen finds himself

his bottle now standing on the back
of his busybox toppled twice now

standing stooping down two hands raising
his bottle on high aria furiosa long

notes held searched through some blocks hang
off the railing he puts them

in his mouth and sighs pulls himself
up wooden bead on a string

in his mouth tasted dropped eyed
at arm's length he leans back and

groans at the ceiling chanting pulsing O's
until he begins to jump now

a forefinger in the mouth to chew
and modify the noise waving and

a falsetto yodel picked up spits out
the bottle crawls in a circle

spits picks it up drinks embraces the
basketball and rolls over goes go

go go as he hits his
wooden nails with his hand stands at

the railing going Da Da
jumping looking over his shoulder short plaintive

hums escaping almost whining he reaches up
to the doorknob on the other

side rattles the door staring up
to the top using his strength jumping

talking a brief emphatic silence then
a yell he turns away then sits

walks across the mess to this side
again begins pulling up the mat

staring at the fiberboard underneath a few
glissando squeals now some O's as

he stares at and touches the metal
tube brace standing again feels the

shiny chrome bolts at the top
hangs down by his arms head back

up to the ceiling he almost falls
over swings sideways does fall down

cries his bottle's stuck between the webbing
and the floor he gets it

out drinks deep breathing hard holds it
at arm's length bangs his fallen

busybox drinks again stares at and fingers
the nipple a moment of quiet

while he farts backs away squeals
spits goes yay grabs it drinks throws

it down spits propeller noise from
his lips stares at me pulls himself

up standing at the railing on top
of his busybox falsetto yodel now

large modulated calls out to space
staring at his feet as he slides

one along the smooth cardboard back
of the busybox which squeaks he crows

turns it with difficulty back over
picks the thing up hits with it

drops it picks up the pink pig
nailbrush puts it in his mouth.13

      13. Imagine writing that would make good
      its second by second letter by letter

      birth and existence as if the body
      moving made spaces it could understand.


Bob Perelman, Ten to One: Selected Poems, Wesleyan University Press, 1999.