Idyll I

The whisper of the wind in
            that pine tree,
is sweet as the murmur of live water;
                        your flute notes. After Pan
you shall bear away second prize.
            And if he
                        take the goat
with the horns,
            the she-goat
                         is yours: but if
he chooses the she-goat,
            the kid will fall
                         to your lot.
And the flesh of the kid
            is dainty
                         before they begin milking them.
Your song is sweeter,
                         than the music
of the water as it plashes
            from the high face
                         of yonder rock!
If the Muses
            choose the young ewe
                         you shall receive
a stall-fed lamb
            as your reward,
                         but if
they prefer the lamb
                         shall have the ewe for
second prize.
Will you not, goatherd,
            in the Nymph's name
                         take your place on this
sloping knoll
            among the tamarisks
                         and pipe for me
while I tend me sheep.
No, shepherd,
            nothing doing;
                         it's not for us
to be heard during the noon hush.
            We dread Pan,
                         who for a fact
is stretched out somewhere,
            dog tired from the chase;
                         his mood is bitter,
anger ready at his nostrils.
            But, Thyrsis,
                         since you are good at
singing of The Afflictions of Daphnis,
            and have most deeply
                         meditated the pastoral mood
come here,
            let us sit down,
                         under this elm
facing Priapus and the fountain fairies,
            here where the shepherds come
                         to try themselves out
by the oak trees.
            Ah! may you sing
                         as you sang that day
facing Chromis out of Libya,
            I will let you milk, yes,
                         three times over,
a goat that is the mother of twins
            and even when
                         she has sucked her kids
her milk fills
            two pails. I will give besides,
                         new-made, a two-eared bowl
of ivy-wood,
            rubbed with beeswax
                         that smacks still
of the knife of the carver.
            Round its upper edges
                         winds the ivy, ivy
flecked with yellow flowers
            and about it
                         is twisted
a tendril joyful with the saffron fruit.
                         is limned a girl,
as fair a thing as the gods have made,
            dressed in a sweeping
Her hair
            is confined by a snood.
                         Beside her
two fair-haired youths
            with alternate speech
                         are contending
but her heart is
she glances at one,
                         and now, lightly
she flings the other a thought,
            while their eyes,
                         by reason of love's
long vigils, are heavy
            but their labors
                         all in vain.
In addition
            there is fashioned there
                         an ancient fisherman
and a rock,
            a rugged rock,
                         on which
with might and main
            the old man poises a great net
                         for the cast
as one who puts his whole heart into it.
            One would say
                         that he was fishing
with the full strength of his limbs
            so big do his muscles stand out
                         about the neck.
Gray-haired though he be,
            he has the strength
                         of a young man.
Now, separated
            from the sea-broken old man
                         by a narrow interval
is a vineyard
                         with fire-red clusters,
and on a rude wall
            sits a small boy
                         guarding them.
Round him
            two she-foxes are skulking.
goes the length of the vine-rows
            to eat the grapes
                         while the other
brings all her cunning to bear,
            by what has been set down,
she will never quit the lad
                         she leaves him bare
and breakfastless.
            But the boy
                         is plaiting a pretty
cage of locust stalks and asphodel,
            fitting the reeds
                         and cares less for his scrip
and the vines
            than he takes delight
                         in his plaiting.
All about the cup
            is draped the mild acanthus
                         a miracle of varied work,
a thing for you to marvel at.
            I paid
                         a Caledonian ferryman
a goat and a great white
                         for the bowl.
It is still virgin to me,
            its lip has never touched mine.
                         To gain my desire,
I would gladly
            give this cup
                          if you, my friend,
will sing for me
            that delightful song.
                         I hold nothing back.
Begin, my friend,
            for you cannot,
                         you may be sure,
take your song,
            which drives all things out of mind,
                         with you to the other world.

          Greek; trans. William Carlos Williams


Theocritus, "Idyll I", Greek, trans. William Carlos
Williams from The Collected Poems of Williams Carlos
Williams, Volume II, 1939-1962, New Directions
Publishing Corp., 1962.