The Aeneid, Book VI, [First, the sky and the earth]

Virgil

Translated by Robert Fagles
 
                                                              "First,
the sky and the earth and the flowing fields of the sea,
the shining orb of the moon and the Titan sun, the stars:
an inner spirit feeds them, coursing through all their limbs,
mind stirs the mass and their fusion brings the world to birth.
From their union springs the human race and the wild beasts,
the winged lives of birds and the wondrous monsters bred
below the glistening surface of the sea. The seeds of life—
fiery is their force, divine their birth, but they
are weighed down by the bodies' ills or dulled
by earthly limbs and flesh that's born for death.
That is the source of all men's fears and longings,
joys and sorrows, nor can they see the heavens' light,
shut up in the body's tomb, a prison dark and deep.
                                                              "True,
but even on that last day, when the light of life departs,
the wretches are not completely purged of all the taints,
nor are they wholly freed of all the body's plagues.
Down deep they harden fast—they must, so long engrained
in the flesh—in strange, uncanny ways. And so the souls
are drilled in punishments, they must pay for their old offenses.
Some are hung splayed out, exposed to the empty winds,
some are plunged in the rushing floods—their stains,
their crimes scoured off or scorched away by fire.
Each of us must suffer his own demanding ghost.
Then we are sent to Elysium's broad expanse,
a few of us even hold these fields of joy
till the long days, a cycle of time seen through,
cleanse our hard, inveterate stains and leave us clear
ethereal sense, the eternal breath of fire purged and pure.
But all the rest, once they have turned the wheel of time
for a thousand years: God calls them forth to the Lethe,
great armies of souls, their memories blank so that
they may revisit the overarching world once more
and begin to long to return to bodies yet again."
 
Lines 836-869 from "Book Six: The Kingdom of the Dead," from Virgil: The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by Robert Fagles, copyright © 2006 by Robert Fagles. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Poems by This Author

The Aeneid, Book I, [A grove stood in the city] by Virgil
A grove stood in the city, rich in shade
The Aeneid, Book I, [Arms and the man I sing] by Virgil
The Aeneid, Book IV, [So, you traitor] by Virgil
So, you traitor, you really believed you'd keep
First Georgic [excerpt] by Virgil
When spring begins and the ice-locked streams begin


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