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Virgil: The blind passion of unpitying war

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Virgil: On war and on peace

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Virgil
From Eclogue I
Translated by Theodore Chickering Williams

Oh! shall I ever after seasons gone
See my own country more, my cabin rude
With high-peaked roof of turf?
Or if I see hereafter realms once mine, must I be shocked
At scanty blades of corn? And will there be
Some godless soldier on my well-tilled farm,
Some grim barbarian, gathering its yield?
Oh, to what woes has civil discord led
Our wretched countrymen! For whom to reap
Were these fair acres sown? What profit now
My grafted pear-trees and my trellised vine?

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From Eclogue VI

When I fain
Would sing of kings and wars, Apollo twitched
My ear and whispered warning: ” Tityrus,
His well-fed sheep best grace the shepherd’s trade,
And unpresumptuous song.” Therefore this day
(Since, Varus, of thy laurelled name to tell
And lamentable wars, there will be bards
In plenty) let me wake my slender reed
To woo the shepherd’s muse.
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From Eclogue X

Here, O Lycoris, are cool-flowing rills,
Here softest grass and haunts of woodland shade,
Here in thine arms my whole life long should be.
Now the blind passion of unpitying war
Clothes me in steel and bids me captive be
‘Mid thronging swords and foes in stern array;
While thou in exile – would it all were lies! –
Lookest on snow-clad Alp and ice-bound Rhine
Alone, and not with me. Oh, harmless blow
The wintry winds! and from the sharp-edged ice
May thy white, lovely feet no wound receive!
I must away!

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