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From The Aeneid VI

May 9, 2016

From The Aeneid VI

When they came to the fuming gorge at Avernus
They swept up through clear air and back down
To their chosen perch, a tree that was two trees
In one, green-leafed yet refulgent with gold.
Like mistletoe shining in cold winter woods,
Gripping its tree but not grafted, always in leaf,
Its yellowy berries in sprays curled round the bole—
Those flickering gold tendrils lit up the dark
Overhang of the oak and chimed in the breeze.
There and then Aeneas took hold of the bough
And though it resisted greedily tore it off,
Then carried it back to the Sibyl’s cavern.

Virgil, 20 B.C. Tr, Seamus Heaney, 2016

COMMENTARY: Seamus Heaney has been dead for two and half years now. Barring any more excavations from his notebooks, his translation of book VI of the Aeneid, finished just before his death, will probably be his last work of poetry. These lines are Heaney at his earthiest. The description of the underworld tree that holds the famous golden bough might well be a description of an Irish bog oak: “yellowy berries in sprays curled round the bole” and “like mistletoe shining in cold winter woods.” There always was something John Clare-ish about him, and I love these lines for the reason I love so much of Heaney’s poems–for their clotted lavishness, finicky word-rightness, and lush texture.

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From → Translations

One Comment
  1. This is well put and puts its finger on a lot of Heaney’s translations: “[it] might well be a description of an Irish bog oak: “yellowy berries in sprays curled round the bole” and “like mistletoe shining in cold winter woods.” I like your phrases “clotted lavishness” and “finicky word-rightness” too.

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