A Prayer for the Farming Year
In honour of Earth Day, I would like to share with you Virgil’s beautiful description of nature’s order that leads crops to grow and animals to flourish. Admittedly, Virgil appeals to the various gods who control the elements, but I believe this can still be resonate with us as a celebration of nature’s brilliance and beauty in its marching rhythm. The piece comes from the opening of the Georgics, his poem on farming.
What is it that makes the corn cheerful, beneath what star,
Maecenas, ought one to churn the earth and to join the elm and the
vine? What are the necessary pains for tending the cattle, what
are the means for cultivating the herd? Or how great is the trial needed for thrifty bees?
This is what I shall begin to sing. You, oh brightest lights of the world, 5
You, who lead the gliding year in the sky,
Liber and kindly Ceres, if by your good generosity the earth
has changed the Chaonian acorn for rich ears of corn,
And has blended the cups of Achelous with the newly acquired grape;
And you, Fauns, gods of the rustic, come Fauns 10
And also maiden Dryads, lead your dance (lit. bring your foot):
Your gifts I sing. And you, for whom earth first
Brought forth the raging horse at your trident’s stroke,
Neptune: and the cultivator of the groves, for whom the three
Hundred snow white heifers crop the rich thickets of Ceos; 15
He himself, leaving his native groves and Lycaean pastures,
Pan, guardian of the flocks, if you are present serving your love of your
own Maenala, and Minerva, discoverer of the olive,
and you boy, the discoverer of the curved plough,
Silvanus, bearing a tender cypress torn from the root, 20
And all ye gods and goddesses, whose task it is to protect
The fields, and who feed new unsown fruits,
And who send down sufficient plentiful rain from the sky.
Gods or no gods, Virgil portrays nature as living, breathing, beautiful, yet delicate and something we mortals are dependent on. Just maybe, Virgil’s exquisite words urge a greater respect for nature and one that perhaps resonates all the more as climate change begins to hit home and we become ever more vulnerably dependent on nature’s changeability and greater uncertainties.