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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Vision of the Future
By Virgil (70–19 B.C.)
 
        
From the ‘Æneid’: Translation of Sir Charles Bowen
  
  [Æneas meets in the Elysian Fields his father, Anchises, who shows him their most illustrious descendants.]

AFTER the rite is completed, the gift to the goddess addressed,
Now at the last they come to the realms where Joy has her throne:
Sweet green glades in the Fortunate Forests, abodes of the blest,
Fields in an ampler ether, a light more glorious dressed,
  Lit evermore with their own bright stars and a sun of their own.        5
Some are training their limbs on the wrestling-green, and compete
Gayly in sport on the yellow arenas; some with their feet
  Treading their choral measures, or singing the hymns of the god
While their Thracian priest, in a sacred robe that trails,
Chants them the air with the seven sweet notes of his musical scales,        10
  Now with his fingers striking, and now with his ivory rod.
Here are the ancient children of Teucer, fair to behold,
Generous heroes, born in the happier summers of old,—
Ilus, Assaracus by him, and Dardan, Founder of Troy.
  Far in the distance yonder are visible armor and car        15
  Unsubstantial; in earth their lances are planted; and far
Over the meadows are ranging the chargers freed from employ.
All the delight they took when alive in the chariot and sword,
  All of the loving care that to shining coursers was paid,
  Follows them now that in quiet below Earth’s breast they are laid.        20
Banqueting here he beholds them to right and to left on the sward,
  Chanting in chorus the Pæan, beneath sweet forests of bay;
Whence, amid wild wood covers, the river Eridanus, poured,
  Rolls his majestic torrents to upper earth and the day.
Chiefs for the land of their sires in the battle wounded of yore,        25
Priests whose purity lasted until sweet life was no more,
Faithful prophets who spake as beseemed their god and his shrine,
  All who by arts invented to life have added a grace,
  All whose services earned the remembrance deep of the race,
Round their shadowy foreheads the snow-white garland entwine.        30
 
Then as about them the phantoms stream, breaks silence the seer,
Turning first to Musæus,—for round him the shadows appear
Thickest to crowd, as he towers with his shoulders over the throng,—
“Tell me, ye joyous spirits, and thou, bright master of song,
Where is the home and the haunt of the great Anchises, for whom        35
Hither we come, and have traversed the awful rivers of gloom?”
Briefly in turn makes answer the hero: “None has a home
In fixed haunts. We inhabit the dark thick glades, on the brink
Ever of moss-banked rivers, and water meadows that drink
Living streams. But if onward your heart thus wills ye to go,        40
Climb this ridge. I will set ye in pathways easy to know.”
Forward he marches, leading the way; from the heights at the end
Shows them a shining plain, and the mountain slopes they descend.
 
There withdrawn to a valley of green in a fold of the plain
Stood Anchises the father, his eyes intent on a train,—        45
Prisoned spirits, soon to ascend to the sunlight again;—
Numbering over his children dear, their myriad bands,
All their destinies bright, their ways, and the work of their hands.
When he beheld Æneas across those flowery lands
Moving to meet him, fondly he strained both arms to his boy;        50
Tears on his cheek fell fast, and his voice found slowly employ.
 
“Here thou comest at last, and the love I counted upon
Over the rugged path has prevailed. Once more, O my son,
I may behold thee, and answer with mine thy voice as of yore.
Long I pondered the chances, believed this day was in store,        55
Reckoning the years and the seasons. Nor was my longing belied.
O’er how many a land, past what far waters and wide,
Hast thou come to mine arms! What dangers have tossed thee, my child!
Ah, how I feared lest harm should await thee in Libya wild!”
 
“Thine own shade, my sire, thine own disconsolate shade,        60
Visiting oft my chamber, has made me seek thee,” he said.
“Safe upon Tuscan waters the fleet lies. Grant me to grasp
Thy right hand, sweet father; withdraw thee not from its clasp.”
 
So he replied; and a river of tears flowed over his face.
Thrice with his arms he essayed the beloved one’s neck to embrace;        65
Thrice clasped vainly: the phantom eluded his hands in flight,
Thin as the idle breezes, and like some dream of the night.
 
There Æneas beholds in a valley withdrawn from the rest
  Far-off glades, and a forest of boughs that sing in the breeze;
Near them the Lethe river that glides by abodes of the blest.        70
  Round it numberless races and peoples floating he sees.
  So on the flowery meadows in calm, clear summer, the bees
Settle on bright-hued blossoms, or stream in companies round
Fair white lilies, till every plain seems ringing with sound.
 
Strange to the scene Æneas, with terror suddenly pale,        75
Asks of its meaning, and what be the streams in the distant vale,
Who those warrior crowds that about yon river await.
Answer returns Anchises: “The spirits promised by Fate
Life in the body again. Upon Lethe’s watery brink
These of the fountain of rest and of long oblivion drink.        80
Ever I yearn to relate thee the tale, display to thine eyes,
Count thee over the children that from my loins shall arise,
So that your joy may be deeper on finding Italy’s skies.”
 
“O my father! and are there, and must we believe it,” he said,
“Spirits that fly once more to the sunlight back from the dead?        85
Souls that anew to the body return, and the fetters of clay?
Can there be any who long for the light thus blindly as they?”
 
“Listen, and I will resolve thee the doubt,” Anchises replies.
Then unfolds him in order the tale of the earth and the skies.
 
“In the beginning, the earth, and the sky, and the spaces of night,        90
Also the shining moon, and the sun Titanic and bright,
Fed on an inward life, and with all things mingled, a mind
Moves universal matter, with Nature’s frame is combined.
Thence man’s race, and the beast, and the bird that on pinions flies,
  All wild shapes that are hidden the gleaming waters beneath,        95
Each elemental seed, has a fiery force from the skies;
Each its heavenly being, that no dull clay can disguise,
  Bodies of earth ne’er deaden, nor limbs long destined to death.
Hence their fears and desires; their sorrows and joys: for their sight,
Blind with the gloom of a prison, discerns not the heavenly light.        100
 
“Now, when at last life leaves them, do all sad ills, that belong
  Unto the sinful body, depart; still many survive
Lingering with them, alas! for it needs must be that the long
  Growth should in wondrous fashion at full completion arrive.
So due vengeance racks them, for deeds of an earlier day        105
  Suffering penance, and some to the winds hang viewless and thin,
  Searched by the breezes; from others the deep infection of sin
Swirling water washes, or bright fire purges, away.
Each, in his own sad ghost, we endure; then pass to the wide
Realms of Elysium. Few in the fields of the happy abide,        110
  Till great Time, when the cycles have run their courses on high,
Takes the inbred pollution, and leaves to us only the bright
  Sense of heaven’s own ether, and fire from the springs of the sky.
When for a thousand years they have rolled their wheels through the night,
  God to the Lethe river recalls this myriad train,        115
That with remembrance lost once more they may visit the light,
  And, at the last, have desire for a life in the body again.”
*        *        *        *        *
  [The future heroes of Rome pass by: among the last, the Marcelli. The death of the young Marcellus, nephew and heir of Augustus, had recently occurred when this book was read by Virgil at court. The bereft mother was said to have fainted at this passage.]

“Lo where decked in a conqueror’s spoils Marcellus, my son,
Strides from the war! How he towers o’er all of the warrior train!
“When Rome reels with the shock of the wild invaders’ alarm,        120
He shall sustain her state. From his war-steed’s saddle his arm
Carthage and rebel Gaul shall destroy, and the arms of the slain
Victor a third time hang in his father Quirinus’s fane.”
 
Then Æneas,—for near him a youth seemed ever to pace,
Fair, of an aspect princely, with armor of glittering grace,        125
Yet was his forehead joyless, his eye cast down as in grief,—
“Who can it be, my father, that walks at the side of the chief?
  Is it his son, or perchance some child of his glorious race
Born from remote generations? And hark, how ringing a cheer
Breaks from his comrades round! What a noble presence is here!        130
  Though dark night with her shadow of woe floats over his face!”
 
Answer again Anchises began with a gathering tear:—
“Ask me not, O my son, of thy children’s infinite pain!
Fate one glimpse of the boy to the world will grant, and again
Take him from life. Too puissant methinks to immortals on high        135
Rome’s great children had seemed, if a gift like this from the sky
Longer had been vouchsafed! What wailing of warriors bold
Shall from the funeral plain to the War-god’s city be rolled!
What sad pomp thine eyes will discern, what pageant of woe,
When by his new-made tomb thy waters, Tiber, shall flow!        140
Never again such hopes shall a youth of thy lineage, Troy,
Rouse in his great forefathers of Latium! Never a boy
Nobler pride shall inspire in the ancient Romulus-land!
Ah, for his filial love! for his old-world faith! for his hand
Matchless in battle! Unharmed what foemen had offered to stand        145
Forth in his path, when charging on foot for the enemy’s ranks,
Or when plunging the spur in his foam-flecked courser’s flanks!
Child of a nation’s sorrow! if thou canst baffle the Fates’
Bitter decrees, and break for a while their barrier gates,
Thine to become Marcellus! I pray thee, bring me anon        150
Handfuls of lilies, that I bright flowers may strew on my son,
Heap on the shade of the boy unborn these gifts at the least,
Doing the dead, though vainly, the last sad service.”
 
 
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