A New Translation of Virgil's Pastoral Classic

Rude Woods by Nate Klug (The Song Cave, 2013)

Nate Klug’s translation of Virgil’s Eclogues illustrates the following paradox:  the classical works of literature are still fresh, if only we know how to read them.  Nate Klug apparently does.  To his learning and his bi-lingual ear for “rough music” we owe this late burst of Pan’s pipes.

The book’s complete title, Rude Woods:  Passages from Virgil’s Eclogues, states in a nutshell Klug’s idea for the translation:  keep the juicy meats, and throw away the husk.  As Klug remarks, the very word eclogues means selections:  “I had begun by translating short bits I loved in the Latin, passages I wanted to try to match in their roughness, their erotic pathos, their sense of landscape, their humor, or, and above all, their musicality” (p. 76).  In a short foreword that provides useful literary and historical context, W.R. Johnson notes Klug’s skillful preference for “lyrical intensity” and “passages that owe little or nothing to their narrative frame” (p. xii), justly observing that Klug’s translations “isolate and magnify the lyric power of Virgil’s text with elegance and precision” (p. xii).

But Nate Klug, translator, is not just a great reader.  He does not simply pick out the choicest passages. He is also a great poet.  His diction and syntax meet the most difficult of requirements:  at once apt and surprising, they suggest a writer in full control of his powers.  Klug takes risks with simple words, making elegant music of them, as in Meliboeus’ opening call:  “Beneath a beech tree’s extended protection, / you’re studying, with that skinny pipe, / how to woo the woodsy muse’s name” (1.1-3, p. 3).  Klug’s “rude” poetry, however, is the height of art.  Here is a path less traveled by contemporary poets.  Rather than dazzle the reader with abstract, disjunctive, or opaque language, Klug chooses to extract delight from aptness of word choice, skillful rhythm and sound patterns, and subdued purple here and there.  While such a style is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the original, Klug deserves credit—as do the brave editors at The Song Cave—for perceiving the retroactive originality of Virgil’s pastoral in our poetic climate of unrestraint.

Perhaps the highest praise I can give Klug is to quote Henry David Thoreau on reading the classics:  “The works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind, for only the great poets can read them.”  We may have read Virgil many times.  Klug shows us that we never really knew him.  But now we do.  Visit The Song Cave (www.the-song-cave.com) to get your copy while they last!  

Posted by Michael Taormina