In this series of videograms, poets read and discuss the poems getting them through these strange times—broadcasting straight from their couches to yours. These readings bring intimacy into our spaces of isolation, both through the affinity of poetry and through the warmth of being able to speak to each other across the distances.
“From the ‘Aeneid,’ Book VI”
by Virgil, translated by David Ferry
Issue no. 201 (Summer 2012)
A vast crowd, so many, rushed to the riverbank:
Women and men, famous greathearted heroes,
The life in their hero bodies now defunct,
Unmarried boys and girls, sons whom their fathers
Had had to watch being placed on the funeral pyre;
As many as the leaves of the forest that,
When autumn’s first chill comes, fall from the branches;
As many as the birds that flock to the land
From the great deep when the season, turning cold,
Has driven them over the seas to seek the sun.
They stood beseeching on the riverbank,
Yearning to be the first to be carried across,
Stretching their hands out toward the farther shore.
But the stern ferryman, taking only this one
Or this other one, pushes the rest away.
Aeneas cries out, wondering at the tumult,
“O virgin, why are they crowding at the river?
What is it that the spirits want? What is it
That decides why some of them are pushed away,
And others sweep across the livid waters?”
The aged priestess replied: “Anchise’s son,
True scion of the gods, these are the pools
Of the river Cocytos, and this the Stygian marsh,
Whose power it is to make the gods afraid
Not to keep their word. All in this crowd are helpless
Because their bodies have not been covered over.
The boatman that you see is Charon. Those
Who are being carried across with him are they
Who have been buried. It is forbidden to take
Any with him across the echoing waters
That flow between these terrible riverbanks
Who have not found a resting-place for their bones.
Restlessly to and fro along these shores
They wander waiting for a hundred years.
Not until after that, the longed-for crossing.”