Last night, I dreamt of Venice…

A liberal translation of Virgil’s Eclogue I.

Two Venetians, Giorgio and Francesco, reminisce and realise.

There you are! Lying on your rowing boat, enjoying a shaded leisure by your favourite piazza while you strum your guitar, a laid-back melody of foreign origin. Me? I am being forced to flee this place, to move on and never come back. You? You teach the delicate waters to resonate with easy words.

Salve, my dear Giorgio! This peace is a mystery even to me and I will not leave anytime soon; long have I enjoyed the altars of Bacchus and willingly served his cult. As a young man, my mind would be softened by words, songs, forms, notes of another’s creation – not my own. Now, this muse reigns my soul again and has allowed me once more to play on my nimble boat.

I do not deny you this privilege, friend, but instead I marvel at your composure, while all around us there is barren frenzy and unwanted need. I have run my gondola around these canals for weeks on end, finding only a few thin tourists. I saw one man strolling with a pretty girl and who looked like a fat sale. He was about to embark, when he tumbled, clutching his chest. He fell like an oak on the stones in front of the church and died before help could even reach him: ghe sboro. But tell me, Francesco, what has brought on this blessed state of mind?

I remembered the city of Paris, which I once thought just another tourist trap like our own. Many years ago, I visited this place and brought my choice lines of poetry to dress them up in more cultured rags. At the time I was in the habit of comparing cats to lions, daughters with mothers, acorns to oaks. But then I saw this global metropolis raising its head above the international playground, like the chestnut trees reaching towards the skies on its wide and famous boulevards.

And what brought you to Paris in the first place?

Freedom. I discovered it late in life, before my greying beard had made me wiser and I still thought that change could be achieved through violence. Then I was held by Italy, cultivating my harsh gardens and milk-white pretentions, exerting brute force over the undulations of an unremitting ideal. I did not care for freedom; I thought not of material accumulation. And though many a time rich ideas would leave my humble threshold, the return I was seeking would not come back, and my right hand, stained with brassy ink, could seize no profit.  

This morning when we crushed a cup of amber wine on the San Giacomo, I wondered why you wept to think of these streets and wherefore you glutted sorrow on sunk grapes; you have been absent from this Bay. The fountains, the palazzi – they missed you.

What could I do? The high tides would not free me from their manacles, because my lover threw herself into madness, as I lost her kiss and we both missed the synchronicity of waves.  And then I saw something more, something concrete, the thing now for which our company travels from place to place and from which near seven years ago I was given the first statement of change: “Boys and girls, feed your verses as before, and rear your mighty tomes”.

Most peaceful you now must be in the Floating City, though the streets are emptying and tainted algae make a parasite of our youth. Fortunate soul, to have gazed upon the Seine under the cooling shades of that city’s beautiful canopy; your days were spent in the limits of swift culture, drinking from the cool taps and listening to the flock’s gentle lowing. Italian borders are never too far away, and upon Hesperian sheets you can be lulled whenever you choose, while sea dogs and Sirens, your own delights, will never cease their plaintiff melodies.

Sooner wine be replaced with water, the exiled Syrian restored to princeliness or the Union renewed again, than I shall forget the face of those streets lit up.

Come, my friend, it is time. San Francisco calls, the Dominican Republican waits on us and bound France yearns to enjoy the meanderings of our sutured raft. I will miss my rural home and the countryside that surrounded me, a child. The birches that point directly to heaven have shaded me for a time; they have seen me grow, but I them never. Now a dismal soldier threatens, and infectious barbary stands ready to ravage our well-tilled trade. Look at where war has led us, faithful citizens of an eternal republic; it was for this that so many books were published? Go on, fellow writers, with your happy lines. Look at me in my ruin, as my once cherished house crumbles in despair; I’ll sing no more songs and die an exile, while my over-polished crop of wailing words will fall short before the dawn, languishing by the sickly willows and cypresses.  

But you will stay here the night: the Venetian moon is rising and we have all we need for the moment: wine, wit and wisdom. The tavern awaits us, the crowd longs to be pleased and the smoking pipes and bitter brews might yet comfort our rusty throats.  

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