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Every poet needs a Virgil. In the week that John Burnside won the TS Eliot Prize , it seems a fitting time to investigate how poet-editors editors who are also poets can shape the literary landscape. Often seen as the most personal and mysterious of literary forms — and therefore least likely to be guided by an outside hand — poetry is, in fact, strikingly indebted to invisible creators.

How poetry changes lives. The taste of snow in air. John Burnside wins the TS Eliot prize. Robin Robertson's Hill of Doors. Jo Shapcott wins Queen's Gold Medal. TS Eliot Prize shortlist. But, he says, expertise can be found in many places.

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For example, his colleague at Faber, Paul Keegan, is not a poet but still a distinguished poetry editor. I ask Paterson about Hollis as editor. He disagrees with Hollis about who is qualified to edit poetry. But is this so distinct from editing any piece of creative work? How intense can it get? He takes the same position I do: if the writer wants to make a mistake badly enough he should be allowed to make it. In the case of new poets, Robertson will happily hold them off publication for a long while, forcing rewrites and rethinks.

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Is there something, dare I say it, Simon Cowell-esque about this kind of intervention? Robertson thinks not. One young poet he has recently helped though not rewritten is Sean Borodale. He is turning a pamphlet called Bee Journal — an account of being an apiarist — into a full-length collection. Robertson and Paterson are clearly great friends. While working with Ben Okri, Robertson confesses that he redid some of his Lagos patois. The Mexican-British poet and editorial director of Carcanet, Michael Schmidt, is wary about such interventions.

Schmidt has been in the business for 40 years.

But must you be from the same cultural background to edit someone properly? A sensitive outsider can surely spot things a native might not.

One anecdote Schmidt recounts shows how a clever editor can get around this problem by bringing one outsider to advise another. Murray advised him to use his own language, Afrikaans, specifically when naming a type of plant. There is no historical evidence for such a policy, though the beneficent effects of peace after 31 B. Even though there survive two Greek texts and two Latin translations used by Virgil, one would never imagine that much of this wonderful precision is literary and derivative. Just how well Virgil himself knew the details of farmwork is not clear: scholars learn more and more both about his Greek sources, in prose and verse, and about the mass of detail compatible with prose farming manuals in Latin of such writers as Cato, Varro, Columella, and Palladius.

The Georgics are brilliant as didactic poetry precisely because they are so admirable in their descriptions. When Virgil from time to time abandons the relatively narrow detail of the matter in hand to turn to an excursus digression , his reason is not that nature and farming are so dry and dull that they need relief or alleviation but that the poet is well aware that a change of tone and perspective is called for.

The digressions comment on and illustrate in ampler terms the more strictly didactic text; their role in some ways is not unlike that of the choruses of Greek tragedy. Virgil, in the course of his literary career, undertook steadily larger projects, moving also up the scale of stylistic and generic grandeur. To say that this progression was calculated and inevitable is too easy; already at the time of Bucolics , Virgil was thinking about epic 6.

That an ancient life says that Augustus proposed the topic of the Aeneid to Virgil does not matter. That from the late second century B.

Julius Caesar made much of this genealogy in the image that his publicity projected, and his great-nephew and adopted son Octavian followed this lead—in art, ritual, and coins. However unwelcome such facts are to most modern students of Virgil, who is normally seen as a poet of doubt, suffering, and criticism of Roman and imperial values, they do remain facts; some further details can be found in Vergilius , 32 Of course, a reading of the epic in terms of a modern, liberal, antimilitarist ethic will come up with wildly different answers; indeed, much current discussion of the Aeneid is violently politicized.

For there is no room for doubt: while Virgil tells a remarkable story and St. Augustine as a schoolboy was fascinated by books 2 and 4, as he says in Confessions , book 1, ch.

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Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. Newsletter Subscribe Give. Poetry Foundation. Back to Previous. Poems by Virgil. Related Content. Articles Less Than Certain. Poems by This Poet Related Bibliography. Appeared in Poetry Magazine. Aeneid , II, - end. Eclogue IX. The Storm. Less Than Certain. By Rachel Mennies. Read More.

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Georgica , 4 books Georgics, ? Aeneis , 12 books; incomplete Aeneid, 29? Standard editions P. Vergili Maronis Opera , edited by R. Mynors Oxford: Clarendon Press, ; P. Translations in English Virgil , 2 volumes, translated by H. Wilkinson Harmondsworth, U. Haverfield, fifth edition London: Bell, Eclogues: Vergil , edited by R. Hueber, Georgics , 2 volumes, edited by Richard F. Huxley London: Methuen, P. Austin Oxford: Clarendon Press, P. Vergili Maronis Aeneidos, Liber tertius , edited by R.

Williams Oxford: Clarendon Press, P. Norden, third edition Leipzig: Teubner, P.

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Horsfall Leiden, P. Fordyce, edited by John D. Eden Leiden: E. Maguinness London: Methuen,