But chiefly dear for his gift to understand Earth's intricate, ordered heart, and for a vision That saw beyond an imperial day the hand Of man no longer armed against his fellow But all for vine and cattle, fruit and fallow, Subduing with love's positive force the land.
C. Day Lewis, The Georgics, ‘Dedicatory Stanzas to Stephen Spender’ (1940)
A collection of critical essays on Virgil's Georgics needs no defence. A great, a magnificent poem, widely read, if not universally applauded, the Georgics has received far less critical attention than either the Eclogues or the Aeneid. Index in part of the apparently uncongenial nature of ‘didactic’ verse, the relative dearth of critical activity on the poem is particularly to be regretted in view of the Georgics' chronologically central position in Virgil's poetic career, its crucial role in the development of his style and thought. Indeed, given the peculiar and self-conscious unity of Virgil's poetic oeuvre, its complex system of evolving themes, images, structures, its bonding, meditated network of inter-poem reference, the critical neglect which the Georgics has received — there are brilliant, recent exceptions — seems less omission, more outrage. Even the Georgics' influence on later European poetry — one thinks, for example, of the Italian humanists, Politian and Alamanni, the eighteenth century English poets, especially Thomson and Cowper, and that remarkable twentieth century English georgic, The Land, by Virginia Sackville-West — while not of the magnitude of that of either the Eclogues or the Aeneid, ought to have elicited a more substantial investigation of the poem than has transpired. No boast, Wilkinson's claim that his 1969 book on the Georgics was the first to appear in English was sad affirmation of this major critical gap.