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A piteous season, with the full fierce heat
Of autumn glowed, and cattle-kindreds all
And all wild creatures to destruction gave,
Tainted the pools, the fodder charged with bane.
Nor simple was the way of death, but when
Hot thirst through every vein impelled had drawn
Their wretched limbs together, anon o'erflowed
A watery flux, and all their bones piecemeal
Sapped by corruption to itself absorbed.
Oft in mid sacrifice to heaven—the white
Wool-woven fillet half wreathed about his brow—
Some victim, standing by the altar, there
Betwixt the loitering carles a-dying fell:
Or, if betimes the slaughtering priest had struck,
Nor with its heaped entrails blazed the pile,
Nor seer to seeker thence could answer yield;
Nay, scarce the up-stabbing knife with blood was stained,
Scarce sullied with thin gore the surface-sand.
Hence die the calves in many a pasture fair,
Or at full cribs their lives' sweet breath resign;
Hence on the fawning dog comes madness, hence
Racks the sick swine a gasping cough that chokes
With swelling at the jaws: the conquering steed,
Uncrowned of effort and heedless of the sward,
Faints, turns him from the springs, and paws the earth
With ceaseless hoof: low droop his ears, wherefrom
Bursts fitful sweat, a sweat that waxes cold
Upon the dying beast; the skin is dry,
And rigidly repels the handler's touch.
These earlier signs they give that presage doom.
But, if the advancing plague 'gin fiercer grow,
Then are their eyes all fire, deep-drawn their breath,
At times groan-laboured: with long sobbing heave
Their lowest flanks; from either nostril streams
Black blood; a rough tongue clogs the obstructed jaws.
'Twas helpful through inverted horn to pour
Draughts of the wine-god down; sole way it seemed
To save the dying: soon this too proved their bane,
And, reinvigorate but with frenzy's fire,
Even at death's pinch—the gods some happier fate
Deal to the just, such madness to their foes—
Each with bared teeth his own limbs mangling tore.
See! as he smokes beneath the stubborn share,
The bull drops, vomiting foam-dabbled gore,
And heaves his latest groans. Sad goes the swain,
Unhooks the steer that mourns his fellow's fate,
And in mid labour leaves the plough-gear fast.
Nor tall wood's shadow, nor soft sward may stir
That heart's emotion, nor rock-channelled flood,
More pure than amber speeding to the plain:
But see! his flanks fail under him, his eyes
Are dulled with deadly torpor, and his neck
Sinks to the earth with drooping weight.
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