Take note when in the woods many a walnut tree
pranks herself in blossom, droops her fragrant branches.
If nuts flourish, grain will follow,
and great threshing come with great heats.
But if shade thrives, an extravagance of leaves,
for naught your threshing-floor will thresh stalks thick with chaff.
I’ve known many sowers to minister to seeds,
to sprinkle with saltpeter, steep in black oil-dregs,
that beans might plump within the pod’s deceptive bulk,
and, though the fire be small, hastily stew.
I’ve seen seeds long chosen and attended with much labor
still degenerate if human sinew culled not
the fattest out by hand each year. So by decree
all things incline to worse, and foundering backslide, back
like one whose oar can scarcely thrust his skiff upstream;
if perchance he slack his arms, sternward
the coursing water drags him down the rapids.