THERE’S A MEMORABLE scene in Louis Malle’s film Milou in May where one of the characters, a beekeeper, pacifies his community of bees by reciting Virgil’s Georgics to them as he goes about extracting honeycombs. It works. I don’t have any bees to keep in order, but whenever I recall this scene I take a certain delight in the way the sound of the poem – the content, metre, formality of the structure, fitting of word to pitch – merges with the drowsy hum of the bees. The bees, of course, have no idea what the words mean, but that is beside the point. What seems to me to be significant is the way ...


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