polutrope: (moar academia)
Through Norton World Poetry, which goes from the Bronze age to about yesterday, I've encountered many new poets, and realized with a good deal of guilt that I like most of the French poets much better in English. This is, in part, because of the translations chosen, which are often very free. For instance, Georg Heym's Die Seefahrer.

The Text )
polutrope: (Default)
Day III: A Book that completely surprised you (bad/good)

The ABC of Reading. I had started it quite a long time ago, and, having read only what was anthologized in the shorter Norton, I was predisposed to dislike it, as Pound was pretty much everything I hated in the twentieth century. And I got about halfway through and did, in fact, hate what I read. Although I did recognize some of his points, they were mainly lost in the swirling atmosphere of smugness. Like, you should read Provencal, Italian, French, and I believe Latin and Greek in order to consider yourself well-read in English. And really, that is a fair point: many of the forms of English poetry were imported from the Continent, especially in the Renaissance; many early sonnets are free translations (did you know that Whoso list to hunt is a free translation/imitation of Dante and also about Anne Boleyn?); and so on and so forth. But there is the assumption that, essentially, anyone can teach themselves Provencal. And hey, I probably could. I guess. If I had but inclination enough and time*. But the majority of people can't - if there's one thing we need it's for the idea of "being well-read" to be more exclusionary.

Anyway, despite having spent a decently long paragraph complaining about one of its main theses, I did enjoy it - mainly, however, for Pound's acerbic comments. (did you know Pound had a sense of humor? he parodied Housman pretty entertainingly.) Of course, even while being entertained, I was slightly put off. The following quote about Whitman is quite amusing: From an examination of Whitman made 12 years ago, the writer carried away the impression that there are 30 well-written pages; he is now unable to find them. And really, I agree, for the most part. I could never get behind Whitman. But the dismissiveness is unfortunate, and assumes that the reader accepts Pound as the ultimate authority. And I don't know that I trust anyone who likes Walter Savage Landor to be that authority. Pound claims that Landor doesn't waste words, or something of the sort, and likes him. I don't get it, as much as Pound must not get people who like Whitman. Landor wrote Past ruined Ilion, which is pretty much that operetta aria that is totally sappy and terrible and you love it anyway. But the "sappy and terrible" must be recognized. He did sappy a lot: Exhibit A and Exhibit B. He's basically the Salieri of poetry: pleasant enough, but you'd never mistake him for a master.

So when you have large lapses in your judgment like that, it's hard to take your word for things. And looking back, it's hard to say why I enjoyed it so much - but anyway, I did. Maybe it was the analysis of Renaissance English translations of Vergil - that was pretty interesting. And, I suppose, the put-downs, as much as they kept me from truly being behind his project. In any case, it surprised me, because it did not catch into flame from the sheer power of my burning hate.

__
*Actually, I totally would, and then speak only in Provencal, because it is a lovely language.
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
So clearly there is a lot of good poetry about Odysseus and Penelope.

And I can't get behind it, or most of it, 100%. I love the Merwin, for example, - As though he had got nowhere but older? amazing - but that must needs conflict with my love for what I believe is Homer's Odysseus, who wants nothing more than to go home. And much as I enjoy Stallings' bitter, perhaps unfaithful Penelope's voice, I like her faithful*.

My favorite writing on Odysseus is in fact in Plato's Myth of Er: "There came also the soul of Odysseus having yet to make a choice, and his lot happened to be the last of them all. Now the recollection of former tolls had disenchanted him of ambition, and he went about for a considerable time in search of the life of a private man who had no cares; he had some difficulty in finding this, which was lying about and had been neglected by everybody else; and when he saw it, he said that he would have done the had his lot been first instead of last, and that he was delighted to have it." And this is projecting onto the character no less than the later poems. Odysseus is still very much a Homeric hero, concerned with his kleos. Yet it is telling that he was initially unwilling to go to war, and that it was a threat to his son that forced him to go.

Any writing on a character that you have not yourself created is a kind of projection: I am sure that every version of Arthur, for example, bears with it something of the author, though his or her name be lost to time. And it is easy enough to project dissatisfaction, though heroic dissatisfaction onto Odysseus (To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield). He is the eternal traveler; he leaves places where he has been happy - but, it is often ignored, not for the unknown but for the known.

Why do I project the desire for homecoming and for a calm and quiet love for his wife onto Odysseus? for though it is Homerically justifiable, it is projection nonetheless. I think I want at least one happy couple in the corpus of Greek mythology,* and happy not just on a superficial fairy-tale level: Penelope and Odysseus are no longer children. They are linked by mental compatibility; Homer states that they "think the same." They have faced dangers to be with each other, to lie in each others' arms, as they do in Book 22. They complete each other.

I want their happiness because they are the first couple I really believed in. And so while I can admire the poems as poems - many of them are really spectacular - there is always something that keeps me back from loving them wholeheartedly.

---
*This has its own problems considering Odysseus' infidelity, nor do I excuse his: I would have preferred them both patient.
*The other candidate is Alcestis and Admetus.
polutrope: (aeneid)
Oh Vergil. You were doing so well with Dido's speech (Aeneid IV, lines 305-330) and then you got to the last four lines, "At least if something* was begotten by you before you took flight, if some little Aeneas would play in my halls, who would recall you with his face, I would not seem so wholly deserted." It's so weak, especially as an ending to the rest of the speech (which is my favorite part of the Aeneid, besides the beginning). It's not that I object to Dido wanting Aeneas' child, or even her vocalizing it, it's that I object to Vergil's tacking those four lines on to an otherwise powerful speech.

And "tacking on" is exactly the right word. The rest of the speech is thematically consistent: You're leaving, how could you, have pity, you've screwed me over, remember our love. And then out of nowhere, 'I wish I could have had your baby.' As an ending to a speech that begins "Did you hope, coward***, to hide such a crime**" and contains the touching line ..guest (for that name alone remains to me from that of 'husband')...*****! Really, Vergil? Like line 33, he builds up drama and then kills it one shining moment of bathos. And even then this fails - it takes four lines to do what line 33 did in one.


*Leaving aside how creepy it is to call a baby "qua"
**It's better in Latin: Dissimulare etiam sperasti, perfide, tantum/ posse nefas
***Yes I know perfide doesn't mean coward but English doesn't have substantives. It's a lack I mourn daily.****
****I also think it's pretty hilarious when libretti translate crudele as "cruel man!" Way to kill the drama there.
*****Also better in Latin. The point is, she's lost even the ability to call him her husband, because he's a douche.

PS This is totally random but I am writing a paper about her:
To Helen
Who are you, lady,
loved or hated,
defined by men who died
for the shining image of you?
Whose eyes looked down
from that high wall to see
men fragile as the carding of your loom?
And home beside your first lord,
did you drink daily of your Lethean cup?
polutrope: (Default)
For [livejournal.com profile] dolique
Penelope's Despair

It wasn't that she didn't recognize him in the light from the hearth: it wasn't
the beggar's rags, the disguise - no. The signs were clear:
the scar on his knee, the pluck, the cunning in his eye. Frightened,
her back against the wall, she searched for an excuse,
a little time, so she wouldn't have to answer,
give herself away. Was it for him, then, that she'd used up twenty years,
twenty years of waiting and dreaming, for this miserable
blood-soaked, white-bearded man? She collapsed voiceless in a chair,
slowly studied the slaughtered suitors on the floor as though seeing
her own desires dead there. And she said "Welcome,"
hearing her voice sound foreign, distant. In the corner, her loom
covered the ceiling with a trellis of shadows; and all the birds she'd woven
with bright red thread in green foliage, now,
on this night of the return, suddenly turned ashed and black,
flying low on the flat sky of her final enduring.

Achilles after Dying
He was very tired - who cared about glory any longer? Enough was enough.
He had come to know enemies and friends - purported friends: behind all the admiration
and love they hid their self-interest, their own suspicious dreams, those cunning innocents.
Now, on the little island of Leuce, alone at last, peaceful,
no pretensions, no duties or tight armor, most of all without the humble hypocrisy of
heroism, hour after hour he can taste the saltiness of evening, the stars, the silence, and that
feeling - mild and endless - of general futility, his only companions the wild goats.
But here too, even after dying, he was pursued by new admirers - these, usurpers of his
memory : they set up altars and statues in his name, worshipped, left.
Sea gulls alone stayed with him; now every morning they fly down to the shore, wet their
wings, fly back quickly to wash the floor of his temple with gentle dance movements. In
this way a poetic idea circulates in the air (maybe his only justification) and a
condescending smile for everyone and everything crosses his lips as he waits yet again for
a new pilgrims (and he knows how much he likes that)

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