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« indietro

 PHILIP MORRE:

ALICE OSWALD, Memorial, London,Faber & Faber, 2011, pp. 90, £12.99

 

 Even now when a classical education is not so easy to come by, the classics just won't go away. Their importance to poets ebbs and flows: Ted Hughes would have a go at 'translating' anything, whether he knew the language or not, but he was not what you'd call a classicist; Larkin and Amis you would imagine had some Latin beaten into them at school, but they seem to have shrugged it off; going further back, MacNeice did a version of Aeschylus's Agamemnon for radio and Day Lewis translated the Georgics, though Auden, of a more scientific bent at school, sought his inspiration elsewhere. But now, as I was saying, everywhere you look translations, adaptions, versions are bursting into flower. To name just a few I know of: in Australia, John Tranter and Hugh Tolhurst, in the United States, Alicia Stallings, John Talbot, Dan Chiasson, Aaron Poochigian have been at, variously, Aeschylus, Aratus, Callimachus, Catullus, Horace, Lucretius, Sappho . . . No doubt there is an element in all this of a nostalgic longing for a time when a shared culture meant something more than Downton Abbey, but it surely also testifies to the apparently limitless capacity of these great works to reinvent themselves for every new generation.

  Over in England Christopher Logue, one of the most lively reinventors of Homer (War Music, 1985 – Cold Calls, 2005) died in December last year. With curiously exact timing, as if to replace him, here comes Alice Oswald, with the handsomely produced Memorial.

 

The first to die was PROTESILAUS

A focused man who hurried to darkness . . .

 

  Oswald has taken an entirely new approach, boldly, even recklessly, leaving out the story. What remains, as implied by the title, is a catalogue of deaths, interspersed by a series of repeated lyrical similes, not always, or even often, found in the same vicinity in the original. Here is an example from Book 8 0f the Iliad – in this case the simile belongs with the death:

 

And now the arrow flies through GORGYTHION

Somebody's darling son

 

As if it was June

A poppy being hammered by the rain

Sinks its head down

It's exactly like that

When a man's neck gives in

And the bronze calyx of his helmet

Sinks his head down

 

As if it was June

A poppy being hammered by the rain

Sinks its head down

It's exactly like that

When a man's neck gives in

And the bronze calyx of his helmet

Sinks his head down

 

  In A.T. Murray's literal (Loeb) translation, this passage goes:

 

Him he missed, but incomparable Gorgythion he struck in the chest with his arrow, Priam's mighty son, whom a wedded mother from Aesyme had borne, fair Castianeira, in form like the goddesses. And his head bowed to one side like a poppy that in a garden is heavy with its fruit and the rains of spring, so his head bowed down to one side, weighed down by his helmet.

 

  Generally, this is her procedure: she pares down the details of the deaths (often sanitising them to a degree; Homer, and Logue, are quite given to lurid detail: “A face split off,/ sent skimming lidlike through the crunch,/ still smiling, but its pupils dots on dice . . .” – Logue, War Music) and gives full rein to the similes. The one above is atypical not only in staying with the death it belongs to, but also in beginning with “As if”. Nearly all the others open with “Like”, even at the expense of a mild grammatical lurch: “Like a fish in the wind / Jumps right out of its knowledge / And lands on the sand”. This small sacrifice of rectitude is justified by the incantatory gain of the repeated “Like, like, like. . .” Presumably, in the example given, “Like it was June . .” would have sounded a little too much like a teenager. Sometimes the paring reduces the catalogue of the dead to simply a litany of names: “And / DORYCLES / PANDOCLUS / LYSANDER / PYRASUS / PYLARTES / APISAON / All vigorous men / All Vanished”. The cumulative effect is of great power, like a spelling out of Sorley's “When you see millions of the mouthless dead / Across your dreams in pale battalions go . .” – an eighty-odd page funereal march-past (it's not a long book and benefits from being read in one sitting), with the similes providing the music. Their repetition, a choice that might easily have seemed a bit fancy, actually works well, emphasising the solemn pace. Oswald has eschewed punctuation throughout, but capitalises the names of the dead, though not of their killers, who in any case are rarely mentioned, as if War itself were the agency of death.

  At the end, in keeping with the logic of the whole, nothing grand is made of Hector's demise: he is a man, and he dies.

 

And HECTOR died like everyone else

He was in charge of the Trojans

But a spear found out the little patch of white

Between his collarbone and his throat

 

  There follow eleven more similes, sparsely arranged one to a page, with only the last repeated. All the dead have now marched out of sight and the music is dwindling after them.

 

Like when a god throws a star

And everyone looks up

To see that whip of sparks

And then it's gone

 

Like when a god throws a star

And everyone looks up

To see that whip of sparks

And then it's gone

 

  A near faultless volume.

 

-------------

 

Philip Morre


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Iniziative
18 giugno 2018
Libri recensibili per luglio 2018

9 giugno 2018
Semicerchio al Festival di Poesia di Genova

5 giugno 2018
La liberté d'expression à l'épreuve des langues - Paris

26 maggio 2018
Slam-Poetry al PIM-FEST, Rignano

19 maggio 2018
Lingue e dialetti: PIM-FEST a Rosano

17 maggio 2018
PIM-FEST: il programma

8 maggio 2018
Mia Lecomte a Pistoia

4 maggio 2018
Incontro con Stefano Carrai

2 maggio 2018
Lezioni sulla canzone

9 aprile 2018
Scaffai: "Letteratura e Ecologia" al Vieusseux

7 aprile 2018
Reading di poesia guidato da Caterina Bigazzi

5 aprile 2018
Incontro con Eraldo Affinati

3 marzo 2018
La poesia dei nuovi italiani. Con Barbara Serdakowski, in ricordo di Hasan

2 marzo 2018
Incontro con Grazia Verasani - annullato

27 febbraio 2018
Ceppo Internazionale ad André Ughetto - Firenze 27/2 ore 16

2 febbraio 2018
Ricordo di Hasan Atiya al-Nassar-Firenze

23 gennaio 2018
Mostra riviste poesia - Firenze Marucelliana

25 dicembre 2017
Addio ad Hasan Atiya al-Nassar

15 dicembre 2017
Antonella Anedda alla scuola di "Semicerchio"

8 dicembre 2017
Semicerchio a Più Libri più Liberi

30 settembre 2017
Lettura per i 30 anni di Semicerchio

1 settembre 2017
Iscrizioni Scuola di scrittura creativa

30 agosto 2017
Festival di Poesia "Voci lontane voci sorelle" - Firenze, 30/8-6/10

25 maggio 2017
In memoria di Max Chiamenti

10 marzo 2017
La Compagnia delle poete alla scuola di Semicerchio

1 marzo 2017
30 anni di SC: lectio di Jesper Svenbro a Siena

28 febbraio 2017
30 anni di SC: dibattito sulla post-poesia a Siena

11 febbraio 2017
Ricordo di Gabriella Maleti

10 febbraio 2017
Maurizio Cucchi alla Scuola di Semicerchio

31 gennaio 2017
Volumi in recensione 2017: call for reviews

27 gennaio 2017
Antonio Moresco alla Scuola di Semicerchio

24 dicembre 2016
Bando del Premio di poesia Achmadoulina

10 dicembre 2016
Semicerchio su Bob Dylan alla Fiera di Roma

9 dicembre 2016
Incontro con Stefano Dal Bianco

25 novembre 2016
Letteratura e cinema: incontro con Massimo Gaudioso

18 novembre 2016
Incontro con Wu Ming 2 alla Scuola di Scrittura Creativa

1 novembre 2016
Addio a Remo Ceserani

13 ottobre 2016
Il Nobel per la letteratura a Bob Dylan

9 settembre 2016
Presentazione di "The Mechanic Reader" a Venezia

1 luglio 2016
La poesia italiana in prospettiva plurilingue - Paris 1 luglio 2016

10 giugno 2016
Lettura della Scuola Semicerchio alle Oblate

22 aprile 2016
Corso di sceneggiatura di film letterari

18 aprile 2016
Incontri e Agguati. Per Milo De Angelis

25 febbraio 2016
Incontro con SERGEJ ZAV’JALOV - Premio Bigongiari

11 dicembre 2015
Incontro con Nicola Lagioia

4 dicembre 2015
Incontro col narratore Giorgio Vasta

27 novembre 2015
Incontro con Alessandro Fo

13 novembre 2015
Incontro con Sauro Albisani

24 settembre 2015
La Cucina Poetica di Semicerchio a Siena

22 maggio 2014
25 anni di Scuola di Scrittura Creativa - i video

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