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Like Leaves: Alice Oswald’s Memorial

 

Memorial by Alice Oswald. Faber and Faber Ltd. 96 pp. £ 12.99 Hardback

 

This is an Iliad for our time, brilliantly updated by the sheer freshness of the writing, the simplification of situations to their timeless essentials, and constant subtle flashes of anachronism. But not “for our time” in any limiting sense. Oswald couldn’t be farther from the kind of cheap topicality that seems alive in the moment of writing and then dates as fast as newspapers go yellow. I think her poem will go on being contemporary and fresh for a long time to come.

Fundamentally she’s transformed epic into lyric, … Continue Reading

Christopher Logue’s Homer – 4 Patrocleia vs later books

In Pax, Logue imagines that the hatred in Achilles’ eyes is so violent and has such power that it might damage the metal of his divine armour if he looked at it with fully open eyes. If the poet simply said that this did happen the idea would immediately go flat and lose all its wonder. Instead he says that when Thetis laid the armour on the sand

     Nobody looked. They were afraid.

     Except Achilles: looked,
Lifted a piece of it between his hands;
Turned it; tested the weight of it; and then
Spun the holy tungsten like a … Continue Reading

Christopher Logue’s Homer: Patrocleia – 3

One great contrast between Patrocleia and the later sections of War Music is the human scale of Patrocleia’s heroes. Another is in the presentation of the gods. When things get serious the chasm between the human and the divine is absolute. The poem’s climax comes when Patroclus, excited by success and blind to the extent to which all men are only the puppets of the gods, forgets his mere humanity, forgets Achilles’ warning against overreaching himself, and collides with Apollo’s divine power. At the point I’m going to quote Patroclus has started to scale the walls of Troy. Apollo shouts … Continue Reading

Christopher Logue’s Homer: Patrocleia – 2

The changes of perspective in Patrocleia (1981) are a constant imaginative astonishment that keeps our response to the poem fluid and alive. This is true even in purely visual terms, in the ceaseless shifting of the imaginary camera of the poem, for example between extreme close-ups and the perspective from which Zeus sees “minute Patroclus” as like a fleck of radium and Hector like a silver mote. It’s much more so when you include the dazzling shifts between an external view, such as a film might present, and our momentarily becoming the characters as if we were acting their parts … Continue Reading

Christopher Logue’s Homer: Patrocleia – 1

Narrative poetry doesn’t come much finer than in the version of Patrocleia in Christopher Logue’s 1981 War Music: An Account of Books 16 to 19 of Homer’s Iliad.

It’s thrilling to read through fast, as an action narrative should be, but its lyricism and its imagistic brilliance hold the reader’s mind and keep the story fresh through endless rereading.

One thing the work is famous for is the film-like vividness and particularity of its descriptions. The influence of cinema appears very obviously in things like the explicit use of the language of screenplay to mark a narrative shift (“Cut to the fleet”) … Continue Reading

Homer’s Iliad 3: Book 6 and Seferis’s “Astyanax”

Section 17 of Yorgos Seferis’s Mythistorema also takes Book 6 of the Iliad as its starting point. Here’s a link to it in Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard’s translation:
http://nauplion.net/astyanax.html

What a moving vision of peace that is: peace and generational continuity among simple, enduring elements of the Mediterranean landscape. In terms of what is directly evoked within the poem, the brief, muted flares of energy and danger in sound, imagery and idea only heighten the surrounding quiet. For me, “Teach him to study the trees” has been one of those lines which stays with you forever when you’ve heard it … Continue Reading

Homer’s Iliad 2: Book 6 and Michael Longley’s “The Helmet”

Looking for a link to Longley’s “The Helmet” I found this site with a wonderful little anthology of contemporary poems and passages inspired by Homer:

http://nauplion.net/homer.html

This seems to be a subsection of a larger site with links to all the poems in an anthology I hadn’t come across – Nina Kossman’s Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths.

The specific link to “The Helmet” is http://nauplion.net/HELMET.HTM

I wanted it because “The Helmet” is such a beautiful spinoff from Book 6 of the Iliad. Longley’s poems inspired by Homer are fine in remarkably different ways. This one is like a sharp … Continue Reading

Homer’s Iliad 1 – Heroes and Humans

I haven’t read Robert Fagles’ translation of the Iliad for years. I’d forgotten how gripping it is – how fast the lines move, what a sense of violent action and emotion it gives, how effortlessly it sweeps you through great blocks of story. There really is very little like it for giving you a sense of the horror and pathos of war.

In the past I’ve always read it with a strong sense of sympathy for the Trojans. Most people probably do. After all, they’re fighting not only for their own lives but for their families and the survival of their … Continue Reading