Owen declares that her aim was “to turn Baudelaire’s French poems into convincing English poems while keeping as close as I could to the original texts.” On the whole she seems to me to have succeeded very well in both aims. Her translations give real pleasure as a collection of poems in English. You don’t need to be able to read the French facing pages to receive a strong sense of Baudelaire’s power. If you can, of course, you’ll be in for pleasures that are probably simply beyond the reach of translation from French into relatively rhyme-poor English. In “Parfum …
You can read my essay, published in issue 5 of The High Window, by clicking here.
Ghosts by Anna Wigley. Gomer Press, Llandysul, Ceredigion SA44 4JL. 66 pp. £9.99
In its strengths and limitations, Ghosts is at an opposite pole to Pilgrim Tongues and in some ways much more like The Silvering. Instead of dispersal we have a careful concentration of poetic resources. Whether they’re about animals or paintings, the earlier lives of the poet’s parents, the vitality and promise of the young or the illness and death of the old, these poems are exquisitely attuned to the senses, and Wigley has a particular talent for capturing living creatures in movement. However, where The Silvering …
Pilgrim Tongues by Cliff Forshaw, Wrecking Ball Press, Office 9, Danish Buildings, 44 – 46 High Street, Hull, East Yorks, HU1 1PS. 124 pp. £8.95.
Where Maura Dooley’s poetry is all laser-like concentration, Forshaw strides round the world, taking it on with drive, intelligence and humanity, scattering memorable phrases and ideas as he goes, but in a way that to my mind disperses rather than concentrating the energies of his writing. A number of poems in the first two sections, travelling from Hull through Cambodia, Vietnam and Israel, seemed closer to skilfully versified travelogue or foreign correspondent’s report than to …
Peter Hainsworth and David Robey, Dante: A Very Short Introduction; OUP, £7.99, pbk, 144pp.
Hainsworth and Robey have to work within the limits of the Very Brief Introduction format. Their first pages rise brilliantly to the challenge. Swift-moving, decisive, sensitive and suggestive, plunging straight into a discussion of two famous encounters in the Inferno, and illustrating points with well-chosen references, this opening would have made me feel I knew why Dante’s ideas still matter, why he’s a giant among poets, and why people so praise his dramatic gifts in particular, even if I hadn’t read a word of him before.
Of course …
Prue Shaw, Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity; W. W. Norton, 398pp, hbk, £20.00;
Published 29 April 2014
If I could recommend only one book on Dante it would be this one by Prue Shaw.
Her scholarship is profound and I think she must be a brilliant teacher: she shows an unusual ability to enter imaginatively into the minds of people who don’t have her knowledge. This book isn’t just “approachable”; it comes to meet you, seizes your hands and whisks you away to a glittering party where you’re involved in the conversation as if you were an old friend.
Shaw’s writing style …
Bloodaxe Books, 64pp, £9.95.
Many poems in The Silvering reward repeated reading. I think two are brief masterpieces: “Sendai, City of Trees” and “Keen as are the arrows”. I’ll quote the first whole. I should say that Sendai, from which the boy has come, suffered catastrophic damage from a tsunami in 2011:
He turns the small corner of paper
over and in, in again and smaller.
A Christmas guest, far from home, entertaining
our small girl and thinking of his baby brother
as he folds and folds.
……………………………..When we see him next
his pale, sad, face will fill the screen, his English,
Best-in-Town, will speak …
The Poems of T. S. Eliot: Volume I, Collected and Uncollected Poems, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue
Faber & Faber (1344 pp. £40 hardback).
If I were teaching Eliot I’d see this book as an indispensable support. It will clearly be a vital quarry for lecturers and researchers for many years to come. My concern is with its interest for the general reader, however.
It isn’t for the Eliot beginner or for someone happy to enjoy the words of the poems without worrying how their resonances may have changed: its sheer weight makes it something to read alongside, rather than instead of, the kind of slender volume you can hold comfortably in an armchair. This one needs to lie …
Reviewing Jan Owen’s translations of poems from Les Fleurs du Mal for The North, I was startled by the ending of her version of “La Cloche fêlée”. In the end there wasn’t space to include my thoughts on it in the review, but I want to say something here because “La Cloche fêlée” has always meant a good deal to me. Here’s Baudelaire’s poem:
Il est amer et doux, pendant les nuits d’hiver,
D’écouter, près du feu qui palpite et qui fume,
Les souvenirs lointains lentement s’élever
Au bruit des carillons qui chantent dans la brume.
Bienheureuse la cloche …
Carcanet Press, Alliance House, Cross St, Manchester M2 7AQ. 64 pp. £9.99
The language of Sansom’s poems is plain. Most of the scenes they present are very much scenes of ordinary life. Appearances are deceptive, though. In the first poem we come across this:
A huge willow
grows back into the current I rowboated on
one summer forty years ago, impossible,
the glass drop on the oar plunged back
into the heavy green present, this moment,
when a dalmation comes startling by
with its head in a vet cone like a song.
A lesser poet might have given “impossible” an exclamation mark. Sansom tosses it away between …