The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Last Book of 2006 & Poetry Friday

Posted on: December 29, 2006

I finished Brother Man by Roger Mais in a single day. I started it in the early Friday morning, when it was dark and would remain so for hours yet. I had finished Endymion Spring late Thursday afternoon, passively reading as Skelton brought every part of the story together to tie it into a pretty red bow. As I neared the end I found myself opposed to the idea of my next book being even vaguely fantastical and quickly settled on another Mais. I needed to end a great reading year on a high note.

My wish was granted.

I have three books on which I need to post at least some disjointed thoughts: Firmin, E S and Brother Man. In the last it was gratifying to see Mais’ craft markedly improve. I can’t quite decide if I actually prefer it to Hills. Anyway after further thought I bolded both as Notable Reads in my 2006 reading list over in the sidebar. I don’t understand why I was never taught any of his works in school. No diss to Rhone and his Old Story Time or Olive Senior but I feel as if Mais’ work could have led to some great discussions on his style, themes and recent Jamaican history and current political issues that high school students do not get to address unless they do ‘O’ and ‘A’ level history. (School curriculum does vary slightly from school to school so I’m hoping that somewhere students in Jamaica are assigned his work. I’m just pissed because I begrudge every damn comatose minute spent on A Brighter Sun. Oh, it burns.)

For Poetry Friday here are the opening lines of Homer’s The Odyssey as translated by Robert Fagles.

Book I: Athena Inspires the Prince

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove–
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod wiped from sight the day of their return.
Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will–sing for our time too.

I am worried. I googled Fagles and he is hailed far and wide for his “modernised” translation, that is so “readable” and “accessible”. Huh. I am no expert on Ancient Greek poetry, no doubt Fagles’ translation is superb, but this “modernisation” has heavily diluted the ancient feel of the poem for me. The words, as rendered there, read more like a modern poet adapting an old myth than Homer doing The Odyssey. The language does not link me to the past. I am not excited, or swept away or…anything.

Compare it to Richmond Lattimore’s whose translation of The Iliad sits proudly in my collection.

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
Even so he could not save his companions, hard though
he strove to; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness,
fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God,
and he took away the day of their homecoming. From some point
here, goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak and begin our story.

See the difference? Lattimore’s reads more poetic to me, more ancient, a harbinger of great, amazing feats. In comparison Fagles’ take is plumb boring: “Yeah so Odysseus ransacked sacred Troy and he had a bad time on the sea with some dumb friends of his. Tell me about it, Muse, in our time (ie Modern English, none of that flowery old time shit, I got sales to make here)!”

I don’t mean to be ungracious as this book was a present and everyone throws themselves at Fagles’ feet in abject worship whenever publishers’ release one of his translations. I’ll give it a shot but I am going to acquire Lattimore’s translation for myself at some point.

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1 Response to "Last Book of 2006 & Poetry Friday"

Brother Man sucks

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