Sunday, December 10, 2017

To save a memory

I owe to my mother, her reliance
upon the church of our denomina-
tion, to welcome one in any new
setting; and to my father I owe
a trust in the nearest exception-
al golf course. That said, Epis-
copalianism and Pinehurst, being
beyond one's reach on coming to
Virginia a couple of decades ago,
I resorted to my own, infallible
solution. I'm at home among defunct
editions. As a comparative child,
at Yale Law, I traveled to Litch-
field for them; later at Stanford,
I climbed the stairs at Post and
Stockton, to the aerie of John
Scopazzi, and hiked up the street
to Warren Howell, for my 1st of
The Common Law. In Charlottes-
ville, I found myself on South 
Street, in an English basement 
bookstore where the hostess of-
fered to give me dinner in her
garden. She was skeptical of a
lavender omelette, I was specu-
lating. When I saw her herbs, I
knew I'd won. We risked a memory
on a plate; and may I say, I'll
never be in doubt of this again.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Princeton Classics don funks Ferry

Were you there, in your in-box
yesterday afternoon, as the
weekend Book Review from The
Times dropped in for tea? It
was a convenience not to be at
a window when the hyper-link
opened upon a classic monkish
defenestration, of David Ferry's
radiant Aeneid. It brought to 
mind the Great Purges of the
1930s, or Lawrence Stone's be-
ing "smote, hip and thigh," in
the English Historical Review
by Trevor-Roper, heretofore a
benchmark of defrocking inde-
cency in the guise of punctilio.

That this thrilling "trumpet
blast," not to be more Puritan-
ical in its appreciation than 
it is in conception, should 
have emerged from the Classics 
department at one's own alma 
mater, is proof of the pres-
tige of the underlying text,
albeit an irresistible incite-
ment to expose a critic's am-
bition. Who can doubt, that
Princeton's Professor Fagles,
himself an auto-didact in
the language under discussion,
is rolling in his grave, over
the allegations steeping from 
a putrefaction of pettiness,
a self-contradictory brew of 
academic bile:

The book is justified only by
the curse of trendy topicality.
Zounds, it contains no glossary!
It contains no essay on the
literary tradition, no refer-
ence to its historical setting.
It is not a term paper! Worse
than that, it isn't a raw leap
of re-imagining, in the unlic-
ensed vein of Logue and Pound!
It's no romp of heroic couplets
from 17th Century English,
either! I even counted errors!
How dare his publisher fail
this innocent, when already he 
is tainted by enviable esteem
in my profession, and distin-
guished by more modesty, po-
etry, and empathy than I?

We recall this critic's seat
as a setting for learning to
play fair. His review of the
new Aeneid overlooks how en-
tire swaths of the text have
been ignored in the literary
tradition of its translation,
and quite routinely recomposed
in the best of it. His silence
on these realities mirrors a
shocking omission of "flaws"
in everything he praises in
this review. This behavior is
beneath the earnestness of un-
dergraduates, and stains the
place they learn to love it.

Denis Feeney
The New York Times
December 5, 2017

Friday, December 8, 2017

Suppose it were Friday cxliii: If you do not come this day

               Morning and the snow might fall forever.
               I keep busy. I watch the yellow dogs
               chase creeping cars filled with Indians
               on their way to the tribal office.
               Grateful trees tickle the busy underside
               of our snow-fat sky. My mind is right,
               I think, and you will come today
               for sure, this day when the snow falls.

               From my window, I see bundled Doris Horseman,
               black in the blowing snow, her raving son,
               Horace, too busy counting flakes to hide his face.
               He doesn't know. He kicks my dog        
               and glares at me, too dumb to thank the men
               who keep him on relief and his mama drunk.

               My radio reminds me that Hawaii calls
               every afternoon at two. Moose Jaw is overcast,
               twelve below and blowing. Some people . . .
               Listen: if you do not come this day, today
               of all days, there is another time
               when breeze is tropic and riffs the green sap
               forever up these crooked cottonwoods. Sometimes,
               you know, the snow never falls forever.

We marvel now, to be shacked up
with a Party devoted to humili-
ation as the destiny of human-
ity - or, at least that portion
under its grasping governance:
marginalized as vulgar, in-
effectual, superstitious, cap-
tious, and cruel in the eyes
of the world, and subordinate
to exploitive layers of incor-
porated priests, mediating be-
tween ourselves and authority.
They set their face against
time, and anything that endures.

It is remarkable, David Ferry
wrote in his preface to Virgil's
Georgics, how the triumphs and
sufferings of the creatures other
than man are fully meaningful 
and substantiated in themselves;
they're never merely background
for, not merely metaphors for, 
the story of men. The dignity of
what they are is never exploited
as pathetic fallacy; there is no
condescension toward those others
who share our fallen world with us.

In the Classics we situate our
endeavors in a context of vastly
less illusion than our Parties
condition us to crave, but this
conduit is not content, it is
method: the eyesight of poetry.
This is why, after any reflection
in the world of Virgil, one turns
seamlessly effortlessly to the
poetry of the American, James Welch.

In this wonderful week, when an Am-
erican President stripped protec-
tions of preservation from a great
natural monument, and hurled the
ancient peoples of Palestine into
a vastly more volatile conflict
than international accords have
ever condoned, it is apposite to
see the trees, the dogs, the snow
invoked, not as background for re-
volting violations of promises. As 
very real sharers of our condition.

Riding the Earthboy 40
  Going to Remake This World
op. cit.
Penguin, 2004©

i  Edward Dimsdale

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Some kind of kinship: the Virgilian prefaces of David Ferry

             I will be gone from here and sing my songs
             In the forest wilderness where the wild beasts are,
             And carve in letters on the little trees
             The story of my love, and as the trees
             Will grow the letters too will grow, to cry
             In a louder voice of my love.

A friend of mine, living in Brooklyn
and awaiting at any minute the birth
of his first child, wrote to me of a 
scheme to recite from The Aeneid dur-
ing the interrupted nights he expects
from the nursery. Widely and learnedly
traveled as he and his wife are, it
seemed to me that some of the harbors
in that poem might be deferred for a
child's later contemplation, but that
the same poet could serve in the pas-
toral mode of his earlier writings.

I sense that it is next to impossible
to discuss the positively immortal
beauty of Virgil's poetry in our in-
teresting culture, without sounding 
a little arch. But this is not true
of everyone, and it is probably least
true of one man, who could say this,
in a preface to The Aeneid from one 
of the finest houses in publishing:

I love the way that opening line in
the Latin ends with "almam" . .

Aurora interea miseris mortalibus almam

Aurora rose, spreading her pitying light

In Fagles, this is "the light that gives
men life." In Ruden, it is similar, "nur-
turing." In Fitzgerald, it is "kindly."
Sadly, every single one of these associa-
tions is not what Virgil had in mind at
this moment of spectacular mourning. Yet
each of these translations is commendable
for its industry, learning, and modesty.
I live with these exemplary translations
in grateful companionship, but this poet
has not shaken the soul of our "living"
language, to be forsaken to immortality.

One thinks of a new child and her father in
the nursery late at night, as the least neg-
eligible of all respondents in communication.
The corresponding burden, although light,
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
But there is wisdom, and there is more. 

In this preface, and in the two he wrote
for Virgil's Eclogues and Georgics, David
Ferry has quietly promulgated a manifesto
on translation which every reader will wel-
come in many ways - on meter, on vocabulary,
on literary structure. The problem, more to
be relished than ignored, is how arduous
the choices are, how infinitely demanding
of the inherent gifts of poetry, itself,
in both voices in translation's dialogue:

The effort is to achieve a representation, 
in the lines as they move forward, line 
by line, telling the tale, some kind of
kinship not only to the sense of the Lat-
in but also to the expressive complexit-
its of implicated discernment and emotion
in the lines. 

In so many ways, the poetry of Virgil
projects that protection and libera-
tion through form which bear the
least dissonance with the greatest
love. I cite David Ferry's translation
of these lines from Gallus' song in the
Tenth Eclogue, as some evidence for the
ardor living in the Latin for the Eng-
lish listener, to respond to disbelief 
that it can be done. This is no tour de
force, merely of linguistics. It is con-
duct of the highest moral liveliness,
by which, I should think, we are all
awakened. And so one goes on, singing,
in the very weather of one's own time -

          But I think it is not out of order for me to say
          that "completing" this translation of the work of
          such a great poet means a great deal to me person-
          ally, since I have previously translated his Ec-
          logues and his Georgics, and I am in love with his
          voice as I hear it in all these poems,

          telling how it is with all created beings, the very
          leaves on the trees, the very rooted plants, the
          beasts in the fields, the shepherds trying to keep
          their world together with song replying to song re-
          plying to song,

          the bees in their vulnerable hives, doing their
          work, the soldiers doing their work of killing and
          dying, the falling cities, and the kings and fathers,
          and their sons, and Dido, and Palinurus, and Deipho-
          bus, and Mezentius the disrespecter of gods, and the
          mortal son of Venus, the creature Aeneas, carrying
          his household gods to build a city, heroic and vul-
          nerable, himself subject to monstrous rage, himself
          not always unconfused. All of them, all of us, crea-
          tures, created beings, heroic and vulnerable, and
          Virgil's voice telling it as it is, in his truth-
          telling pitying voice.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999©

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005©

University of Chicago Press, 2017©

Photography, here

Sunday, December 3, 2017


                 Yes, happiness, believe it or not,
                 that most mysterious because most
                 evanescent of conditions.. The hap-
                 piness I speak of has nothing to do
                 with nature's fang and claw, but is
                 exclusive to humankind, a by-product
                 of evolution, a consolation prize for
                 us poor winded runners in the human
                 race. It is a force whose action is
                 so delicate and so fleeting we hard-
                 ly feel it operating in us before it
                 has become a thing of the past. Yet
                 it burns in us, and we burn in it,
                 unconsumed. I cannot be now as I was
                 then - I may recall but not experi-
                 ence again the bliss of those days -
                 yet I must not be led by embarrass-
                 ment and sorrow and pain to deny what
                 I felt then, no matter how shaming or
                 deluded it may seem to me now. I held
                 her to me, this suddenly familiar
                 stranger, and felt her heart beating
                 and listened to the rustle of her
                 breathing and thought I had come at
                 last to my true place, the place
                 where, still and at the same time
                 profoundly stirred, feverish yet 
                 preternaturally calm, I would at last
                 be who I was.

                Here she is, the moving mirror in
                which I surprised myself, poor gog-
                gle-eyed Actaeon, my traitorous
                hounds already sniffing suspiciously
                at my heels.. She is the goddess of
                movement and transformations. And I,
                I am bowed down before her, abject
                and entranced, my forehead pressed 
                to the cold stone of the temple floor.

John Banville
  A Novel
Alfred A. Knopf, 1995©

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Modes of dismembership

The most decorated work of overseas
journalism since the Indochina wars,
Philip Gourevitch's "Stories from
Rwanda" (1998), carries the title,
We wish to inform you that tomorrow
we will be killed with our families.

Against the objection to comparison
of the repressive siege in the United
States, with the genocidal "dignity"
of the tribal bloodbath in Rwanda, I
offer the defense only of his ingeni-
ous elevation of the darkest certainty
We resist distraction to the mode
of embedding severe social cleavage,
to highlight denial of the constant.

Dawn after dawn, missing almost never a
day, and persistently escalating nicely
since the riots he praised in Charlot-
tesville last Summer, the President of
the United States has incited barbaric
tribesmen and statesman-enablers to dis-
member every integument of civil space.

This is nothing new. Only the portrait
is new. Is there any coffee left?


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Reading, 2017

I think of this ornament of the col-
lections of the Musée de l'Orangerie
as the very image of free choice in
what to consume. I think of how of-
ten we've awakened to a day of free
time, say, and scanned our shelves
for that one volume that anticipates
us, from many we'd have named with-
out even looking. Hundreds and hun-
dreds of times, through the years,
I've stood as any reader in posses-
sion of his senses, to allow them to
be led, challenged, succoured, even
revealed, in the biting in to their
seeming ripeness, by literature's
opportune incisors. Shelved thoughts
anyone's taken on, as if allowing
the choice to be theirs, having en-
joyed the prerogative of their se-
lection. One asks, as we say these
days, call me by your name. An ex-
change of self-possession is not

So much, for customs in common.

Now, for the first time, since
the great Depression of the 1930s,
Americans have been staggered by in-
formation of the most voluminous in-
tensity and calculated artificial-
ity, not to assuage bad times but to 
foment them. This we lack the irres-
ponsibility to ignore. Now a whole
government has promulgated such per-
petual emergency and disorientation,
as to rival the blistering effects
of the Dust Bowl. Against this ex-
otic environment, we've stood be-
fore our bookshelves to specify
something none of us had needed -
defenses, shaped to the affront.

Now, this is not the rôle of liter-
ature, but of prostitutes. How ex-
traordinarily the brusque velocity
of this abduction has driven any
reader off his bearings, is only the
measure of a pimp's triumph. We un-
derstand, much as we do not begrudge
the Third Reich in Germany its manip-
ulative genius, it is time to honor
that of the new American government.

Not as our author of the year. But as
the last year, the reading of a free
people had been so interrupted. Most
of us saw many fewer of the books en-
titled to our elective exploration,
than we might ever have done outside
of active military duty. And they are
the real literature of the resistance.
Apples, biscuits, glowing choice.

Paul Cézanne
Apples and biscuits
ca 1880

Franz Kline