Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Archives Project: STL #47

Since I won't actually post tomorrow, and since I don't want to start sweeping just yet, I thought I'd do another archive post. This is the last numbered STL, and since it's a multi-part post, this fact sends me to an editorial dilemma. Do I number subsequent posts in serial order (48, 49, 50...) or do I call the whole thing number 47? Possibly 47A, 47B, etc. I'm leading toward the former, since the posts occur over the course of months. Then I miss my 50th anniversary post of STL, but I may have done that anyway since I haven't accounted for/numbered other STL-like posts I've done since opening up shop on blogspot. I guess I can decide on Friday. (I can see a big ol' editorial meta-post coming up.)

Title: A Test of Poetry
Date: 25 January 2005

I actually buy the Pound/Zuk notion that exercising one's discriminating faculties (or call it 'discernment') is a forceful reason for reading poetry. Thus, I’m engaging in LZ’s Test of Poetry I’ll elaborate on criteria as I go, but I’m deferring to LZ’s “sight, sound, and intellection,” which obviously parallels Pound’s phanopeia, melopeia. and logopeia.

If you don't know the book, it's a textbook that Zukofsky put together that consists of "exhibits," or sets of unattributed poems with some connection in content or otherwise. You have to flip to the back for the attribution, so you're reading the poem cold. I’ll be read by batches of 5 “exhibits” before "checking" my answers.

1a “Arrived now at our ship” We start with a set of three translations of the same passage from the Odyssey, which makes for easy comparison. This first one is starts with a howler; apparently the crew loads their sheep after setting sail. To top that off, the two sheep are vaguely called “late-got cattle.” Nothing following the first line makes up for the start. Grade: D
(Chapman’s Homer!)

1b I belatedly realize that Chapman’s “put forth sail” is the actual raising of the sail, which I guess you’d do before depart, and potentially before loading livestock. Ah well. Here, the sheep appear just before the succinct “And so for Hell we stood, with fears in mind, /and tears in eye” The fears/tears rhyme is trite, but nonetheless shows a nice inside/outside mirroring. Grade: C
(Thomas Hobbes—who knew?)

1c.Terse, modern rendering. Maybe by Zuk? This starts “For hell we launched with two sheep to sacrifice/And trimmed the gear despite our tears.” That interior rhyme creates an exteriority that’s probably more accurate—sailors doing their work despite the doom of the first phrase hanging over them. Later, the boredom of sailor is bluntly shown: “We sat, steered, nothing to do.” Grade: A

2a. The passage continues and Odysseus and chums make their sacrifice. This is the same translator as 1c. It’s just as quick and lean. The elision of “we” in the first line “And paid our respects in hell” suggests Pound, but since it’s so close to “And then went down to the ships like I suspect a Pound imitator. (Like LZ at this point). I like how it represents the creepy fear of being in hell: “Slain soldiers, the wounded armed--/ All clamoring--/My blood paled.” Grade: A

2b. Here’s a partial catalogue of the folks in hell: “Fair pensive youths, and soft enamour’d maids; And wither’d elders, pale and wrinkled shades.” Dated but nice, but compare to 2a’s “Brides, virgin boys, old men tried in hardship.” Pretty fluffy in comparison, as “aghast I stood/ And a cold fear ran shivering through my blood.” Grade: B-

2c.Pretty bland “I grew pale with fear”Grade: C+
(W.C. Bryant)

3a Okay, now we’re moving on the Ovid’s history of the ages. I like this passage, dwelling on (in this excerpt) the Golden Age “when man, yet new,/No rule but uncorrupted reason knew;/And, with a native bent, did good pursue” and moving on to “Hard Steel” (should be iron, no?) when wars raged over, ironically, gold. Grade: C

3b. This is much livelier. In the Golden Age, “There was no feare of punishment, there was no threatening lawe/In brazen tables nailed up, to keepe the folk in awe” (note the stately septemeter, the vivid image of the table of laws put in striking assonance”) and ultimately “hurtfull yron came aborde, then came forth yellow golde/More hurtful than the yron farre then came forth battle bolde/That feights with both, and shakes his sword in cruel bloudy hand.” I think this is the Arthur Golding translations praised in ABC of Reading. Grade: A

4a. Account of some flood, probably from Ovid. Same meter and orthography as 3b. Wonderful image of ships floating over fields (“In meddowes greene were Anchors cast”) Grade: A

4b: A love poem from the same period. Nothing particular strikes me. Grade: B-
(Golding’s Ovid)

5a. Some sort of epigram about one “Mentula.” Prosaic, humdrum conclusion. Grade: C
(Catullus CXV, trans F.W. Cornish)

5b High-level folderol: both exhibit 5a and this are satires on wealthy land owners: I like the last stanza of this one:

he had rolled in money like pigs in mud,
Till it seem’d to have enter’d his blood
By some occult projection:
And his cheeks, instead of a healthy hue,
As yellow as any guinea grew
Making the common phrase seem true
About a rich complexion.

The play on “rich” is funny , the feminine rhymes satisfying. I wonder about the relation of pig and guinea though. Grade: B

(Thomas Hood, Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg)

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