Friday, September 30, 2005

The Songloving Lyre

Article in the New York Review of Books by Anne Carson, about a 'new' Sappho poem - essentially a reconstruction of a poem earlier labelled fragment 58. Carson's translation:

You, children, be zealous for the beautiful gifts of the violetlapped Muses
and for the clear songloving lyre.

But my skin once soft is now
taken by old age,
my hair turns white from black.

And my heart is weighed down
and my knees do not lift,
that once were light to dance as fawns.

I groan for this. But what can I do?

A human being without old age is not a possibility.

There is the story of Tithonos,
loved by Dawn with her arms of roses
and she carried him off to the ends of the earth

when he was beautiful and young.
Even so was he gripped
by white old age. He still has his deathless wife.

- Sappho.

Carson writes a beautiful little piece to go with this (available only to subscribers I'm afraid). Writes for instance:

"Sappho's is a naked dress. She simply inserts us into a problem of life and then opens it, on a single mythic turn, to time. Time, as metrical pattern, holds the poem perfectly and eternally in place."

I personally didn't think that much of the translation - though not having read the original it's hard to tell. Still, some of it just feels wrong.

I am reminded of three things. The first, obviously, is Tennyson's incredible Tithonus:
 The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,   
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,

Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,

And after many a summer dies the swan.

The second is from Teasdale, a poem called Erinna, where Teasdale, through the voice of her narrator, confronts Sappho:

Your words will live forever, men will say
'She was the perfect lover' - I shall die,
I loved too much to live. Go Sappho, go -

I hate your hands that beat so full of life,

Go, lest my hatred hurt you. I shall die,

But you will live to love and love again.

The third is Plath:

Empty, I echo to the least footfall,
Museum without statues, grand with pillars, porticoes, rotundas.

In my courtyard a fountain leaps and sinks back into itself,

Nun-hearted and blind to the world. Marble lilies

Exhale their pallor like scent.

In other news, it seems Mahfouz is back with a book called the Dreams, and there's a glorious article by John Leonard about Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which Uma has blogged about (the book, not the NYR article) here (link to Guardian site).


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Things I appreciate -

(1) considered comment on my blog

(2) reference to America two posts back

(3) inspiration to post about age

(4) the mental processes that led to your recalling just the right lines for this post (the Plath brought to mind a courtyard in the Vatican Museum - post there?)

What I do NOT appreciate -

- your quoting Tithonus before I could and leaving out "Me only cruel immortality devours"

How do you like Ulysses? It has my favourite lines after The Love Song


Falstaff said...

JAP: Thanks. you could also try:

"I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
And thee returning on thy silver wheels."

About Ulysses - yes, absolutely. I'm not in general a big fan of Tennyson (give me Browning any day) but Ulysses is one of the few poems of his that I simply worship.

Libra Litrou said...

Cool blog.


Libra Litrou

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