For poetry month, I knew I wanted to read poetry, and since I’ve also been eager to return to the Greek classics, I thought I’d take the chance to dive in with Sappho’s lyrics, as translated by Anne Carlson in If Not, Winter.
Because Sappho’s poetry remains for us only in fragments, reading through Ms Carlson’s translations was an enjoyable reminder of the essential building blocks of poetic thought: word choice, simplicity, and metaphor, for example. (more…)
I feel like this week is a week for books I’ve read that I recognize I need to reread: first Blake, and now Dante. But isn’t that point of reading the classic masterpieces by magnificent writers like Blake and Dante, that you know you miss something magnificent and will enjoy it all the more on reread?
I had attempted reading Dante in the summer of 2010 and quickly stalled. There were so many footnotes full of unfamiliar details: it was overwhelming. Besides, it hot and sunny outside and medieval poetry was just not sinking in.
Reading Dante’s Inferno (as translated by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander) this fall went much better. The poetry is amazingly readable, and I found myself reading the footnotes after each canto with interest: rather than trying to grasp the meaning and symbolism behind each person, action, and setting, I just let it wash over me. In one ear and out the other. As such, I missed a lot, but I enjoyed my first full experience with Dante, and now I want to revisit it with more careful reading and understanding at another point, maybe in conjunction with some criticism and explanations. (more…)
In the introduction to his translation of Beowulf, Irishman Seamus Heaney ponders the epic nature of the story and the mythology of the Anglo-Saxon tradition. He wonders at why Beowulf’s story is not as well known as Greek mythology and Homer. My initial thought on reading the poem (in Heaney’s poetic translation) is that it’s just not as good. But such a reaction is not fair, because I am not at all familiar with the traditions, the style of poetry, and the historic characters and mythological gods. (more…)
Maybe this is odd but I’m not crazy about adventure stories. Characters are stereotypes, the adventures they must go through are stereotypes, and all ends up well in the end. I guess I just hope for a little depth or humor or ambiguity when I read.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was, in many senses, a knight’s adventure story as I’d stereotype them, with the addition that in the end (mini-spoiler!) he learns a lesson about Christian goodness that was necessary and appropriate for the 1400s, when this story was captured. What made reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight a delight for me, then, was not the story, or the characters, or the lessons learned. I enjoyed reading Sir Gawain for the language. (more…)
I first encountered Sei Shonagon in a college course about the personal essay. We talked about her tone in the essay “Hateful Things,” and I wrote about the credibility of her critique.
“Hateful Things” is an interesting piece when considered as an essay because it doesn’t read like any other essay I read for that class. Like the rest of her The Pillow Book, it is partly a list, partly a personal journal entry, and mostly a personal ramble. Yet, Shonagon writes beautifully. It has an interesting organization to it, and from the beginning until the end, “Hateful Things” progresses from generic to personal in a beautiful way. Much of The Pillow Book is similarly personal, and the vibrant personality of the woman who wrote it makes The Pillow Book a delightful, fascinating, and important book to read. (more…)