Thursday, March 14, 2019

Poem For A Thursday

I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year,
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by,
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie,
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And oaths were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived,
To carry on without a break thus far,--
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay

I was going to pick a different Millay poem, but in looking at the history of Holds Upon Happiness posts, posts from before I stumbled upon her series, I find Jennifer had already picked my first choice. So I was forced indulge my reprehensible taste for cynical light verse instead...can Dorothy Parker be far away?

She's featuring a lovely Elizabeth Bishop poem this week.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sunday Salon

Briefly Noted

Hey, if the New Yorker can get away with it, then so can I.

Tremontaine, by Ellen Kushner, and others.

I'm a fan of Ellen Kushner's Riverside fantasy novels. This has a rather experimental provenance: a company called Serial Box is publishing stories on an app; their model is modern literate TV series such as The Wire or Game of Thrones. The first 'season' also was printed as a book, which was at my library, but there are three more 'seasons' of Tremontaine available on their app.

I think I'd have preferred a new novel just by Kushner, but there wasn't one, and this was definitely fun.

Ellen Kushner is insufficiently prolific as far as I'm concerned.

Found Audio, by N. J. Campbell

Found Audio is by a new-to-me small press called Two Dollar Radio based in Columbus, OH. This is the story of a journalist who freelances for extreme adventure/travel magazines. This unnamed journalist has three encounters in extreme situations. He can't document them upon his return to civilization and leave him questioning his own sanity. Religious experiences?

The stories are embedded in a frame tale that indicates that everybody who's heard these stories has died or disappeared. Well, I'm not. Yet. Or am I?

Quite well done, I thought. A blurb cites Borges and Jeff VanderMeer. Good cites, but I'd mention Philip Dick's novels of gnostic revelation, Ubik or Valis.

Where I Am

We were off to see a movie at TIFF Lightbox theatre the other day when it was sunny. It's not today, alas. But here's Toronto on a nice (though cold) late afternoon.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Poem For A Thursday

Something Welsh for #Dewithon19...

Children's Song
We live in our own world,
A world that is too small
For you to stoop and enter
Even on hands and knees,
The adult subterfuge.
And though you probe and pry
With analytic eye,
And eavesdrop all our talk
With an amused look,
You cannot find the centre
Where we dance, where we play,
Where life is still asleep
Under the closed flower,
Under the smooth shell
Of eggs in the cupped nest
That mock the faded blue
Of your remoter heaven.
-R. S. Thomas

Ronald Stuart Thomas (1913-2000) was a priest in the Church of Wales. "Children's Song" is from a volume of 1955, Song At The Year's Turning.

Jennifer (my model in all things Thursday-poemy) at Holds Upon Happiness has picked a lovely seasonal Emily Dickinson poem that was new to me.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Poem For A Thursday

After finishing David Slavitt's translation of Orlando Furioso--and commenting that I had liked translations of his I'd read earlier--I went and looked up those translations. The one I really remembered was Ausonius, and while he may be helped by the fact nobody actually reads or translates Ausonius, I'm glad he did:

Epigrams: LXXXIX
Give me a mistress cute and pert,
quick to quarrel, and common as dirt,
not too truthful, moody, vain
an exquisite balance of pleasure and pain.
Otherwise, if she be good,
modest, always cheerful in mood,
and an ornament to any man's life,
I'm apt to want her to be my wife.
The mistress comes off rather better than the wife, as Ausonius, or certainly Slavitt, realized. I didn't go read the Latin, though in theory I could, but it strikes me as Very Roman. There are others in the volume equally amusing.

From Slavitt's introduction:
"Decimus Magnus Ausonius was born about A. D. 310 in Bordeaux to Julius Ausonius, a physician, and Aemilia Aeonian, the daughter of one Caecilius Argicius Arborius. He was educated at Bordeaux and then Toulouse, where his maternal uncle Aemilius Magnus Arborius was a professor. When this uncle was summoned to Constantinople to become tutor to one of the sons of Constantine, Ausonius accompanied him....After thirty years or so of [our Ausonius'] teaching, he was summoned by the emperor Valentinian I to be the tutor to the young prince Gratian...The exact date of his death is not known but it was probably toward the end of 393 or in 394, there being nothing any later from his pen."
Be sure to go see the ur-Poem For A Thursday at Holds Upon Happiness.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Endre Farkas' Never, Again

Never, Again (2016, Signature Editions) is the story of Tomas "Tomi" Wolfstein, an eight-year-old who, with his Jewish, Holocaust-surviving parents, escapes Hungary during the chaos of the Russian invasion of 1956.

I assumed from the start it was an autobiographical novel and, in an afterword, Farkas does say that he draws from his own experiences, but that it should be read as a novel. But Farkas was eight in 1956, and emigrated at that time to Canada with his Holocaust-surviving parents.

Farkas is a poet and playwright based in Montreal, but I believe this is his first novel.

Most of the chapters are told from young Tomi's viewpoint in 1956. He first appears in what seems a pretty idyllic childhood in a small town in Hungary: he wants to be a soccer star and actually seems pretty good; Hungary had won the gold at the 1952 Olympics so it's popular. He's a good student. His relationship with his parents is lovely and charmingly presented; his cousin is his best friend; his aunt and uncle also look out for him. Only gradually do we learn how protected, how limited Tomi's view is.

There are flashbacks to when that aunt and uncle tried to leave Hungary (in 1948) and were arrested and convicted as enemies of the state. Then there are more flashbacks to the actual events of the Holocaust his parents suffered and survived.

Farkas writes extraordinarily well about childhood and Tomi's limited viewpoint is sweet but also allows us to be shocked by what happens. It's great for building suspense: the actual days of the escape across the border to Austria do thrill, even though we know or at least suspect what's going to happen.

The flashbacks I found less successful. The look at 1948, when his aunt and uncle tried to leave and failed was interesting enough and probably necessary. I'm afraid I found the actual episodes in the concentration camps to be unnecessary and second-hand. I wish I felt that the literature of witness was enough to prevent it happening again, but I don't: those who least need to be reminded are the likeliest to consume the book, and, as a society, we're informed about one horrible example and fail to see it when it occurs the second time, just a bit differently.

The interesting historical thing in the book to me was the fear of resurgent anti-Semitism in Hungary in 1956; the parents in the volume are anti-Communist to the extent they can be, but they also don't trust the Hungarians not to resort to right-wing anti-Semitism, especially in the chaos of what might be revolutionary times. In the village where they live, the family is targeted because they are Jewish. We think of Imre Nagy as heroic, and he did die for his resistance to Russian tyranny. But were all the elements of his coalition equally admirable? An interesting question.

Well, Farkas does change the rallying cry of "Never again" to his title Never, Again.

Anyway, quite a strong novel, even if I found the 1956 parts better than the others.

Good for a couple of challenges for me: it completes my Canadian Literature challenge at thirteen, though I'm sure I'll read a few more before next Canada Day. And it actually also completes my European Reading Challenge at five books by covering Hungary, though I'm quite sure I will go way over the top again this year...

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sunday Salon

By the way, that's apparently an old postcard of where Madame de Stael held her salons. I really should probably pick a graphic not dusty and in black and white, but that's what I found...

Top of the Stack

Since I finished Orlando Furioso earlier this week, it's time for some new things on the stack. And one of those things is The Faerie Queene. Spenser did love him some Orlando...

The #1965Club is coming up at the end of April. Both @BuriedInPrint and I pulled Miss MacIntosh, My Darling off the shelf for this one, but it may be time to start now.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is on my TBR for Roof Beam Reader's 2019 challenge. @books4Maphead was recommending it and now maybe it's the next one.

And, hmm, those all qualify for the chunkster challenge. Maybe I should find a shorter book, too?

Around here

Because the size of the picture worked better, one cat (Puff) got to be my avatar picture. But the other cat (Fluff) wants equal time, or at least to get in the picture...

The Fabulous Uff Sisters

Friday, February 22, 2019

Ariosto's Orlando Furioso

Orlando Furioso (Crazy Orlando) is one of those sequels more famous than its precursor. Matteo Maria Boiardo wrote a poem Orlando Innamorato (Orlando In Love) which was published, unfinished, after his death in 1495. Ariosto said I've got to finish that, and so he did, publishing his final version in 1532.

The simple part of the story is this: Orlando, the top knight in Charlemagne's court, falls in love with the beautiful pagan Angelica. She mostly dodges him, but for a long time doesn't tell him no definitively. But when she meets Medoro, who needs her for more than her beauty, she falls in love with Medoro; Orlando goes nuts when he finds out--not wearing any clothes and wandering the countryside.

But that's just one thread in this monumental work, which can't be easily summarized. There's also the love of Ruggiero and Bradamante, the mythical ancestors of the house of Este, dukes of Ferrara, Ariosto's patrons. There's war between Islam and Christianity, with the Muslim army on the verge of sacking Paris. (Hmm, not very historical, that.) And there's magical armor, lances, and swords. For you Quixote readers out there, the actual helmet of Mambrino makes an appearance. There's even a hippogriff, that various people fly around on, including the English knight Astolfo, who heads up to the moon to get the cure for Orlando's insanity. So, you know, stuff happens.

I was reading it in David R. Slavitt's verse translation, published by Harvard. I'd read it before in the prose translation of Guido Waldman. You need to know that the Slavitt translation published by Harvard is incomplete, with only a little over half included. Slavitt is discreet about this in his introduction, but apparently it wasn't his idea to publish only a partial version. The economics were such Harvard was unwilling to publish the whole as a two volume book. (A little over half is still 650 pages.) The rest of Slavitt's version came out eventually as Lacunae with a lesser-known press. I haven't read it.

I've liked other Slavitt translations I've read--he does a nice job with the obscure Latin poet Ausonius for instance--and when I saw he'd done Ariosto I thought I'd have to read it. And it reads well. It seems to demand the word brio; in any case Michael Dirda uses it in a review that gets blurbed on my paperback edition. Ariosto writes in ottava rima, the eight line stanza of iambic pentameter that rhymes ABABABCC, a meter that's trickier in English than it is in Italian. That's two triple rhymes per stanza. The most famous poem in English in this meter is Byron's Don Juan (deeply influenced by Orlando Furioso) and it opens like this:
I want a hero: an uncommon want,
  When every year and month sends forth a new one,
Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
  The age discovers he is not the true one;
Of such as these I should not care to vaunt,
  I'll therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan--
We all have seen him, in the pantomime,
Sent to the devil somewhat ere his time.
You see that the triple rhyme allows some comic possibilities. (And yes, I'm quite sure Byron knows that Juan is not supposed to rhyme with true one.)

So in comparison how does Slavitt handle the verse form? (And yes, I'm comparing him to Byron. That is a high standard. He merits that.) Here's a couple of stanzas I picked out:

This is the very net that Vulcan made
of finest threads of steel, and with such art
that no one could untangle any braid
or pick the knots that held it together apart.
This is the one in which Venus and Mars laid.
(Lay, surely? No, no. One another! Start
paying attention. It's transitive. Use your head.)
But this is the net that caught those two in bed.
-Canto XV stanza 56
Women have achieved in every art
and craft the highest distinction, and their fame
is great indeed. They're strong and they are smart.
Without them history couldn't have been the same.
I rather think it is envy on man's part
that keeps concealed the honor and acclaim
they have deserved. If their work is not taught in schools
it is because men are jealous--or are fools.
-Canto XX stanza 2
Here's a couple of things I'd note: Slavitt allows more substitutions in the meter than does Byron. Well, he is a couple of centuries later and free verse has happened. 'But this is the net that caught those two in bed.' It's an anapaest for an iamb in that second foot. I guess that's fine by me. The scansion of the previous line in that stanza is even trickier.

There's also a lot more enjambment: "Start/paying attention," "fame/is great indeed." I'm less certain about this. That sort of thing really de-emphasizes the rhyme and, for me, makes it feel just a bit prosaic, especially used as often as Slavitt does.

Another minor grouse is that Slavitt continues to use the Italian version of everybody's name. Well, it wouldn't feel right to change Orlando back to Roland. But that so many names end in 'o' means he has to rhyme on them a little too often. Ruggiero could be Roger. Once or twice a triple rhyme like "hero/Ruggiero/hear: 'O!'" is amusing. That exclamatory 'O!' ends a lot of lines. There are perhaps too many of them because too many of them are required.

There are also liberties. The first stanza quoted above jokes about the trouble even English speakers have with lay and laid. That joke could not conceivably exist in Italian. Well, they say, Ariosto is funny in Italian. So how do you do that in English? Slavitt's way is one way, and you may or may not be comfortable with it. Also Slavitt uses anachronisms, though I suspect so did Ariosto. At one point The Other Reader picked up the book, saw a reference to Freud and Ferenczi (with two other rhymes on Ferenczi!) and exclaimed, "He's not even trying!" Well, yes, he was trying. And maybe you find him trying. You'll have to decide how you feel about that.

I took a bunch of notes about how Ariosto is also placing himself in the tradition of classical epic. Since I've reread the Aeneid relatively recently, that's the one that struck me the most. (Nisus and Euryalus become Medoro and Clorindo; Rodomonte does the Turnus in the walls thing, etc.) But there's also an Odyssean Cyclops episode. Had I read Dante more recently, I'm sure there would be a bunch of resonances there. However, this post is already long enough...and I've just made it that much longer with this sneaky bit of praeteritio...

Anyway, should you read Orlando Furioso? Would you like it? If you're the sort of person who's read to this point in my blog entry, 😉and you haven't read it, then the answer is almost certainly yes. It's funny, it's engaging, and it's important in Western literature. Should you read David Slavitt's translation, especially as your first approach to it? Hmm, I'm less certain about that. I liked the Slavitt,  but I'd read Orlando before. The Penguin is also in ottava rima, by Barbara Reynolds, and it's complete (though the second volume of that seems like it might be out of print.) Slavitt accuses it of being insufficiently funny, but now I'm inclined to make that my third reading of Orlando Furioso. Someday.

But for now I'm keen to go read The Faerie Queene from my Classics Club list, another of those works deeply influenced by Orlando Furioso.