Monday, 18 February 2013

Project 1. A short history of British Poetry.

The Heroic Age:

Thoughts on Ezra Pound's translation of  'The Seafarer'. Available online here.

I decided to approach the suggested reading of specific poems by considering my initial response and noting my thoughts before and after contextualising both the poem and the poet.. My reason for this approach is to determine whether, for me personally, a poem can stand alone, or whether it is necessary to apply the appropriate historical frame of reference in order to understand it. And to ascertain whether or not an enhanced understanding of context facillitates greater enjoyment of the poem.

So, first impressions:

    My initial response was negative. I thought it was unnecessarily long and tedious. It required a concerted effort to keep going long after I would have normally given up. The narrator seemed to me to be self absorbed, bitter and miserable which I found off-putting. The language was unfamiliar and made reading arduous, necessitating frequent re-reads that disrupted the flow. The lack of stanzas and line breaks didn't allow me any space to absorb what I was reading, it was like a never ending monologue. The copious alliteration appeared contrived and became irritating. I didn't get a sense of any real narrative, which I expected after the workbook described poetry of the 'heroic' age as serving as 'journalism of the day'. All in all it left me pretty cold.

    I read around Ezra Pound's biography. (,  Ezra Pound, Treason, Fascism. Anti-semitism,) and learned a lot about him. It seems there is much to applaud him for regarding the evolution of modern poetry and his recognition, promotion, nurturing and support of new talent but I find myself unable to get beyond his bigotry and this added to my negativity towards 'The Seafarer'.

    Then I remembered that this wasn't Pound's poem, but a translation of a poem. I searched for the original Anglo-Saxon version and found a number of translations that  I could relate to.  Sean Miller's version here, along with his wealth of information on Anglo Saxon life really helped me to place the poem historically, and 
A.S.Kline's version (here) helped to demystify the difficult language in that of Pound, at least for me. 

    I was interested to discover that the final 25 lines (of the 124) seem to cause some disagreement amongst translators. I've included Miller's version here but both Pound and Kline omitted this. I'm guessing that the question marks indicate a degree of ambiguity in the translation. 

? though he does not wish him 
? in the foulness of flames 
? or on a pyre 
? to be burned 
? his contrived friend, 
Fate is greater 
and God is mightier 
than any man's thought. 
Let us ponder 
where we have our homes 
and then think 
how we should get thither -- 
and then we should all strive 
that we might go there 
to the eternal 
that is a belonging life 
in the love of the Lord, 
joy in the heavens.
Let there be thanks to God
that he adored us,
the Father of Glory.
the Eternal Lord,
for all time. Amen.

    This made me approach it with a different viewpoint, looking for potential religious / spiritual allegory. This made more sense to me because all of the versions contained the implication that the narrator was alone at sea - Pound's '...Wretched outcast, Deprived of my kinsmen', Kline's 'In ways of exile, bereft of my brethren' and Miller's 'In the paths of exile, bereft of friendly kinsmen'. I certainly was able to re-visit Miller's translation and see allegory within it although by omitting the religious references I couldn't identify the same aspects in either Pound's or Kline's. I found a very useful  (though enthusiastically American) site here that gives an interesting analysis of the poem.

    In contrast to my original thought that it didn't really have a specific narrative I realised that it falls neatly into a variety of definitions of the'epic' including;

  • narrating a tale 
  • portraying heroic deeds and adventures or covering an extended period of time 
  • a long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition,
  • narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the past history of a nation. 
  • an exceptionally long and arduous task or activity:
  • beginning 'in medias res'.
    In addition, Pound's own surprisingly simple definition of  'a poem containing history' is more appropriate that I thought when I first read his translation of  'The Seafarer'. 

    So after reading around the subject I certainly have a greater understanding of the context of the poem and that of the poet. In all honesty my increased knowledge hasn't improved my personal response to either. But I have enjoyed reading other approaches to the translation of this particular epic poem of the heroic age and learned a great deal about the ancient influences on the poetry of the early twentieth century.

No comments:

Post a Comment