Poetry

Post Reply
Stirling Bartholomew
Posts: 621
Joined: August 9th, 2012, 4:19 pm

Poetry

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » October 20th, 2017, 6:27 pm

Last couple of days I've been looking at Agamemnon's address to his daughter Iphigenia Aulidensis 1255-1275. It isn't terribly difficult. The syntax makes sense if you stare at it long enough.

Wondering what it would have been like for Euripides to translate Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Autobiography (1958, Coney Island of the Mind) into Attic.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/ ... 221842ab9d

I first encountered this poem in a significantly reduced prepublication recension, in Ralph Gleason's Jam Session 1958. The book fell directly from heaven and landed face down on a rain wet street in Seattle during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I got off my bicycle picked it up, took it home and packed it around with me for a very long time. I knew about Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Mann, Dave Brubeck, Milt Jackson, Paul Desmond, Thelonious Monk but Ferlinghetti wasn't writing about any of these folks. What did Ferlinghetti have to do with jazz? He was a bookseller who earned a doctorate from Sorbonne University Paris.

Looking at this again this morning, I think it would be almost impossible to translate this poem and this leads to question about reading ancient Greek authors. Why do we expect to be able to read and understand these texts? I picked up Jam Session several years after it was published on the west coast in San Francisco a culture very much like Seattle. The fascination with the poem was a combined response to the flow of the words, rhythm of the lines and the obscure references on almost every line. I understood enough of it. But there was a long list of references to unknown people, places and events. It took me half a century to discover the significance of Dover Beach. Matthew Arnold wasn't a popular poet in the 1960s. I will never know why Ferlinghetti changed the wording "ignorant armies" in Jam Session to "educated armies" in Coney Island of the mind.

So why do I expect to be able to read and understand Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus?
C. Stirling Bartholomew

cwconrad
Posts: 2107
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:52 pm
Location: Burnsville, NC 28714
Contact:

Re: Poetry

Post by cwconrad » October 21st, 2017, 11:51 am

Stirling Bartholomew wrote:
October 20th, 2017, 6:27 pm
Last couple of days I've been looking at Agamemnon's address to his daughter Iphigenia Aulidensis 1255-1275. It isn't terribly difficult. The syntax makes sense if you stare at it long enough.

Wondering what it would have been like for Euripides to translate Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Autobiography (1958, Coney Island of the Mind) into Attic.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/ ... 221842ab9d

I first encountered this poem in a significantly reduced prepublication recension, in Ralph Gleason's Jam Session 1958. The book fell directly from heaven and landed face down on a rain wet street in Seattle during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I got off my bicycle picked it up, took it home and packed it around with me for a very long time. I knew about Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Mann, Dave Brubeck, Milt Jackson, Paul Desmond, Thelonious Monk but Ferlinghetti wasn't writing about any of these folks. What did Ferlinghetti have to do with jazz? He was a bookseller who earned a doctorate from Sorbonne University Paris.

Looking at this again this morning, I think it would be almost impossible to translate this poem and this leads to question about reading ancient Greek authors. Why do we expect to be able to read and understand these texts? I picked up Jam Session several years after it was published on the west coast in San Francisco a culture very much like Seattle. The fascination with the poem was a combined response to the flow of the words, rhythm of the lines and the obscure references on almost every line. I understood enough of it. But there was a long list of references to unknown people, places and events. It took me half a century to discover the significance of Dover Beach. Matthew Arnold wasn't a popular poet in the 1960s. I will never know why Ferlinghetti changed the wording "ignorant armies" in Jam Session to "educated armies" in Coney Island of the mind.

So why do I expect to be able to read and understand Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus?
How might one even imagine converting this poem into the Greek of Aeschylus, or Sophocles or Euripides? Indeed, you couldn’t even imagine converting it into the English of Shakespeareor Milton. This poem of Ferlinghetti seems rooted in the culture of 20th-century American and European life. We were taught (i.e. I was taught in composition classes at Harvard) to try to select comparable items from the culture of the period whose Greek or Latin we were writing. One exercise I had in the fall of 1960 was to translate a paragraph of the NYT endorsement of John Kennedy for President in Ciceronian Latin; another was to convert a passage from Nabokov’s Lolita into the Greek we were simultaneously reading from Plato’s Symposium -- using the Greek erotic vocabulary of Plato. But there’s no way, I think, to put this into any Greek cultural context. But it certainly is an intriguing notion.
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Stirling Bartholomew
Posts: 621
Joined: August 9th, 2012, 4:19 pm

Re: Poetry

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » October 21st, 2017, 10:40 pm

cwconrad wrote:
October 21st, 2017, 11:51 am
How might one even imagine converting this poem into the Greek of Aeschylus, or Sophocles or Euripides? Indeed, you couldn’t even imagine converting it into the English of Shakespeareor Milton. This poem of Ferlinghetti seems rooted in the culture of 20th-century American and European life.
The closest thing to Autobiography I've run across is "American pie" Don McLean 1971. What makes them similar is their level of cultural embeddedness. Precisely the reason they don't translate. There's a a distinct difference between cultural embeddedness and intentional of obscurity. Someone who was living in America in the 1950s can make a connection Autobiography someone who heard Elvis sing "hound dog" a thousand times on the car radio while riding from coast-to-coast in his fathers 1950 Dodge will find familiar associations in "American pie." Ferlinghetti mixes literary associations with Post WWII middle America. Don McLean draws primarily from popular culture.

To understand these guys, a Millennial is going to need a Norton's Critical Edition. A lifetime wouldn't be long enough to explain this to Euripides.

Postscript: Vladimir Nabokov represents a different problem. People from the west are likely to read him thinking they understand him when they actually don't. Russian authors who write in English are doing their own translation. Which masks the cultural embeddedness of their work.
C. Stirling Bartholomew

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest