Book twenty-one of Homer’s Iliad covers the core of Achilles’s rampage, after Patroclus’s death and before Hector’s, and includes Achilles’s battle with the river Xanthus, one of the best set pieces in the epic. The book opens with the Trojans, who were on the cusp of victory the day before, in full retreat. In the confusion half the army stampedes into the Xanthus, and the other half is making its way over the plain, trying to reach the shelter of Ilios’s walls. What follows is a summary of this version’s conventions.
Achaeans, Argives, Danaans, and their fellows are flattened to “Greeks,” unless the context asks for some distinction between regions. Trojan factions are treated similarly.
Patronymics (“son-of-Atreus”) are treated as surnames, and surnames may be used alone where Homer uses a patronymic alone and there is no danger of ambiguity. That is,
McCartney = Paul McCartney = Paul, son of Cartney
Peleus = Achilles Peleus = Achilles, son of Peleus
Aeacus = Achilles Peleus Aeacus = Achilles, son of Peleus, grandson of Aeacus
Homer is lax about pronoun referents (“he chased him and he fled” would be an acceptable construction) and this translation is lax about countering this laxity. Ambiguous cases are clarified in notes.
Some Greek words and particles, often cognates, are retained unmodified: agora (assembly), daimon (spirit, demigod), hero (warrior), mantis (seer), phalanx (battalion), and others, as well as prefixes such as ambi-, amphi-, para-, and poly-. Compounds such as “horsebreaking,” “greatsouled,” and “brazenshirted” reflect single-word epithets in the Greek, whereas hyphenates like “long-haired” correspond to multiword formulas.
This translation retains the Greek punctuation mark áno teleía (“·”). It functions like a colon or semicolon, separating independent clauses.
Occasional three-accent hemistiches, or half-lines, are employed for effect. The hemistiches do not reflect metrical irregularities in the original.
Line numbers in the English equate to line numbers in the Greek, give or take some syntactical variation.
– D. H. Tracy
Since the 116 extant poems of Catullus were recovered in the 14th century, his short poems (60 polymetra and 48 epigrams) have struck readers as distinctly modern. The poet grounds these works in contemporary life rather than in the mythic past. His erotic verse is as moving as his invectives are mean-spirited. His emotional range is great, perhaps shown most effectively in the portrayal of his love affair with Lesbia, a sophisticated noblewoman (likely based on the historical Clodia Metelli).
In translating, I emphasized that Catullus is an iambic poet. Dating from the seventh century BCE, the iambic genre owes its name to Iambe, a minor goddess of satire who, in the Homeric Hymns, rescues Demeter from sadness by means of bawdy jests. Invective is characteristic of iambus; accordingly, Catullus, learned poet that he was, refers to his attacks as “iambics.”
To better capture in English his manner–a blend of coxcomb and brute–I abandoned his hendecasyllables and elegiac couplets for free verse, enabling me to approximate his rhythms without sacrificing subtleties of sense.
In spite of the modern feel of these poems, written more than two thousand years ago, they differ from a good deal of lyric poetry written today in one important respect: Catullus prefers a personal mode of address to the meditative style that has prevailed since Mallarmé. Whether praising or blaming or some combination thereof, the Roman poet’s addresses to others read as genuine. T. S. Eliot believed that, for the ancients, the You of lyric was merely a formality. But with Catullus, there is no question that it is intended literally, and issues from the heart.
– Michael G. Donkin
Much like the work of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Atahualpa Yupanqui’s song lyrics are beloved as poetry, in addition to their role in music, and many have been published as such in a variety of editions. The works translated here are taken from two volumes: Guitarra, published in 1954, and Antología, published in 1973. The poems/lyrics themselves cover a wider span of time, with “Road of the Indian” written in 1928, when Yupanqui was 20 years old, and “The Heart and the Verse” written in 1970.
Yupanqui uses the word viday numerous times in his work. This word is a combination of Quechua and Spanish and literally means “my life,” but it is uttered as an interjection, a verbal sigh. When possible I have translated it, but there were instances when I felt it was better left untranslated.
– Maia Evrona
I met Zhu Zhu for the first time two years ago when he came to the US for a joint residency with me in Vermont. We established our trust over a long trans-Pacific phone call that lasted an entire night. Then it dawned on us that such trust could be extended to a book. Since then, I have read every poem he has written and selected with him a collection that encapsulates what this distinguished poet has achieved in the past decade.
This past decade has seen a Chinese economic boom, and many poets have abandoned poetry for lucrative businesses. Zhu Zhu took to the arts and makes a living by writing art criticism and curating art exhibitions in China and overseas. He has made a name for himself in the new field. It was the literariness of his words that first drew attention from a group of well-known artists. His art criticism does not distract Zhu Zhu from his poetry, however. Instead, it heightens his sensibility to the diverse emotional modes of expression inherent in artistic composition.
Though revered in poetry circles, Zhu Zhu remains on the periphery and his work in the art world gives him certain advantages in keeping his distance from the occasional riots within poetry circles. Zhu Zhu writes quietly. His paced poems weave slowly through personal and larger histories. The poems do not surprise for surprise’s sake; rather, they give the reader a painterly view at each and every turn. His smooth lines unfold like a scroll of painting and accrue meaning. Zhu Zhu’s poetry illuminates and sets the reader adrift in meditations, yet the poems are sharp as crystals that cut into the interiority of the mind.
– Dong Li
It may seem odd or anachronistic to represent a poet by three radically disparate works: a punchy satire of a medieval snake oil salesman, a heartwrenching plea to God to stop the Black Death plague, and a rendition of the classic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice fit to rival Browning’s best dramatic monologues. However, for Scots poet Robert Henryson, such a range was second nature. Seamus Heaney, in the introduction to his translations of Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid & Seven Fables (FSG, 2009), described the Scotsman as “perfectly pitched, a poet whose knowledge of life [was] matched by the range of his art, whose constant awareness of the world’s hardness and injustice [was] mitigated by his irony, tenderheartedness, and ever-ready sense of humor.” High praise from a modern master, but worth every word. And as we move through these samples of Henryson’s work, the theme of chronicling humanity’s responses to mortality emerges as clearly and brilliantly as ever.
– Kent Leatham
Born and raised in Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan, Amang ( 阿芒 ) is the author of two volumes of verse: On/Off: Selected Poems of Amang, 1995—2002 (2003) and No Daddy (2008). Her work has appeared in various print and online journals. An avid blogger and mountaineer, Amang makes video documentaries and video poetry. Her bilingual collection, Chariots of Women (translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain) is forthcoming from Fembooks in Taipei.
These sonnets were written in 1918-1919, amidst the chaos of a defeated Germany. In them, Benjamin recalled his closest friend, Christoph Friedrich Heinle. In 1914, at the age of nineteen, Heinle had committed suicide, along with his girlfriend, to protest the start of the Great War. Heinle had believed that the world was descending into barbarity, from which it would never emerge, and he’d chosen to live in it no longer. His death shattered Benjamin, for not only was Heinle his childhood friend, but also his closest intellectual companion. Benjamin never got over this loss and returned to it again and again in his personal and intellectual life. He gathered Heinle’s few poems and tried unsuccessfully to have them published. He also expressed his loss in a series of polished sonnets (seventy-three in all), in which a tangle of ideas merges into a biblical lamentation–death, tumult, confusion, friendship, immortality, salvation, and the mysticism of the word. The sonnets were first published in 1986, and this selection is the first English translation.
– Nirmal Dass
Eduardo Lalo’s poetry collection Necropolis recollects the memory of trees that were cut down to become pages, words that struggled to recognize themselves on the page, language imputed with the weight of colonialism. Lalo’s reader was not surprised when news broke about the government’s failure to secure an economic future for the Puerto Rico, having already discovered the vast cemetery of Necropolis–the site where an unwritten literary tradition perished invisibly.
Toward the beginning of a poem titled “Unend,” Lalo writes, “I’ve travelled the biggest mall in the Caribbean from one end to the other without buying anything. Unconsumption: liberty.” In March of 2015, Rican merchants coordinated a day of #noconsumo (#noconsumption), closing down their businesses for the day in protest of the government’s attempt to impose a value-added tax. (Can writing be prophetic even if it is already dead?) The day after, a nonprofit called Puerto Rico Reads released a video addressing the governor of Puerto Rico, attempting to explain the precarious nature of intellectual production within an island stuck in the liminal space between autonomy and statehood. The owner of a bookstore called Libros AC speaks to the camera and says, “Without books, we are condemned to be a society of beggars, incapable of competing with the rest of the world in any industry, depending always on those who do have fair access to books.” In the title poem of his collection, Lalo pronounces, “I live in a necropolis / surviving after catastrophe and roving / its illiterate city.”
Are we there yet, then? Are Puerto Ricans living among Lalo’s Necropolis? What is the temporal nature of his anti-utopia? Is it a metaphorical present, or the literal description of a death that happened long ago? Reading these poems now feels like digging, like discovering a prophecy. And so I find myself questioning what I’m doing, what translation can be, if reading means unearthing a cemetery of language.
In the past couple of months, my translation of Necropolis has revealed itself as an endeavor to communicate the significance of these poems by filtering them through the anxious rhythm of the current economic crisis. I’d also like to believe that my work has morphed into an attempt to make sense of what literary stagnation could look like, to understand how the death of books would manifest itself both literally and metaphorically. To learn how to mourn once I recognize myself in the necropolis.
– Maru Pabón
Pier Paolo Pasolini, like Pablo Neruda in the generation prior to him and Wanda Coleman in the generation subsequent to him, was not only one of the great civic poets of his epoch, but one of the supreme lyric poets, although lyrical poetry can very well be a civic one and vice versa. Pasolini’s first book of poems was written in Friulian, the dialect native to the region in northeast Italy where his mother grew up in the town of Casarsa. It is from this book that the four Friulian poems translated here are drawn. The book, which appeared in 1942 under the title Poesia a Casarsa, was comprised of 14 poems and self-published by Pasolini. He had chosen Friulian in part as a counter to the authoritarian linguistic policies of the fascist regime. In fact, Pasolini, who had come with his mother and brother to live in Casarsa during the war, had joined a group of young people who had formed an association meant to preserve and defend the dialect. To write in Friulian was thus an overarching politico-cultural affirmation, and all the more because it was not even a second familial language for him but rather a learned language. To write in Friulian was for Pasolini an affirmation of what he saw as the more emphatic authenticities of agrarian-peasant class struggle and existential immanence. Friulian was the language spoken by those whom he “loved in all tenderness and vehemence.” It was thus a self-propelled “regression from one language to another, to one more pure.” As Massimo Cacciari has written in a marvelous essay on Pasolini’s Friulian verse (“Pasolini Provencal?”), if Goethe could speak of “singing a song in an unknown language” then just because “Friulian is not his language” Pasolini is able to find the pure “language of song.” Shortly after the book’s appearance Pasolini received a letter from the well-known literary critic, Gianfranco Contini, telling him that “he liked the book so much he would write a review of it.” The joy Pasolini felt was one he described as an absolute fulfillment such that a poet would never again need more. “I danced along the balustrades of the University of Bologna!” And already in this first book we see in the immediacies and intensities, in the erotics and exultations of his lyricism the shimmering of an ever exhilarating and deeply affectionate intelligence, one that has always been at the center of his verse.
His justly celebrated poem, “The Ashes of Gramsci,” which appeared in 1957 in a book of the same title, made him famous and won him a place among the great poets and civic poets of the twentieth century. But too often this poem becomes the primary focus of commentary and unfortunately leads to neglect of the enchanting and sustained brilliance of other poems in the book, such as the unsurpassable “The Apennines.” But if the long form suited the essayistic and civic side of Pasolini’s poetic project, he still found his way back to that “singing of song” in concentrated and short poems such as this wonderful suite of “nocturnes” which are the Italian poems translated here. Written during the years 1943 to 1949, they first appeared in Pasolini’s 1958 volume of poems L’usignolo della Chiesa Cattolica (The Nightingale of the Catholic Church), which collected together the verse from the aforementioned years. The force of intelligence and existential tenderness–the dynamism and vibrato of a mimetic of lyrico-social and lyrico-critical reckoning–ever interlace in this diction so clear, so serene, so joyous, for all its ache and anguish and for all the analytical weight it has taken upon itself. Like the music of Frédéric Chopin and the paintings of Naoko Haruta, Pasolini’s “nocturnes” are the transcription of the absolutely finest points of soul and sentience.
– Steve Light
Laughter, anguish, pain, and beauty are all sensations Rodrigo Lira’s poetry arouses. Though his life was cut short by suicide in 1981, he continues to influence contemporary Chilean poetry today, establishing an essential point of reference between experimental neo-avant garde movements of the 1970s and 80s and younger generations of post-dictatorship poets. Combining erudite literary knowledge, intense language, and dark burlesque humor, Lira’s work is often read in comparison to contemporaries Nicanor Parra and Enrique Lihn, both of whom greatly admired his poetry.
From a historical and political perspective, Lira offers a glimpse into the suffocating environment of Augusto Pinochet’s right-wing dictatorship (1973-90). Shifting between explicit and more concealed political criticism, Lira’s poetry profoundly reflects the psychology of living under dictatorship, as expressed in “4 Three Hundred and Sixty-Fives and One 366 Elevens,” one of his longer poems whose obscure title refers to the number of years past since the military coup of September 11, 1973. In this poem, Santiago is on the verge of dystopia and, despite attempts to resist repression, the lyric personae only finds consolation in death, albeit through humor.
Interest in the poetry and figure of Rodrigo Lira has yet to spread much beyond the borders of Chile, due mainly to the difficulty of translating his work into other languages. While exploiting Chilean slang and complex wordplay, Lira also develops a particular way of integrating pop and popular culture into his writing. The effort to transfer such poetry into another language, with its own distant cultural references, must forsake certain interpretations and possible impacts among Chilean readers. These translations attempt to break down those barriers and bring Lira’s poetry closer to an English-speaking audience.
– Thomas Rothe
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).