When Christopher Logue published his 20 Poems based on Pablo Neruda’s Los Cantos d’Amores in 1958 he added a note at the end to say ‘these are not translations strictly speaking, but adaptations, and several of the poems are entirely new, although taking their theme from the original Neruda poem’. One year later Donald Carne-Ross suggested that Logue might contribute to a new version of Homer’s Iliad which he was about to commission for the B.B.C. When Jonathan Cape issued an edition of Logue’s Homeric work in 1981, titled War Music, the poet wrote an introduction which gave some background to the whole enterprise:
‘As the work progressed beyond its original limitation I paid less attention to my guides. Carne-Ross would provide me with a literal translation that retained the Greek word order; I would concoct a storyline based on its main incident; and then, knowing the gist of what this or that character said, would try to make their voices come alive and to keep the action on the move.’
Nine years before Logue’s work on Homer got going the magazine Poetry New York, A Magazine of Verse and Criticism, published a piece of prose, now become very famous indeed, which included the statement:
‘…get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen.’
It is surely no mere coincidence that the blurb on the back of this vibrant and page-turning Virgil should say ‘These translations are not only full of light, but also speed…’ (Joe Milutis, Jacket 2)
This book is terrific! Once start the adventure as ‘Clouds snatch sun from the sky’ and you will be hooked.
As the serpents from Tenedos rear up to destroy Laocoön and his sons:
‘New horrors awaited us—Laocoön,
priest of Apollo, happened
to be leading a bull to the altar
when two snakes shot
from the sea (awful to think about)
half-out of the water, blood-red scales
rising ghastly above the waves
tails thrashing around in the foam.
There was a crash as they made land
eyes burning with blood and fire
hissing tongues hanging from open mouths—
we lit out at the sight of them.’
The dramatic juxtaposition of the leisurely manner in which the priest is preparing a bull for slaughter and the explosive ‘shot’; the past tense that becomes present participle, ‘rising’, ‘thrashing’, ‘hissing’; the merging of past and present in the panic to escape as ‘we lit out…’. This version of the well-known narrative comes rearing off the page.
The violence of the destruction of Troy is shocking in a visceral manner as the Trojans drag the wooden horse within the walls:
‘So we split the walls
and opened the city up wide….
Meanwhile the world turned and night
rushed in—covering with darkness
the tricks of the Greeks—and all through Troy
sleep took tired souls.’
Carrie Kaser’s illustration to this moment combines a haunting quality of movement with an eerie sense of farewell. It is quite typical of the 23 illustrations which appear at regular intervals throughout the text.
The Cantos of Ezra Pound provide a lurking presence behind Hadbawnik’s translation: ‘Canto IV’s ‘Palace in smoky light’ becomes ‘left Troy smoking in ruins’ and ‘Canto I’ is referred to more directly in the second section of Book III, ‘Wandering’, gives us ‘set keel to breakers / once more’.
This is the most lively piece of translation from Latin that I have come across in a long while and it certainly stands up well by comparison with Logue’s Greek epic.
Ian Brinton, 15th October 2015