Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

English by contact with Greek, a criticism of one language by another, a fertilisation. But there is no substitute, no adequate translation. Some of these translators have fallen into the abyss of Murray. Mr. Aldington's Anyte is good, but hardly ever steps aside from the path of Mackail. There is no use in merely multiplying translations of Greek epigrams which after all belong rather to the art of epigraphy than to literature. The Greeks, like the Italians, put intelligence upon monuments. If our tombstone artists could study Greek —but this is a divagation. H. D. is a poet. She has at least avoided the traditional jargon prescribed for translators: she has turned Euripides into English verse which can be taken seriously, verse of our own time, as modern as was Swinburne's when it appeared. Her verse is a perversion of the opposite extreme. Swinburne is too fluid, H. D. too abrupt. The participle becomes an indicative; most of the “I saw” and “I heard” drop out; the chorus becomes an independent poem. Her type of verse makes her task the more difficult. It relies upon a succession of images; and the images of the Greek tragedian were made up of stock phrases rearranged. Thus she is compelled sometimes to lose contact with the original in avoiding clichés:

A flash—
Achilles passed along the beach . . .
Achilles had strapped the wind
About his ankles . . .

Euripides says only that the women saw Achilles swift-running, swift as the wind. It would be impossible to find Classics in English

equivalents for swift as the wind and swift-running and escape redundancy. This sort of improvement is permissible, but only marks time: it does not enrich English from Greek. And in a few cases, where Euripides' style is merely bald, the alteration is not an improvement. “I keep the memory of the assembled army” becomes “My mind is graven with ships” with obvious loss of dignity. And in the translation—

There is no power but in base men
Nor any man whom the gods do not hate—

the meaning is completely perverted; Euripides has made the characteristic remark, that men should not strive to be illustrious (in “virtue” in the Greek sense) lest they bring down on themselves the invidia of the gods. Again,

Each man is marked for his toil,
Much labor is his fate,
Nor is there any new hurt
That may be added to the race:

is not only a similar mistranslation, but fails to rise quite to what is the emotional crisis of the play. Still, it is a great deal to have translations that one can read, translations into the language of contemporary verse, even if H. D.'s monotonously short lines with excess of stops and defect of connectives are sometimes tiring to eye and ear. And often she does succeed in bringing something out of the Greek language to the English, in an immediate contact which gives life to both, the contact which makes it possible for the modern language perpetually to draw sustenance from

the dead:

May no child of mine,
Nor any child of my child,

Ever fashion such a tale
As the Phrygians shall murmur
As they stoop at their distaffs
Whispering with Lydians
Splendid with weight of gold . . .

The translations of Sappho and Leonidas do not deserve mention. Some of the Latin poetry of the Renaissance which Mr. Aldington gives us is translated for the first time, and some may be found in Mr. Pound's Spirit of Romance. Mr. Flint has done a service in translating the M10 sella, but is not a “boat propelled with oars” the same thing as a row-boat? T. S. Eliot

The Divine Comedy, translated by Henry Johnson. Yale University Press. It is assuredly an honorable ambition that prompts one to the difficult and ungrateful task of translating metrically the entire Divine Comedy, line for line; and it is an honorable procedure to “rely solely,” as Professor Johnson has done, “on one's control of the English medium, unaided.” He has indeed been as “faithful” as he claims. More: he has shown himself sturdy, dogged, ploddingly, professorially persistent. He has made a real campaign, like the British in Picardy—a trench a day, a town a week; and on page 436 he reaches duly the church triumphant and the luce eterna. But a line-for-line translation of Dante must always tip toward prose. The verbal glamour is necessarily lost; the finely-woven chain of the terza rima—a web of steel and of flowers—is sacrificed no less. We are likely to have, when all's done, not the carved marbles of a Florentine duomo, Classics in English

but only a plain, neat, four-square edifice in colonial brick; not samite or cloth-of-gold, but simple serge or cheviot; not beccaficos or peacocks' tongues, but just everyday roast beef and boiled potatoes. It cannot be said that the present translation seems less conscientiously humdrum than one in prose (such as Norton's), or one on the same line-for-line plan (such as Longfellow's), or one in short paragraphs of literal prose, corresponding to each terzina (such as the co-operative version issued by Dent). Indeed, it would not be difficult to go farther and indicate passages where Professor Johnson has renounced advantages of epithet and rhythm rightly his. Briefly, here as elsewhere, the Unbeschreibliche does not get itself gethan. The present volume is absolutely without notes, except for a few pages devoted, curiously, to the translation of Latin phrases. However, in conjunction with another book of the right sort, it might serve a useful lexicographical purpose. Alongside of some good Italian text that has a liberal provision of notes both grammatical and historical—old Bianchi’s, let us say—it would become a real help, as a pony or even as a dictionary, for the American student who has taken up Dante a little before being prepared for him. A handsome volume, inside and out. H. B. F.

Each year our November number bears a special and difficult responsibility—the awarding of prizes. This year the editors and advisory committee of PoETRY are enabled, through the generosity of three lovers of the art, all of Chicago, to award three prizes for poems printed in the magazine during its fourth year—October, 1915, to September, 1916. The first prize is restricted to a citizen of the United States; the other two, of which one is for a lyric, make no distinction of nationality.

From this competition poems by members of the editorial staff are withdrawn, the members represented this year being Alice Corbin Henderson, Henry B. Fuller and Ezra Pound. Poems by Mr. Yeats are not eligible, because of his very gracious declination of our Guarantors' Prize the first year. Messrs. Sandburg and Lindsay, who received the Levinson Prize in 1914 and 1915, are not eligible again for that award. And translations are not considered.

The HELEN HAIRE LEVINSON PRIZE of two hundred dollars, offered by Mr. Salmon O. Levinson, of Chicago, for a poem, or group of poems, by a citizen of the United States, is awarded to

MR. EDGAR LEE MASTERS

of Chicago, for his poem, All Life in a Life, published in the March number. One member of the jury, while concurring in the award to Mr. Masters, votes for the poem Arabel, in the November number.

« IndietroContinua »