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4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  169 ratings  ·  37 reviews
Matthew Arnold praised the "Iliad" for its 'nobility', as has everyone ever since - but ancient critics praised it for its enargeia, its 'bright unbearable reality' (the word used when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves). To retrieve the poem's energy, Alice Oswald has stripped away its story, and her account focuses by turns on Homer's extended similes a...more
Hardcover, 96 pages
Published October 6th 2011 by Faber & Faber
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Courtney Johnston
I have spent all weekend feeling somewhat dazed by this poem. I read it twice yesterday; I have spent today picking it up, leafing to favoured passages, putting it down again. I have bailed people up about it all over the internet. I am in the first flush of love, and I think this will be a life-long relationship.

'Memorial' is Oswald's re-writing (rather than a retelling) of the Iliad. She has stripped out all the narrative, all the alliances, the bickering, the backstory, the begging and threat...more
James Murphy
Alice Oswald says her Memorial: A Version of Homer's Iliad is a translation of Iliad's atmosphere, not the story. The "Afterword" by the poet Eavan Boland tells us it's a catalog, comparing it to a cemetery for the Iliad's forgotten dead. These are the little-known warriors of the epic who receive only mention in Homer's poem. Oswald, in small verse biographies, brings them to the surface of the poem while letting Homer's heroes, the likes of Achilles and Agamemnon and Hector and Patroclus, sink...more
Christopher H.
It is mid-November 2011, and just a few days removed from November 11th, the traditional "Remembrance Day" (UK) and "Veteran's Day" (US), and somehow it seems highly appropriate that I have just finished reading a new book-length poem entitled, Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad, by the British poet, Alice Oswald. Oswald's poem deeply affected me in a fashion similar to that that has occurred upon each of my visits to the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Now, let me see if I ca...more
It is well worth getting the CD of Alice Oswald reading Memorial. It is akin to standing on Remembrance Sunday listening to the names of the dead being read aloud. These are the ordinary men who were killed during the Trojan wars - jumping to be first ashore (that was Protesilaus) or Charops who 'ran out his last moments in fear of the next ones'.

You do not have to know anything about Homer or the Iliad as this poem stands on its own merits although it did make me want to go off and read the or...more
Very beautiful. Very moving to read. Alice Oswald excavates one aspect of The Iliad: the laments that accompany many of the deaths, and the similes that accompany them. Here is a typical example:

As if it was June
A poppy being hammered by the rain
Sinks its head down
Its exactly like that
When a man's neck gives in
And the bronze calyx of his helmet
Sinks his head down.

For comparison, to get a sense of what Oswald is doing, here is Robert Fagles translation of the same lines:

As a garden poppy, burst i...more
Ms. Oswald is a British poet of great skill and interest. She has written a powerful book-length poem about the river Dart and several collections of poems, each uniquely accomplished. With Memorial Oswald again turns to the long poem form and borrows from Homer to create a remarkable elegy that both honors the source and by echoing contemporary media memorials that list the names and basic information of our combat dead respectfully challenges the folly that is war.

The first section lists over...more
Roy Kenagy
Captures the brutal essence of the Iliad, interwoven with a chorus memorializing the lost beauty of everyday life.


" was reading Memorial alongside The Iliad (in Robert Fagles's translation) that made me feel the full force of Oswald's achievement. The task she has set herself is a poetic filleting (or, as she describes it, the "reckless dismissal" of seven-eighths of Homer's narrative) and a memorialising of every soldier, juxtaposed with extended similes – a Gr...more
Cooper Renner
Though not flawless, this is a powerful and worthwhile poem, a reimagining of The Iliad as elegy and simile only. For me Oswald's insistence on repeating almost all of the heroic similes is a mistake, though it emphasizes the musicality/oral nature of her treatment. As a whole, the work becomes a kind of large implied metaphor as the recountings of the heroes' deaths reflects against the similes. Oswald's hand with the "long poem"is impressive.
Alan Divack
Haunting. It is like reading the Torah with the narrative striped away leaving only genealogy and the construction of the tabernacle. It makes you think hard what a work is really about and makes me want to return to the Iliaf itself soon.
Vincent Scarpa
So fucking good. Just so fucking good.
Simply the best book of poetry you will read this year. I gave it an hour in the cold outside in the sun, and it was glorious.
When I first read the Iliad a stark list of names of the dead might have seemed odd, but the memorials to our war dead that have sprung up on every courthouse in the last few decades have all but primed me to these lists of the fallen. Of course, when I first read the Iliad a 10-year war sounded more mythic than realistic. Alice Oswald starts with a couple hundred NAMES A...more
Helena Schrader
The oldest known work of literary history is "The Iliad." It is a work that has inspired works of art for more than three thousand years. In "Memorial," poet Alice Oswald attempts to capture the spirit more than the narrative of the ancient work in modern language. Or, as Oswald words it in her introduction, her poem is “a translation of the Iliad’s atmosphere, not its story.” This is an audacious task to say the least and therefore the most remarkable thing about Oswald’s work is that it succee...more
David Kowalski
There aren't enough stars for this. A pure distillation of one of the many heart's of Homer's and the Western World's masterpiece. This memorial burns. A litany of deaths interspersed with antistrophes that bring a new meaning to the concept of winged words. I love Homer, love the many variations he takes in English, from Chapman to Logue, and Oswald rightly belongs among that illustrious group that renders Classical Greek, the greatest tool we ever made, into something we can touch today.
Bonnie Irwin
I was intrigues when I read that there were new translations of the Iliad out and that one had fewer than one hundred pages. Oswald essentially catalogues all the deaths in the Iliad and intersperses pseudo-epic similes along the way, often repeating them for effect. Some of the poetry is touching: "POLYDORUS is dead who loved running / Now somebody has to tell his father / That exhausted man learning on the wall / Looking for his favourite son." Oswald seems to miss the point of the Iliad, howe...more
Guang Tse
How does one turn a catalogue of death into an intensely life-affirming song? By tramscreating a text old and 'dead' as the Iliad, making new life from it with a generous ear for sound and with a subtle eye for the startling image. This is my first Oswald, and certainly won't be my last.
Having just enjoyed reading Madeline Miller's "The Song of Achilles", this felt like a good time to read Alice Oswald's "Memorial". Its succession of laments for the warriors of both sides who died at Troy produced a cumulative sense of regret at this loss of human life. Each death acknowledged an individual life wasted. At first I found the repetition of the simile verses irritating - a good way to pad out what is a slim volume, but why should I be made to read again a verse I had just read? Bu...more
Memorial is an interesting exercise in reinterpreting epic poetry. Oswald takes what she believes to be the essence or mood of the Iliad and boils it down to the raw emotion of battle. Two elements from the original epic remain, the elegies for the fallen soldiers, and Homer's similes loosely translated. As a result, Oswald almost seems to bring the Iliad into the 21st century--her poetry feels as though it could describe any war, not just one from thousands of years ago. As an interpretation of...more
Harry Rutherford
It's a clever and effective idea: all the deaths in the Iliad, presented without their narrative context, leaving just 80 page of characters being introduced and struck down in the same breath. Some have a tiny fragmentary biography, other are just names; and between the biographies are little lyrical similes, also apparently translated from the Greek, but not as far as I can tell from exactly the same place in the original.

The Iliad was always of course about violence and death, among other thi...more
Oct 25, 2012 Paul rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
Poet Alice Oswald hasn't just done a new translation of The Iliad, but boiled it down to a "memorial". Doing away with 7/8ths of the story she gives a brief thumbnail sketch of every fallen warrior (and one horse) which makes the tale brutal, violent, sad, epic. It starts with a list of everyone who dies and this immediately makes you think of modern war memorials, where we see lists of names, but know nothing of the men. There is no feeling of repetition and the atmosphere is helped by the repe...more
Memorial is a partial translation/interpretation of Homer's Iliad. Oswald takes the approach of writing a Memorial to those who die during the Iliad (over 200 names are listed). This brings honor to those who fought and died at Troy, so focusing on those who died is a good thing, IMHO. The poetry itself is good (although repetitive at points), and I enjoyed reading the book. It's not my favorite version of the Iliad (the current Loeb editions are probably my favorite along with War Music by Chri...more
I don't read poetry often - so I feel full. This is a modern take on parts of Homer's Iliad - a work that was before written text and apparently was first an oral work. The author of Memorial calls her work an "oral cemetery" and refers to how ancient critics referred to the Iliad as "bright, unbearable reality." This book is a beautiful mix of lyrical poetry and the horror of war. She takes 200 names of those who died, and walks us through each of their inevitable deaths - some described richly...more
The more appropriate British subtitle of this work is “An Excavation of the Iliad,” for Oswald’s work does not tell the story of Achilles, Helen, the fighting outside Troy. Instead she has created a memorial for each of those who died, followed by twice-repeated translations of Homer’s similes (translations she describes as “fairly irreverent”). The result is a book-length poem of incredible power and beauty. This is a great work, great poetry, evoking in me an almost physical response.
Colleen S.
A beautiful lyric lament for the fallen warriors of the Iliad. The poem places each man squarely within his humanity, tying them as closely to the earth and their families as the battlepoem tied them to war, adventure and the gods. Absolutely beautiful, and it should be required reading alongside the Iliad for students. Not separate poems but a booklength lyric in verse. The next time I read it, I hope to do it wit the Iliad beside me so I can use them as touchstones for each other.
Shruti Rao
Read this out loud, it's an oral animal. Some beautiful similes in there, and for someone with no prior context/knowledge about the Greeks, this still worked wonderfully. A beautiful evocation, a startling reminder that memorials are about stories, not dry statistics. However enjoyable this might be to read with your mind's eye, until you read it out loud - it is still awaiting birth.
Feb 18, 2012 Lauren rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
Probably my favourite book of poetry after Lawrence Booth's Book of Visions (Maurice Manning).

It reminded me that I don't really remember anything about The Iliad, but I got this with the Fagles translation for my husband for Christmas, so at least I can rectify that at some point.

If you like spare poetry and/or epic poetry, you won't be disappointed.
T P Kennedy
A stark, sobering and oddly beautiful book. It's an adaptation of the list of the dead from the Iliad. There's no driving narrative just brief poetic descriptions of men whose lives are abruptly ended. The similes are spectacular. It's the most contemporary evocation of warfare I've read in some time.
I purchased my edition in Melbourne, Australia and it doesn't have the Afterword by Eavon Boland, alas. I may have to purchase another edition, because I prize Boland's work. This Memorial is fascinating and brings back to life all the fallen dead. The similes are reworked wonderfully.
This book made me cry, like many books, but not many books have made me cry because of a simile. Heather Christle said Alice Oswald once recited this whole book from memory and that makes me cry, but in a different way. This book may be important ten years from now.
Really beautiful, evocative and compelling.
Andrew Schirmer
Astoundingly evocative retelling--perspective shift, really--of the Illiad. Now I want to read everything she's ever written.
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Poetry Readers Ch...: Alice Oswald, "Memorial." 5 20 Nov 02, 2013 10:15AM  
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Alice Oswald (born 1966) is a British poet who won the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2002.

Oswald read Classics at New College, Oxford, has worked as a gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden, and today lives with her husband, the playwright Peter Oswald (also a trained classicist), and her three children in Devon, in the South-West of England.

Alice Oswald is the sister of actor Will Keen and writer Laura Beatty....more
More about Alice Oswald...
Dart Woods etc. Weeds And Wild Flowers Spacecraft Voyager 1: New and Selected Poems A Sleepwalk On The Severn

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