Robert Graves is a good writer, and his rendition of Homer's Iliad is easy to read and to follow. I might recommend it for someone who wants to read tRobert Graves is a good writer, and his rendition of Homer's Iliad is easy to read and to follow. I might recommend it for someone who wants to read the epic, but is a bit daunted my more formidable translations. However, I still think that Richmond Lattimore's translation retains the feel of the Greek world better, even if it seems more foreign to the modern reader. Also I didn't think that Graves handled the Homeric similes very well, and his poetry sprinkled throughout the book, divided in to 8-syllable lines of rhyming couplets, sounds too sing-song for the subject matter....more
Fantastic. Eliot's dramatization of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket written in a style reminiscent of Greek drama. Eliot's poetry is always hauntinFantastic. Eliot's dramatization of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket written in a style reminiscent of Greek drama. Eliot's poetry is always haunting and beautiful. There are various themes of the play, but one main theme centers on the struggle between the power of the state vs the power of the Church. What role does faith play in public affairs, how far can secular authority go to restrain or command men's consciences. The speeches of the knights justifying their actions after they have murdered Becket sound like typical modern politics....more
One of my earliest memories is of waking up in my parents’ bed when I was very young. The light was shining softly through the curtained windows, andOne of my earliest memories is of waking up in my parents’ bed when I was very young. The light was shining softly through the curtained windows, and the bed was cool. The quiet of the morning was broken only by the chirping of birds and, from the wooded hill behind our house, the unearthly song of the whippoorwill. I don’t know if this is one memory or a series of memories mashed together in my mind. Somehow, it’s not the memory itself that matters, but the feeling of supreme peace and perfection that the memory calls to mind. This feeling is also tied inseparably with memories of my mother singing the song “In the Garden” many times. Along with this prevailing mood, I also have strong memories of a feeling of remoteness or distantness; it is a feeling of magic created by stories of King Arthur or knights in shining armor, a feeling of strong nobility and epic deeds. There is one time of the year in which both of these moods always combine seamlessly into one blissful tapestry, like Eden and Valhalla rolled into one: Christmas. This feeling or mood is indescribable, but I always feel a yearning for it. It is there in Christmastide, and there are a number of other stories, songs and books that kindle the flam. Know it when I feel it, but it’s incredibly hard to put into words.
Imagine my happiness when, in college, I realized that I was not alone in these feelings. C.S. Lewis wrote of the feeling he described as “northernness,” and tied it to the human longing for Joy. Though Lewis himself called the feeling indescribable, I recognized in his descriptions and in what Tolkien wrote of as the “noble northern spirit” the selfsame emotion stirred in me by these memories and stories. For both Tolkien and Lewis, the type of literature that best expresses this mood of the soul is Northern literature, that is the literature of the Norse and Germanic people of the Middle Ages. From my experience, they are absolutely correct.
Beowulf and the Saga of the Volsungs are among my favorite books, and when I read the mythological poems of the Poetic Edda, I was delighted by every scrap of poetry in it. Naturally, I had to press onward and read hero poems as well. The Poetic Edda is a collection of Icelandic poems collected in the 1100s and 1200s, though many of the poems date to a much earlier time period. They are, for the most part, pre-Christian poems, and show the roots of later Norse Sagas. The two main storylines in the poems are those of Helgi and Sigurd. The Sigurd/Gudrun/Atli cycle would eventually be the basis for the Saga of the Volsungs. Also I met an old friend from Anglo-Saxon poetry, Weyland the Smith (here called Weland).
There is a power in Norse poetry not to be found anywhere else. It contains all the magic of Welsh folktales, but with a noble heroism and hardness not found in the Welsh or Celtic stories. It is also fun to see these stories develop over time as different authors and editors arrange and compose material to fit their purposes. For example, the version of the stories composed in Greenland bear a marked difference from those composed in Iceland. I loved the Nibelungenlied and the Saga of the Volsungs and it was nice to see the thread of the tapestry being woven and created over time. The story told is rich and deep, full of trust, betrayal, and strength in the face of death.
I wouldn’t recommend this book for anyone not already familiar with the Norse tales. Read the Saga of the Volsungs first so that you can have a better appreciation for these remarkable poems. Other than that, this is one of the best books I’ve read this year I can’t praise it highly enough.
I appreciate having these poems all together in one place, and especially enjoyed reading The Battle of Brunanburh, The Dream of the Rood, and the PhoI appreciate having these poems all together in one place, and especially enjoyed reading The Battle of Brunanburh, The Dream of the Rood, and the Phoenix. However, like Raffel's translation of Beowulf, these poems feel much more modern than they ought, and Raffel never tries to keep the alliteration and the steady rhythm of real Anglo-Saxon poetry....more
Unlike The Poetic (or Elder) Edda which is a collection of actual Norse poems, The Prose (or Younger) Edda is a treatise on how to write skaldic poetrUnlike The Poetic (or Elder) Edda which is a collection of actual Norse poems, The Prose (or Younger) Edda is a treatise on how to write skaldic poetry. Along the way, there are many stories from Norse Mythology. Did you ever want to know where the ability to write poetry comes from? Apparently Odin, in the form of a bird, drank the mead of poetry that the dwarves guarded and flew back to Asgard, where he spit it out into containers. Great poets are those upon whom the gods bestow mead from these containers. Of course during his flight, some mead leaked out of Odin’s butt as well. This is what bad poets drink to get their inspiration.
Anyway, if you love Norse mythology and poetry and want to go back to some of our earliest sources, this is a great book to read....more
Medieval Romances, edited by Roger Sherman Loomis and Laurra Hibbard Loomis, is a good selection of writings from French and English sources of the MiMedieval Romances, edited by Roger Sherman Loomis and Laurra Hibbard Loomis, is a good selection of writings from French and English sources of the Middle ages. There are eight separate stories in the collection. Of these, three were especially interesting to me. Perceval, translated by R. S. Loomis, is rollicking comedy and reads often like a medieval version of Adam Sandler’s movie The Waterboy. Perceval lives with his overprotective mother who keeps her son ignorant of knighthood lest he leave home like his father before him. The Youth of Alexander the Great, translated by R. S. Loomis, is a brief, but humorous medieval pastiche of apocryphal accounts of the great conqueror’s early life. Aucassin and Nicolete, translated by Andrew Lang, is a beautiful love story in both prose and poetry, which I had never before read.
Havelok the Dane and The Book of Balin I had read before. Both are wonderful stories, and are well presented here. The story of Balin stands well on its own, but really ought to be read in the full context of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.
As to the remaining three stories, all are good stories and ought to be in a collection such as this. However, for those interested, all three can be found in better form elsewhere. For the story of Tristan and Isolt, here translated in prose form by Jessie L. Weston, readers may wish to read the excellent verse rendition by Joseph Bédier, translated by Hilaire Belloc. Sir Orfeo, here translated in prose by L. H. Loomis, is available in a verse translation by J. R. R. Tolkien. Finally, though there are many translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, here translated in prose by M. R. Ridley, I always prefer a verse translation and recommend either the J. R. R. Tolkien translation or the Penguin Classics translation by Brian Stone.
Overall this book is a great overview and introduction to medieval romances, and each of the stories comes with a nice, brief introduction. I recommend this book for any interested in wading into medieval literature or adding to their knowledge. ...more
True love is theological. This is the conclusion one reaches while reading this early work of the writer of the Divine Comedy. Dante Alighieri wrote LTrue love is theological. This is the conclusion one reaches while reading this early work of the writer of the Divine Comedy. Dante Alighieri wrote La Vita Nuova at the age of twenty-six, shortly after the death of his beloved Beatrice.
On the surface this book is simply a collection of love poetry, displaying all the conventions of courtly love. Boy meets girl. Boy loves girl. Boy is too overcome with a sense of his own unworthiness to ever speak to girl. Girl dies. The end. However, below the surface, this book is a profound reflection on the nature of love and of how human love can lead us to Divine Love. Indeed, Dante becomes a servant of Divine Love throughout the book as he meditates on Beatrice and mourns for Beatrice. In the quality of perfection which she possesses, a quality that is actually a result of Dante’s love for her, Dante sees an image of salvation itself and gives himself wholeheartedly to it. When, in one poem, Dante writes that the inhabitants of heaven plead for God to call Beatrice to join them, God responds:
My well-beloved, suffer that in peace Your hope remain, while so My pleasure is, There where one dwells who dreads the loss of her; And who in Hell unto the doom’d shall say, ‘I have look’d on that for which God’s chosen pray.’
The Church at the time clearly had some problems with this imagery, and tried to censor Dante’s book by removing from it all the theological language. Gone were the references to salvation and benediction from Beatrice. Gone were the overtones of Dante’s encounter with Beatrice and her friend Joan, wherein Dante saw Joan as John the Baptist, the forerunner, and Beatrice as the Mother of Love. Either Dante did not experience these things, in which case he was an over-amorous young man writing blasphemies, or he did experience an unusual mystical vision which should not be tainted by connection with a mere human. However, Charles Williams, scholar and friend of C. S. Lewis, maintains that Dante’s experience was real and not at all unusual. It was the experience of love that all young men encounter when they meet that one girl for the first time. It is the experience of courtship, the thrill of passion, the agony of waiting to hear from the beloved again. Dante truly saw that human love is an image of Divine Love, and that through faithfulness in love, we may progress to faithfulness to Love. This is all fleshed out more fully in the Divine Comedy, where the love of Beatrice very literally leads Dante to heaven.
For those interested in Dante or in the Divine Comedy, I wholeheartedly recommend a study of La Vita Nuova.
This book was enormously helpful in understanding Eliot's Four Quartets. I think Howard saw things in Eliot that Eliot himself did not see. And I sawThis book was enormously helpful in understanding Eliot's Four Quartets. I think Howard saw things in Eliot that Eliot himself did not see. And I saw things in Eliot that Howard did not see. And Howard saw many things in Eliot that I did not see. Isn't poetry grand?...more
This was undoubtedly one of the most difficult books I've ever read. The only way I made it through was by making copious notes in the margins, and goThis was undoubtedly one of the most difficult books I've ever read. The only way I made it through was by making copious notes in the margins, and going very slowly. The book got quite a bit easier after Williams began discussing the Commedia, but this is probably because I am familiar with the Commedia and not with Dante's earlier works. This book was truly great on every level. As a commentary on Dante it was superb. As a work of philosophical theology, it was challenging. And it was, to my surprise, a great devotional book on marriage as well....more
Never have I seen such beautiful language employed in the service of such ugly ideas. A pity really as there are flashes of true brilliance and knowleNever have I seen such beautiful language employed in the service of such ugly ideas. A pity really as there are flashes of true brilliance and knowledge intermingled throughout....more