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Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad
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Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad

4.17  ·  Rating Details ·  534 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
To retrieve the Iliad's' energy, Alice Oswald has stripped away its story and her account focuses by turns on Homer's extended similes and on the brief biographies of the minor war-dead, most of whom are little more than names, but each of whom lives and dies unforgettably - and unforgotten - in the copiousness of Homer's glance. Alice Oswald has won several literary award ...more
Hardcover, 96 pages
Published October 6th 2011 by Faber & Faber
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Roger Brunyate
Jul 20, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it it was amazing
An Oral Cemetery
. . .
Eight pages, five hundred names, the roll-call of the dead in the Trojan Wars, they call to mind the names chiseled into the white marble of so many war memorials, filling four sides of a towering column. British poet Alice Oswald's poem, variously subtitled "a version" or "an excavation of Homer's Iliad," begins not in verse but in cold statistics. She has extracted the names of every person killed
Jan 15, 2017 Philippe rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, poetry
Alice Oswald slashed seven-eights of Homer's epic and compacted it into a hypnotic sequence of biographic vignettes and pastoral similes. The shock of violent battlefield death is contrasted with timeless images of an elemental world subjected to an endless cycle of destruction and creation. A compelling antiphonal image of man in his world. And so very unlike anything else I have read. The poem's mesmerism is reinforced by the poetess' practice of (almost always) repeating the simile. This cert ...more
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
James Murphy
Oct 17, 2012 James Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
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
Apr 11, 2012 Caroline rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, poetry
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
Aug 28, 2015 Anders rated it it was amazing
As a Classicist and an Iliad-enthusiast, this book was absolutely amazing. I think Oswald attains all she sets out to do in recreating the feel of the Iliad without the content. And her methods all prove effective, from the brief biographies of the dead to the repeated chorus of modified epic similes (and their juxtaposition).

The book is haunting, in a way, that makes Memorial the ideal title. I'd say the book is definitely worth reading if you've read the Iliad. It recreates the dread so neces
Jun 18, 2014 Vishvapani rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
Andrew Schirmer
Mar 04, 2014 Andrew Schirmer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Astoundingly evocative retelling--perspective shift, really--of the Illiad. Now I want to read everything she's ever written.
Feb 03, 2013 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
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
Phil Watson
Dec 24, 2015 Phil Watson rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Roy Kenagy
Oct 20, 2011 Roy Kenagy rated it it was amazing
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
Cooper Renner
Dec 05, 2012 Cooper Renner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 15, 2013 Alan Divack rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 14, 2015 Biscuits rated it it was amazing
Holy wow. Why wasn't this my hands earlier? This is how you do it. It? Everything. This book is everything.
Vincent Scarpa
Jan 27, 2014 Vincent Scarpa rated it it was amazing
So fucking good. Just so fucking good.
Apr 17, 2017 Deni rated it it was amazing
HERMOSO trabajo sobre la Ilíada. Se vuelve sobre los nombres de los muertos. Se vuelve sobre ellos, sus muertes particulares. Se ahonda en sus metáforas y las metáforas que los envuelven. Los nombres se vuelven metáfora. A modo de índice onomástico Oswald va elaborando un poema que en su cadencia, su sonoridad, nos renueva a Homero: sus estructuras de repetición, su tino en la elección de palabras hacen de esta obra una verdadera delicia de leer. Como bien se dice en el epílogo "translucence rat ...more
May 25, 2017 Albert rated it it was amazing
Remarkable innovation here. This kind of visceral adaptation of Homer brings the ancients to life more than a faithful translation. Succinctly highlights the constellation of loss at the heart of the Trojan war (and indeed all war).
Helena Schrader
Jun 17, 2012 Helena Schrader rated it really liked it
Shelves: sparta
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
Feb 03, 2013 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jeremy Allan
Jun 01, 2015 Jeremy Allan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, classics
While I am weary and wary of platitudes about the value of simplicity, I am always amazed when I encounter a project that, by virtue of a simple premise, creates whole new worlds of experience. I count Alice Oswald's Memorial among the books which have had such an impact on me; it functions via a simple question of what happens to Homer's Iliad if we remove the heroic from the narrative, strip the epic from the epic, and look at what remains. For Oswald, that means two things: the chronicles of ...more
Jan 12, 2013 Simon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
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
Ben Doeh
Jan 19, 2016 Ben Doeh rated it it was amazing
A haunting tribute to the war dead from the Iliad.

The process of crafting potted biographies for the endless toll of victims is surreal as we hear these lives, and what they meant to their families, and the local myths that formed around them, then failed to be transmitted beyond their deaths, and the sudden brutish deaths. Short lives.

The re-envisioning of the epic similes shows man as a part of nature - with Oswald's extraordinary grasp of our embeddedness in the plains, the earth, the wind
Claire Webster
Aug 30, 2014 Claire Webster rated it it was amazing
This is a very beautiful book, which concentrates on the brief biographies of the dead supplied by Homer and brings home the personal, individual moments of shock, surprise and grief consequent upon the many killings which happen in the course of the poem. Alice Oswald reworks Homer's similes, or invents new ones, (I especially like the description of Hector as like a man who has left his motorbike running outside) and intersperses them with the stark descriptions of death in its various, but al ...more
Joe Tristram
May 06, 2016 Joe Tristram rated it it was amazing

I listened rather than read this, in a recording by Alice Oswald that lives vividly in my head. Her bone dry monotone rendition is completely devoid of added drama, and lets her words speak out with painful hammer-hitting clarity. She alternates a verse describing the origins of one of the heroes, the mountain or the farm they came from, their mother or sister, how beautiful they were, their skill in making reed pipes, with a verse that is just a list of the fallen. It's a if there were
Harry Rutherford
Jan 09, 2013 Harry Rutherford rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
David Kowalski
May 31, 2014 David Kowalski rated it it was amazing
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.
May 28, 2016 Lee rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2016
Listen. I loved this book. Of course I did. I have a lot of questions and feelings about the portrayal of death in the Iliad. I wish there had been? Some citation, more connection to the text; I want to know where?? All of these similes that aren't about lions were hiding. But also it is beautiful verse and I think it is a compelling reinterpretation of Weil's theory.
Steven Shinder
Oct 21, 2014 Steven Shinder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this after finishing The Iliad. It can be read in less than an hour. This is a poetic eulogy for the casualties of the Trojan War who are mentioned and described in The Iliad. Oswald went through great lengths to include every single name. Her similes are very well-written and suitable as comparisons related to the events of Homer's epic.
Tse Guang
Feb 17, 2014 Tse Guang rated it it was amazing
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.
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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 about Alice Oswald...

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