Rachel Terry's Reviews > Nativity Poems

Nativity Poems by Joseph Brodsky
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's review
Nov 25, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: nobel-prize-winners, poetry

For about the first half of the book, I didn't really like the poems. They felt raw and discontent. But about halfway through the book, the tone of the poems shifted. That's when I noticed the dates. They are ordered chronologically. By the mid-1980s, the poems feel wise and hopeful. Then I got to thinking: if I lived in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, I'd probably feel pretty raw and discontent, too, especially if I had been sentenced to internal exile and physical labor (like Brodsky was).

The translations of these poems are really impressive. Somehow, the rhyme scheme is maintained, and the meter is pretty good. There are a variety of translators. I didn't realize that Seamus Heaney knows Russian well enough to translate poetry. Melani, who gets to pick the "H" prize winner?

The imagery is pretty fantastic in spots. I love in "Star of the Nativity" how he first focuses on what the Christ child would have seen and how huge everything must have looked to him. Then the perspective pans all the way out to the new star in the sky, to God the Father's perspective as he gazes down into the cave to look at His newborn son.

There's also an interview at the end of the book. The interviewer talks about a time when an artist brought Brodsky some paintings of Christ's passion that were done as a grotesque. I love what he says about this: "This is all in extraordinarily bad taste, it's not even bad taste, it's just swinishness. . ." Swinishness! What a great word! Also, when asked about his religious preferences, he says he's definitely not a churchgoer, "but at some point I realized that I am the sum of all my actions, my acts, and not the sum of my intentions."

Before I finish with Brodsky, I'm going to read Marbles, a sci-fi, three-act play. I'm intrigued.

One more thing from the interview. I recently read Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog, which I really liked. Here's what Brodsky had to say about Bulgakov: "That gentleman impresses me far less than anyone else."
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Melani (new)

Melani Seamus Heaney seems to be one of the most flexible and facile scholars of the day. And a poet in his own right... I am still going through my Brodsky books. I have read the nativity poem about the star... I thought it... alright. I feel a sense that Brodsky cannot forget his own erudition -- that his self conciousness, instead of endearing me, is a bit repellent at times. And yet, he does have a depth and cleverness... He seems to be searching for beauty in ways and in places where it will always be difficult to find...

Rachel Terry You are absolutely right about searching for beauty in ways where it will always be difficult to find. I found that especially to be true with Marbles--clever but unsatisfying. Have you looked at the "C"s?

message 3: by Melani (new)

Melani Here are some of the "c"s that I found. There are several to choose from:
Coetzee: 2003 He wrote a novel "farewell to the barbarians," which I have heard is good. But I guess it would be chancy whether or not it was too cheeky -- It was not described as a "sensual masterpiece" or anything like that
Cela: I know nothing about this guy
Canetti: Same with him, except that his name might mean "little dog" in Italian
Camus -- I already read "L'etranger" this year, but I have always wanted to read "The Plague."

I think a novel would be fun -- so maybe Coetzee or Camus. You decide. I am almost done with my Brodsky. I have really had a hard time finishing up... you said it well: clever but unsatisfying.

message 4: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca I think you better choose. So far you've been better at it.

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