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Archive for January 8th, 2013

A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear in ourselves — Simone Weil

GuggenheimPlaceVintmilleversionblog
Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940), Place Vintimille, a vertical pair of murals, Paris

Dear friends and readers,

While away in Boston, I happily read different books than I usually do when I’m at home (that’s one of the ways I vacation, I break from my usual books to try others), and read poems by and about Dahlia Ravikovitch (1936-2005), an Israeli poet writing in Hebrew who was a passionate protester (among other poets) of the Israeli gov’t’s horrendous (barbaric) policies towards the Palestinian people; she is introduced by Ilana Szobel’s reading of her “poetics of trauma.” A second woman poet I had read before, Alice Oswald (b. 1966), but not this unusual translation from Homer’s Iliad, Memorial. “; Oswald reaches deep into the Iliad to find its core electrifying depiction of death-in-life and the natural world. I bring in Simone Weil’s The Poem of Force, which I need to re-read. A fourth witness is Christa Wolff whose Cassandra and Four Essays brings forth the same territory.

The poetry intrigues me: all of it is translated. I am reading Ravikovitch through Szobel’s translations after all. Oswald’s translation (and Weil’s) shows that one must sometimes be diametrically unfaithful to one’s text to bring out truths in it and about life. All three show how gender continually shapes what we write.

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I was so stirred by Oswald’s stanzas: what she did was omit all features of Homer’s poem except the descriptions of each person’s death, which the poem abounds in, and are often accompanied by some succinct review of his life; and the similes and metaphors, which the poem equally abounds in. These taken together bring home to the reader the visceral and moving core of the poem.

Here is one series:

….

Like snow falling like snow
When the living winds shake the clouds into pieces
Like flutters of silence hurrying down
To put a stop to the earth at her leafwork

Like snow falling like snow
When the living winds shake the clouds into pieces
Like flutters of silence hurrying down
To put a stop to the earth at her leafwork

SCAMANDRIUS the hunter
Knew every deer in the woods
He used to hear the voice of Artemis
Calling out to him in the lunar
No man’s land of the mountains
She taught him to track her animals
But impartial death has killed the killer
Now Artemis with all her arrows can’t help him up
His accurate firing arm is useless
Menelaus stabbed him
One spear-thrust through the shoulders
And the point came out through the ribs
His father was Strophius

Like when a mother is rushing
And a little girl clings to her clothes
Wants help wants arms
Won’t let her walk

Like staring up at that tower of adulthood
Wanting to be light again
Wanting this whole problem of living to be lifted
And carried on a hip

Like when a mother is rushing
And a little girl clings to her clothes
Wants help wants arms
Won’t let her walk

Like staring up at that tower of adulthood
Wanting to be light again
Wanting this whole problem of living to be lifted
And carried on a hip

Beloved of Athene Pherecles son of Harmion
Brilliant with his hands and born of a long line of craftsmen
It was he who built the cursed fleet of Paris
Little knowing it was his own death boat
Died on his knees screaming
Meriones speared him in the buttock
And the point pierced him in the bladder …

In her afterword Eavon Boland (who has edited a volume of anti-war 20th century poetry by women) suggests Oswald geologizes Homer. For a nanosecond’s visibility, a young man is before us, and each individually horribly cut down as all around them the life of the natural world goes down. From having read other translations of Homer, I know the secret to Oswald’s continual interest is she free translates the death’s with far greater variety than Homer, who is inclined to repeat lines like, the spear went between his teeth, he feel and especially “and his armor clattered upon him.”

Alice-Oswaldblog
Alice Oswald

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The originality of approach, and deep call for peace, for life is matched by and reminded me of Simone Weil’s The Iliad or The Poem of Force, another unusual translation. The text consists of selected passages translated (freely) and embedded in mediations, explanations. At the back is commentary. All of it the poem.

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Lastly I came across in one of the exhibits, Ilana Szobel’s literary critical book on Ravikovitch’s poetry. Since she is not as well-known as the other two women, let me say quickly: Ravikovitch’s father died when she was very young; she spent long periods away from her mother on a kibbutz; two marriages, and one child and serious emotional breakdowns form the autobiographical background of her poems. The early poetry reminds me of Adrienne Rich, and like hers, Ravikovitch moves from the more personally-centered and feminist poem, to large political issues.

For all three women — Ravikovitch and Weil and Oswald — the greatness lies in long lines and narrative so I can share just a little and that plucked out of a larger whole.

Benighted children,
at their age
they don’t even have a real worldview.
And their future is shrouded too:
refugee shacks, unwashed faces,
sewage flowing in the streets,
infected eyes,
a negative outlook on life.
And thus began the flight from city to village,
from village to burrows in the hills.
As when a man did flee from a lion,
as when he did flee from a bear,
as when he did flee from a cannon,
from an airplane, from our own troops.

(“On the Attitude toward Children in Times of War”)

He who destroys thirty babies,
it is as if he’d destroyed one thousand and thirty,
or one thousand and seventy,
thousand upon thousand.
And for that alone shall he find
no peace.

(cr, 208; BK, 197-98)

Terror-struck women scrambled up, frantic,
on a mound of earth:
“They’re butchering us down there,
in Shatila.”

Our own soldiers lit up the place with searchlights
till it was bright as day.
“Back to the camp, marschl” the soldier commanded
the shrieking women of Sabra and Shatila.
After all, he had his orders.

Those sweet soldiers of ours,
There was nothing in it for them.
Their one and only desire
was to come home in peace.

DahliaRavikovitchblogsmaller
A book on Ravikovitch’s poetry

Ellen

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