Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Dairy of a Country Priest

An old post from Disputations:
After the milking this morning, I noticed that Mme. Bessie had remained behind, standing quietly in the shadows by the side entrance. She is a Guernsey, a proud member of a breed my own people have been bred to treat with reverence. Only with great effort did I refrain from bowing my head respectfully as I addressed her, "Git along."
Heh! The Diary of a Country Priest is great stuff, but this parody is so cruelly accurate! A friend of mine once said of the protagonist, "I just want to hug the poor guy and make him eat a bowl of hot chicken soup." I concurred. What he really needed to do was to get out of that carcinogenic little town and go to a parish that didn't hate priests.

I've never met a priest like the nameless curé of Ambricourt, thank God. But I did know a priest who was remarkably like the curé of Torcy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dappled Things - Advent 2008

Get it while it's hot! Make sure you read Saint Catherine's Wheel, Afterglow Candidate, and Absent Friends. There is also a good translation of a poem by Venantius Fortunatus, but you'll have to read it in the print version.

Also see my reviews!

A merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, December 12, 2008

More Latin wordplay!

Verus amicus amore more ore re cognoscitur.

This has been percolating through the Latinteach mailing list. It means, "A true friend is known by his love, his habits, his speech, and his deeds." But no one knows where it came from. If you google it, you will find a surprising number of people quoting it and attributing it to Virgil. It's nowhere in Virgil, though.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's Bad Out There

What's Really Wrong with Poetry Book Contests?

"Nor should we assume that the poet judge is passionate about his or her choice. He has been hired not to discover a great book (that word is frowned upon in professional circles) but merely to choose the best of those presented by screeners who are often inexperienced MFA candidates. Trapped like a spider in a web, not of his own spinning, the judge is a relativist when it comes to taste. He must be satisfied with the juiciest fly that wanders in. Once he’s rendered his verdict and written his blurb, the judge’s commitment to the book, for all practical purposes, ends."

"Imagine what 20th century poetry would be like had Ezra Pound, Mrs. Alfred Nutt, John Quinn, James Laughlin, Barney Rosset, Cid Corman and Lawrence Ferlinghetti been content to be uncommitted contest coordinators rather than passionate editors, publishers, or patrons of the art. Behind The Waste Land, North of Boston, Patterson, Howl, and other landmark books of the last century were men and women willing to risk money, credibility, even imprisonment for poetry that mattered."

Paradise Prosed

Stanley Fish reviews a new translation of Paradise Lost into foolproof, unambiguous English prose. Now, I am fine with translations of Homer and Dante and Tolstoy and Bernanos. Reading the original is always best, but it's better to read a translation than to read nothing because you never got the opportunity to learn Greek or Italian or Russian. But the effort that an English-speaker must exert to read Milton is not so onerous. It means reading footnotes, not taking four years of Latin (although that enhances the experience somewhat). The only benefit I can see in this English-English translation is its potential to teach students about the limits of translation. So much sense lives in the sound of a poem. Stanley Fish shows us this, as well as what happens when you boil off the rhythms, chimes, and syntax:

At an earlier point, the epic narrator comments on mankind’s susceptibility to the blandishments of the fallen angels. Men and women are duped even to the extent that “devils they adore for deities.” The tone is one of incredulity; how could anyone be so stupid as to be unable to tell the difference? But the line’s assertion that as polar opposites devils and deities should be easily distinguishable is complicated by the fact that as words “devils” and “deities” are close together, beginning and ending with the same letter and sharing an “e” and an “i” in between. The equivalence suggested by sound (although denied by the sense) is reinforced by the mirror-structure of “adore for,” a phrase that separates devils from deities but in fact participates in the subliminal assertion of their likeness.

What, then, is the line saying? It is saying simultaneously that the difference between devils and deities is obvious and perspicuous and that the difference is hard to tell. This is one of those moments Davie has in mind when he talks about the tendency of Milton’s verse to go off the rails of narrative in order to raise speculative questions that have no definitive answer.

When Danielson comes to render “devils to adore for deities,” he turns it into a present participle: “worshiping devils themselves.” Absent are both the tone of scornful wonder the epic voice directs at the erring sinners and the undercutting of that scorn by the dance of vowels and consonants.

Or on the phrase, "mortal taste":

By eating of the forbidden tree, Adam and Eve become capable of death and therefore capable of having a beginning and an end and a middle filled up by successes, failures, losses and recoveries. To say that a “mortal taste” brought death into the world is to say something tautologous; but the tautology is profound when it reminds us of both the costs and the glories of being mortal. If no mortality, then no human struggles, no narrative, no story, no aspiration (in eternity there’s nowhere to go), no “Paradise Lost.”

Danielson translates “whose mortal taste” as “whose lethal taste,” which is accurate, avoids tautology (or at least suppresses it) and gets us into the next line cleanly and without fuss or provoked speculation. But fuss and bother and speculations provoked by etymological puzzles are what makes this verse go (or, rather, not go), and while the reader’s way may be smoothed by a user-friendly prose translation, smoothness is not what Milton is after; it is not a pleasure he wishes to provide.

I must admit that this prose Paradise seems especially useless to me because the only thing I like about Milton is the sound his words make. What is left in the prose version? An annoying God, a sexy Satan, angels with cannons, an Eve born already fallen. A mythic-lyric poem distended into an epic. I've always wished that Milton had written an epic about King David. It would have been on the right scale.

High on a Throne of Royal State, which far
Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Showers on her Kings barbaric pearl and gold,
Satan exalted sat, by merit raised
To that bad eminence....

This isn't Finnegans Wake, people!