‘War Music,’ by Christopher Logue

0228-BKS-Brown-blog427Jeffrey Brown at The New York Times:

In a Paris Review interview in 1993, Logue did not have good things to say about Lattimore and other “professors” who had taken up Homer. “They are the translation police,” he said. “It is easy to see why: It keeps Homer in their hands.” Perhaps the Uzi was excessively warm against Logue’s hip that day, for this is far too harsh. He had his own “professor,” after all, in Carne-Ross, who provided word-for-word translation, a “crib,” as needed. As for the rest of us, we who lack the language — and I lost my ability to read Greek at Homeric level long ago — we rely on the professors. We choose our favorites and set aside others. Mine was Robert Fitzgerald. Many years later, I still grasp Zeus by the knees and ask that he bless the translators.

And Christopher Logue, among them, bless him highly, Zeus. We can judge a translation or an “account” (the word Logue preferred) by its own intent and then by its impact on us as readers. How does poetry move from one language to another? Count the ways: Through the precise meaning of the words, the truth of the story. Through the sound or music of the language. What about other, mistier qualities — a poem’s “feel,” the “strangeness” it once had for its readers in the original? In his introduction to the popular “Iliad” translation by Robert Fagles, the classicist Bernard Knox writes that the language of Homer was “brimful of archaisms — of vocabulary, syntax and grammar — and of incongruities: words and forms drawn from different dialects and different stages of the growth of the language.” Homer, that is, was strange from the beginning, wonderfully, heroically strange. And Logue, in turn, is wonderfully, Homerically strange.

more here.