Christopher Logue and the poetry of war

F9381d6aa0cd37decff5db93eb48229eThomas Berenato at The Point:

Logue’s long exposure to Homer cautioned him not to count your chickens before they hatch; asked the most important lesson life has taught him, he replied: “Count your blessings.” Logue, who marched to Aldermaston against the Bomb, understood that the rumor of war is an eternal murmur ever about to erupt into the wrath of Achilles, whose talking horse here pledges to leave his heroic master “not for dead, but dead.” More than disgust, violence as Homer saw it inspired in Logue a fatal hopelessness: war was the only god he could believe in; it alone was awesome enough to inspire his holy dread. He identified in the Iliad a stoic resignation to war’s ongoingness that attracted and revulsed him in equal measure. Logue innovates by transposing this dynamic into explicitly erotic terms. (His half-jealous Aphrodite calls our attention to Hera’s “gobstopper nipples.”) Rivalrous fear and sexual self-loathing will always be with us; in both love and war alike they manifest themselves as “the hatred human animals / Monotonously bear towards themselves.” What Logue admired most in Homer was his preternatural ability to match his muse against this terror on its own terms. “Homer keeps you on the move,” he said.

He found this same nerving, and unnerving, flickering quality in the work of Samuel Beckett, a friend. “It is not verse. It is not prose. It ‘floats,’” is how Logue once characterized the dialogue in Beckett’s plays unmetrical, but “broadly rhythmical,” and to that extent in sync with the jolting rhythm of life and death as it is felt along the heart. Less curt than Beckett but in search of the same sensation of verbal whiplash, Logue worked perpetual variations on a loose pentameter line. The reader should feel present, “there” in the fray, carried along by the carnage—and by the jokes. “Except humorously, our times cannot deal with these creatures,” he said of Homer’s gods and heroes.

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