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Tuesday, April 6, 2004

This week of all weeks, while Chris Murray is featuring my poetry at texfiles, I should be posting brilliant new poems clearly destined for the canon or, at the very least, insightful analysis which at last brings the free-versers to their senses and causes even Jonathan Mayhew and Kasey Mohammad to take up that tub-thumping pentameter for the rest of their days. And I would, too, if I wasn't so tired.

But, as it is, about all I can do is dredge up an old project, and one that didn't get very far, at that. I loved C. P. Cavafy's poetry from the moment I first read it, and a few years ago I tried to do some translations. I don't speak or read Greek, and I worked from the Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard translation edited by George Savidis. I don't know how literal their translations are, or how faithful to the sound of the original. Much of his poetry, apparently, was free verse, but from Savidis's notes I know they didn't try to reproduce any rhyme or any metrical structure Cavafy did use. I hope some of you who do know Greek will let me know if Cavafy wrote syllabics, as Savidis seems to indicate, or if his metrical poetry was quantitative. Does modern Greek verse still use quantitative measures?

Here are my versions of the first two poems from that book:

Walls

Without pity or shame, without a thought,
They've built these walls around me, thick and high,
And now my every hope has come to naught.
It's all I know, this fate gnawing my mind —
because I had so much to do out there!
How did I miss it when they built the walls?
The masons never made a sound, I swear,
and cut me off completely from the world.

 

Savidis notes "Couplets of 14-15, 14-15, 15-15, and 15-15 syllables, homophonously rhymed ab ab cd cd."

 

An Old Man

An old man sits behind his paper,
Bending his head over the table,
alone at the cafe's noisy end.

In old age's banal misery
he thinks how few his pleasures were
when he had looks and wit and strength.

He's so old now — he knows, he feels —
and young just yesterday it seems.
How quickly each day, each year ends year's gone!

And how that cheat Discretion lied:
"Tomorrow. You have plenty of time."
So stupid to be fooled that way.

Now every chance he lost, each bridled
impulse and joy he sacrificed,
they mock him — such a prudent sheep!

So much thinking and remembering
make the old man dizzy. Resting
his head on the table, he falls asleep.

 

Savidis notes "The line lengths vary from eleven to fourteen syllables, but the second line of each tercet invariably has thirteen syllables; the rhyme scheme is aab ccd ffe ggh iih."

 


I should note that Chris has two poems in the latest issue of Moria, which also features bloggers Clayton Couch, harry k stammer, Eileen Tabios, and Jean Vengua. Do you think triolets would count as experimental?

Besides the above-mentioned harry k stammer and moria, I've added Plum Ruby Review, co-edited by Crystal King, to the link list. This weekend, if the creek don't rise, I'm going to add a number of ezines. Formal-friendly first, of course.


Update: Small change in the third stanza of "An Old Man."


9:27:53 PM    comment: use html tags for formatting []  trackback []

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