Verzet L Clark I
It is maintained and developed by The Full English as a resource for a national poetry recitation competition and for teaching and learning about poetry. Mercian Hymns is a collection of thirty connected poems that lie somewhere between prose and poetry. They focus upon Offa, King of Mercia between and his death in He is remembered for the massive dyke that marks, to some extent, the border between England and Wales.
In exploring a cultural and political past in a poem full of intriguing sound patterns, Hill gives us complex insights to his childhood and the making of a poet. Geoffrey Hill was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in and knighted in , marking his position as one of the most significant poets writing in English over the last fifty years.
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His critical fame is greater than his popular readership, but his uncompromisingly robust and often unpredictable poetry commands widespread respect. The latest is a handsome edition, complete with the requisite red ribbon, by Robert Alter, and it has arrived accompanied by a joyful noise, widely acclaimed in the press as the Psalms for Our Time.
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Alter, whose concern is Biblical Hebrew and not contemporary poetry, is in the former camp. As he explains in the introduction, his project is to strip away the Christian interpretations implicit in the King James and later versions and restore the context of the archaic Judaism of the half-millennium roughly BCE in which the Psalms were written. As for mistakes, it is surprising that the King James apparently has so few. Alter corrects very little, sometimes unconvincingly, though he is more specific on flora and fauna.
The parallelism that is the organising principle of the psalmodic line and of much archaic poetry has been plain in English since the translations of Miles Coverdale in Bishop Robert Lowth explained it in detail in in Oxford, and inspired Christopher Smart, who attended the lectures, to use the form for his Jubilate Agno. Open any page of the KJ version and the parallelism is quite clear: To illustrate how he has rendered the condensed language of the original, Alter, in the introduction, takes an unfortunate example, the famous line from Psalm Over the last century, there have been many translation strategies for giving a sense of the denseness of classical languages such as Chinese or Sanskrit: Alter tends to use the possessive.
Translation comes from somewhere, the language and literature of the original, but it also goes somewhere, into the language and literature of the translation language. Too often the experts in one know very little about the other. More exactly, only poetry-readers can translate poetry: On the evidence here, Alter seems to know very little about the last hundred years of English-language poetry. The result is that, at times, he sounds more dated than the King James. Worse, like many writing poems for the first time, he is in love with inverted syntax: Sometimes he merely inverts the King James phrases.
That sinking feeling hits bottom as early as Psalm In grass meadows He makes me lie down. He seems to have no ear for American English, from the alpha 2: He is oblivious to American slang, not realising that Psalm 66 KJ: Say unto God, how terrible art thou in thy works!
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He sometimes slips out of register: As one reads along, the suspicion grows that perhaps this book is not about the poetry at all, but about the commentary. Certainly there are many editions where the notes are more interesting than the texts, but the commentary here divides between lexical minutiae, of interest largely to Hebraicists though this is a heavily promoted mass-market book and a running exegesis for freshmen, in a relentless reiteration of the obvious.
He takes issue with some of the King James readings and very occasionally disputes some usually unnamed biblical scholars, but not once does he cite any of the translations from the history of English poetry, the uses to which individual psalms have been put, the detailed Christian exegeses of everyone from St Augustine to John Donne and only very rarely the Jewish exegeses of Rashi and Avraham ibn Ezra , or even — except where there are specific references — other passages in the Bible.
This is contrary to Jewish tradition, which tends to pile up citations and defer to the long tradition of transmitted wisdom. St Hilary said that the Book of Psalms is a heap of keys that can open every door in a great city, but that it is hard to find which key opens which lock. For translation, the opposite has been true: For emotional power, Thomas Wyatt, circa Thou in my voice, O Lord, perceive and hear My heart, my hope, my plaint, my overthrow, My will to rise, and let by grant appear That to my voice thine ears do well intend.
For concision and straightforward speech, Arthur Golding — whose translation of Ovid was loved by Pound and plagiarised by Shakespeare — in My heart is boiling of a good word.
The work that I indite shall be of the King.