Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Thus begins the 1897 translation by Samuel Butler of Homer’s Odyssey. It’s just one of more than 60 translations of the book into English since the first in 1615, including one by T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) in 1932. Odysseus — Ulysses in the Latin form — mythical king of Ithaca, is a complex protagonist; sometimes hero, … click below for more!
As I promised in a previous post, here’s my almost certainly true and accurate explanation of why the language you’re reading now is the result of one man’s writing back in the 14th century. Yes, of course, I mean Chaucer; author of The Canterbury Tales. Thanks to him, you’re reading this in modern English. In his day, there wasn’t a cohesive form of English, but rather several dialects that were all Middle English (see map); each was influenced by its own … click below for more!
I received a couple of new Chaucer books recently and, despite my love of reading Chaucer, frankly, I was disappointed by both. My expectations for both greatly exceeded what little joy I received from them. I was deeply disappointed by both. And I’m here to tell you why. Let me back up a bit, before I get into my reviews. I have a couple of dozen books by or about Chaucer and his language on my bookshelves, which suggests he … click below for more!
I can’t recall just when I first encountered haiku, that subtle, concise and often baffling Japanese poetry, but I suspect it was sometime in the late 1960s, not long after I was first introduced to Buddhism. I recall having the four-volume set of seasonal haiku by Blyth back in those days, but long since gone from my library for reasons I can no longer fathom. I’ve had several other books of haiku on my shelves since then, and turn to … click below for more!
I was browsing online recently because I wanted to order another book of Horace’s Odes or maybe his Epistles in my efforts to understand and appreciate the poet more fully. I was scrolling through the always-poorly organized list of items on Amazon’s search page results (selected, it seems, mostly to promote a wide range of unrelated rubbish they want to offload…). Some titles caught my eye (wanting more books is a longtime obsession… and owning many translations of the same … click below for more!
During the pandemic lockdowns, I heard a lot of people bemoan their inability to travel; on vacation, to visit relatives, to shop, or just to get out of their homes and see new places. People felt isolated, some went stir-crazy. We are a not merely a culture easily bored with staying in one place: our entire species has wanderlust. Two millennia ago, the poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus — aka Horace — wrote a letter (Epistle I.XI) to his peripatetic friend, … click below for more!
Robert Frost was a great American poet, and I’ve enjoyed many of his poems over the decades I’ve been reading poetry. Some are a tad bucolic for my taste, but many also plumb the depths of human emotions so succinctly as to make Frost more universal than simply American. But while he never wrote any science fiction, his words have been used in that genre. Recently I came across a verse in one of Ben Bova’s more recent scifi novels … click below for more!
Horace’s Ars Poetica, or the Art of Poetry, was written as a 476-line poem in a letter to his friend, the Roman senator Lucius Calpurnius Piso (Lucius) and his two sons, around 19 BCE. It was known for a time as the “Epistle to the Pisos” until 95CE when the critic Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (Quintilian) called it the Ars Poetica in his a twelve-volume textbook on rhetoric, the Institutio Oratoria. The name stuck. Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) was popular during … click below for more!
Haiku is like a razor blade: small, light, but yet strong and incredibly sharp. Haiku says “Look over there!” and then smacks you from the other side. Haiku is the neutron star of poetry: stunning density combined with astounding brightness. Haiku swims in a sea of metaphor, darting like quick, bright fish among the forest of words. Haiku has a formal definition: “an unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually five, seven, and five syllables respectively. It … click below for more!
Back in December, before Godaddy broke my blog through technical incompetence, I had written a piece about the first stanza in Inferno, the first book of Dante’s trilogy, The Divine Comedy. Since that post seems irretrievably lost, I decided to write another in the same vein. So please bear with me if this seems redundant. It all began innocently enough on Tuesday late last year when I was searching through my bookshelves in search of something I can no longer … click below for more!
When Did I Become My Parents? When did I stop listening to new music, and change the dial to something familiar: oldies, classic rock; comfortable tunes? When did I stop driving a standard, shifting gears with practiced precision, and buy an automatic, with power windows, and heated seats? When did I stop riding a motorcycle? When did I stop remembering what’s on the grocery list?
For me, reading the American literary critic, Harold Bloom, is often like wading in molasses. Intellectual molasses, to be sure, but slow going nonetheless. His writing is thick with difficult ideas and difficult words. Bloom’s historical reach, his knowledge and his understanding of the tapestry of literature far outstrip mine, so I find myself scuttling to the Net or other books on my shelf for collateral references, for critical commentary, and often to the dictionary. Bloom’s commentaries and essays are … click below for more!
Confession time: I find a lot of epic or narrative poetry a slog. Milton, Homer, Dante… I have read my way into them all, but unlike my other books, I never get very far in any of them at each reading, although I make the effort and do so often. I don’t even enjoy reading Shakespeare’s two long poems, Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece, and I read everything else by the bard with great relish. It’s odd … click below for more!