larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (classics)
Okay, so, you guys who pointed out the aliterative meter of that translation of the Iliad into sonnets? (*cough* [livejournal.com profile] rymenhild *cough* [livejournal.com profile] swan_tower *cough*)

Behold this explicit attempt at an alliterative verse Iliad by F. W. Newman (brother of the more famous cardinal):
Of Peleus’ son, Achilles, sing,     oh goddess, the resentment
Accursed, which with countless pangs     Achaia’s army wounded,
And forward flung to Aïdes     full many a gallant spirit
Of heroes, and their very selves     did toss to dogs that ravin,
And unto every fowl, (for so     would Jove’s device be compass’d);
From that first day when feud arose     implacable, and parted
The son of Atreus, prince of men     and Achileus the godlike.
It's not the Old English meter, as there's (usually) four-then-three beats per hemistich, rather than two, but the alliteration -- it's there. At least he knew to alliterate on any stressed beat, rather than on initial syllables. Yeah, I know -- small comfort that.

Via same list of Homer translations as the sonnets. This was, btw, compiled by a classicist who has his own version, one that going by the opening is not bad.

---L.

Subject quote from "The Iliads of Homer," tr. George Chapman.
larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (classics)
Well this is ... interesting.
1. Quarreling.

O Goddess, chant it out, the choler grown
In Peleus' son, aggrieved Achilleus,
Simply deathful, sheerly doleful for
Achaians; wholly numerous warrior souls

It sent to Hades but to dog-throngs down
By Troy and divers birds the corporal dead
In piles it highly proffered, all for prey,
And Zeus’s will thus came to pass outright,

As this began when first Atreyedes,
Monarch of chiliad-lancers, and Achilleus, bright
With God, in breaching1 closed like enemies.
Which of the Gods to rupture in a fight

Provoked them? Leto's son, whom Zeus begot,
For he a fulsome plague on Argives brought.
This being the opening partially-rhymed* sonnet (of 1823) from F. L. Light's translation of the Iliad. That it's not as bad as Hobbes's translation is a very weak defense. Available from Audible and in three volumes covering books 1-8, 9-16, and 17-24.

Found via this list of Homer translations. No thanks necessary.


* Reading on, the dominant rhyme scheme is xaxa xbxb xcxc dd, often slant-rhymed, but the first two stanzas here are just a little too slant for me to hear the chime.


---L.

Subject quote from Macbeth V.5.26-28, William Shakespeare.
larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (classics)
Oh dear. Or even, oh dear oh dear:
The claws remain, but worms, wind, rain, and heat
Have sifted out the substance of thy feet.
The lines are bad enough on their own, but as the conclusion of an otherwise passable sonnet? A crashing THUD indeed. And yet I find it anthologized more than once.

(In case you're wondering about his name, yes, he's an older brother of Alfred the Tennyson.)

---L.

Subject quote from "Joseph and His Brethren," Charles Jeremiah Wells.
larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (classics)
Wednesday, surfacing from grinding work deadlines to do the reading meme thing:

One again my brain turned from fiction, but this time to poetry: partly piecewise from The Oxford Book of English Verse (1900 edition) and The Home Book of Verse, but mostly Poems of Places -- specifically, the rest of volume 29, covering the western United States (which from the point of view of the very New England Longfellow means "west of the Appalachians").

This means I have finally, finally finished reading this monumental anthology of 4200-odd poems: I first noted it almost four years ago, and hardly touched it this past year and a half. A lot of really good stuff in here, well worth the undertaking, despite some of the glories of very bad poetry also herein.

Speaking of which last, one final example: behold "The Little Lone Grave on the Plains" by John Brayshaw Kaye, which starts off:
Two days had the train been waiting,
Laid off from the forward tramp,
    When the sick child drooped
    And died, and they scooped
Out a little grave near camp.
Its Victorian sentimentality of a dying child is bad enough, but what little affect it might otherwise have gets squeezed out by the limerick stanzas -- slightly hobbled limericks, no less. Also, vultures don't "caw."

---L.

Subject quote from "Kilimandjaro," Bayard Taylor.
larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (classics)
Yuletide 2015 brought us no less than five fanfics for Edward Gorey's animated introduction to PBS's Mystery!, which just by itself makes this a pretty good year. Some fics I especially enjoyed and want others to read:

All This Could Be Yours (The Martian) - AU divergence by having Commander Lewis also stranded on Mars. Continues far beyond the book's end to cover the aftereffects back on Earth. Longest fic of the season, and one of the best.

Miss Eleanor Tilney, or The Reluctant Heroine (Northanger Abbey) - Another long novella, retelling canon from Eleanor's POV (with considerable backstory and secret history). Ignore the self-deprecating "tongue-in-cheek" tag as this is a delight through and through, by the author in previous years of Fair Winds and Homeward Sail and Mansfield End (not to mention Rondo Allegro).

This American Life episode 141: A Whole New World. (Transcript) - Ira Glass and Sarah Koenig interview Steve Rogers, Hermione Granger, and Susan Pevensie about stepping from one world into another. Pitch perfect.

Two good character studies of Harriet Vane at Christmas time, both with voices spot-on:

Solitary as an Oyster (Lord Peter Wimsey) - In 1933, when she is still bitter and raw wounds.

Christmas at Duke's Denver (Lord Peter Wimsey) - In 1937, her first with Peter's family.

A Song for Ruatha (Dragonriders of Pern) - Menolly's first journey as a journeywoman Harper, to a hold that is still healing from the damages of the past generation.

A Piece in the Game (Kim) - In 1919, after the Great War, Kim is back in the Great Game, and now as an adult must decide (in the face of the Third Afghanistan War and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre) whether he is a Sahib. Nails the ending.

As far as verse-fics this year, the four are a mixed bag: The Bootlegger is a Prohibition Era rewrite of "The Highwayman" in the original verse form -- highly recommended. The Peggers' Tale is an original fabliau in stanzas, recounting a threesome of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry Plantagenet, and a lady-in-waiting, and is as rollicking and filthy as the title and form require. Also containing Henry is 26 December 1170, a Murder in the Cathedral fic in Eliotonian blank verse, in which Thomas gives a Christmas sermon -- I think a missing scene, but I'm not familiar enough with the source to be sure. As for the fourth, on the one hand +1 to the writer of Beowulf: An Adventure of the Missing Years for making King Beowulf (not yet old) face a roc, of all things, and for the valiant attempt at alliterative verse -- on the other, while it starts appropriately heroic, eventually it breaks voice with (half-)lines like "Anyway, the sword died," and then gives up and goes completely silly.

(I have to say, I'm disappointed in the paucity Asian fandoms outside of anime/manga. I should nominate some next year, even if again I don't participate.)

---L.

Subject quote from "Half Asleep," School of Seven Bells.
larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (classics)
Oh dear. Oh deary dear. I knew transcendentalist A. Bronson Alcott, now best known as being thinly veiled as the father in Little Women, was not considered a very good writer. I think, however, I've only ever encountered one thoroughly mediocre poem -- or rather, had. Now, thanks to Project Gutenberg for releasing his Sonnets and Canzonets (1882), I can report he was a terrible poet. Not so bad it's hilarious, let alone bad enough to be hard to read aloud -- just plain bad.

I have not delved into the introductory essay yet, but I have high hopes of a barely coherent defense of writing sonnets in this modern age of the late 19th century.

---L.

Subject quote from an incoherent Bronson Alcott sonnet.
larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (classics)
A bit of literary criticism for a warm Wednesday morning:
Two voices are there: one is of the deep;
It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody,
Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea,
Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep:
And one is of an old half-witted sheep
Which bleats articulate monotony,
And indicates that two and one are three,
That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep:
And, Wordsworth, both are thine: at certain times
Forth from the heart of thy melodious rhymes,
The form and pressure of high thoughts will burst:
At other times -- good Lord! I'd rather be
Quite unacquainted with the A.B.C.
Than write such hopeless rubbish as thy worst.
—James Kenneth Stephen,
pub. 1891, written as a Cambridge undergraduate
Testify, brother.

---L.

Subject quote is the final lines of "On Entering Douglas Bay" by William Wordsworth in his half-witted sheep mode.
larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (classics)
Some more poem-like thingies I've poked at lately:

"Godiva -- A Tale" is the work of John Moultrie, a Cambridge undergraduate at the time -- and his age shows. The poem shows great promise for a writer in the manner of Whistlecraft and Byron's "Beppo," but the satire is neither incisive nor systematic enough, but rather random potshots -- in other words, amusing but thin. Also, it takes a dozen-odd stanzas (after an introduction and invocation) to settle down to said manner. The tale itself is a straight-up telling of the standard Godiva story enlivened by the narrator's digressions. Not great literature but entertaining enough.

I do not know why I keep returning to Robert Southey, given how little I've liked anything he's written. Thalaba the Destroyer is a hot mess, and not in a good way, Madoc is turgid and dull, The Curse of Kehama just plain dull, and "What Are Little Boys Made Of?"* is just plain offensive. This time, I bonked my head on A Tale of Paraguay, the story of the last two survivors of a Guaraní tribe wiped out by smallpox as recorded by a Jesuit missionary. The Spenserian stanzas are handled with more grace and ease than anyone I've read, used to convey a story whose telling is as unappealing as half-frozen mud, and nearly as cold despite repeated appeals to sentimentalism. If you want to study a masterful handling of the form, this may be required sampling, but I cannot in good conscience recommend it to anyone else. DNF.

In progress is Psyche by Mary Tighe, an Irish poet of the generation before Keats who, like him, also died young of TB. I mention him because she is SO obviously an influence on his style -- this reads very much like the Keats of Endymion, with many of the same virtues and flaws (including langorous narrative). If she had lived longer, one wonders how close to the Keats of "St. Agnes Eve" she would have become. Anyway, Tighe follows the classical tale closely till the Big Mistake, but Psyche's trials are redone as allegorical chivalric romance a la Spenser -- for she has taken on not just Spenser's stanza here but much of his method. Or so per commentary -- I haven't reached that yet.

* Yes, Southey is apparently credited with congealing the canonical form of this: see Wikipedia. He also wrote "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

---L.

Subject quote from "Forest Pictures: Morning," Paul Hamilton Hayne.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (completed)
What I've recently finished since my last post:

Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots and Velveteen vs. The Multiverse by Seanan McGuire - Based on the evidence here, it's a safe assumption that McGuire has read a lot of Marvel Comics. The series embraces both the ludicrousness of certain superhero tropes and the human pain of having to live through them. We approves.

Oku no hosomichi by Bashô, here translated as A Haiku Journey by Dorothy Britton. It's interesting to reread now that I've enough background to catch many (if nowhere near all) of the historical and literary references, especially since said references were much of the point of the journey. The Sendai-Matsushima-Ishinomaki sections also gain poignancy after the 2011 tsunami. As for the translation, the prose is clean, with glosses neatly worked in, but the haiku are, um -- let's be polite and call them disappointing: not only rhymed (except when Britton couldn't pull that off) but padded with material neither in the original nor needed for scene-setting, solely to fill out the syllable count to 5-7-5. As a random sample, natsuyama ni ashida o ogamau kadode kana (roughly, "in the summer mountains, bowing/praying to high clogs -- setting off!") becomes "In the hills, 'tis May. / Bless us, holy shoes, as we / Go upon our way" -- and this is one of the better jobs. Disrecommended -- I'm keeping this edition only because it has the original text.

An Accidental Goddess by Linnea Sinclair, a reread of what is, basically, a fluffy space opera with sufficiently advanced psionics and a romance. The class-cum-species differences of the main couple are handwaved away a little too easily, but otherwise still satisfying.

Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sô Desu yo? ("the problem children come from another world, don't they?") volume 1 by Tarô Tatsunoko - I came in expecting stupid fun, and got it. (The volume titles are amusing: this one is "YES! Rabbit called you!" with the first word in English, the next: "Oh my, a declaration of war from a Demon Lord?") Three inexplicably super-powered Japanese teenagers are "invited" to compete in a power-up tournament in another universe. Despite the pink bunny-girl on the cover (who is indeed described as dressing like that), there's less fanservice stupids than you might fear. Possibly more than you want, but that's a different bar to leap.

Poems of Places volume V, Ireland -- it would not be hard, given this selection, to conclude that the dominant Irish poetic mode is the lament, supplemented by chaste love songs -- or was as of the mid-1870s, anyway. Wales was more heroic, even in grieving over the fallen defeated. Single data points, and all that.

What I'm reading now:

Madan no Ô to Vanadis volume 8 - some battles are more tedious than others. Such as ones without either of the two main characters. OTOH, hello surprise amnesia plot.

Toddler Adoption: The Weaver's Craft by Mary Hopkins-Best, for the usual reasons.

Dramatis Personae by Robert Browning, also for the usual reasons. As usual, I'm finding this somwhat rocky going -- some brilliant poems, some slogs, and some 'oh do shut up already"s. I've also gone back to volume V of The World's Best Poetry, but once past the flowery dump quickly ran into another knot of sentimental poems, this time about animals.

What I might read next:

Mondaiji-tachi v2, just to see whether the all-too-common second-volume curse strikes this one. And, oh I dunno, just possibly some poetry.

---L.
larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (classics)
So it turns out that Tennyson wrote another poem about the Battle of Balaclava other than "The Charge of the Light Brigade" -- namely, "The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava." It starts:
The charge of the gallant three hundred, the Heavy Brigade!
Down the hill, down the hill, thousands of Russians,
Thousands of horsemen, drew to the valley—and stay’d;
For Scarlett and Scarlett’s three hundred were riding by
When the points of the Russian lances arose in the sky;
And he call’d, ‘Left wheel into line!’ and they wheel’d and obey’d.
Not a high-water mark for poetry as journalism. The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that "Tennyson’s “Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava,” never popular, is unknown except to literary scholars" -- and I submit, with good reason.

---L.

Subject quote from "Dance Apocalyptic," Janelle Monae.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Yotsuba runs)
This weekend is our local science fiction convention (40th year!) which promises to be a lot of fun. My current schedule:

Friday 8 Nov 5pm-5:50pm - Origami workshop ("learn how to fold origami" according to the official description)
Saturday 9 Nov 11am-11:50am - The dynamics of couples in adventure
Saturday 9 Nov 3pm-3:50pm - Don’t even tell them once (letting your audience figure it out for themselves)
Sunday 10 Nov 11am-11:50am - Vogon Poetry (very bad poetry round-robin)

If you're in the area, come on down. There's single-day passes, even. If you can't make it, here's some links to console yourself:

Moray eel feels pretty today. (via)

Bishônen W.B. Yeats, complete with bonus adorable chibis. rot13: Lrf, gung'f n puvov Znhq Tbaar. (via)

Timelapse from the Albuquerque balloon festival. (via)

---L.

Subject quote from "The Golden Legend," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (some guy)
What I've recently finished since my last post:

Tasogare-iro no Uta Tsukai ("twilight-colored song-user") v1 by Kei Sazane, the first of a secondary world fantasy series. Or apparently secondary-world, given the names -- going by the worldbuilding, it might be our-world-plus-magic. Certainly the high school for magicians-in-training owes far, far more to contemporary Japanese institutions than to Hogwarts. Anyway, this is the sort of author who, the moment he sets up a system where magicians specialize in summoning things that are one of five primary colors, immediately (as in, in the prologue) starts poking at the concept's limitations in two distinct directions, with hints of more to come. The story itself is serviceable despite some typical first-novel roughness and characters that are on the flat side -- though at least the protagonists do protag and even arc a little, and two of them are actively interesting. A series I'll be following.

No. 6 v1-2 by Atsuko Asano. In the near future, Shion was a gifted boy living in a heavily planned and policed city called No. 6 until he aided an escaped criminal Nezumi ("Rat"), for which he and his family lose most of their privileges but are not actually expelled. Four years later as a teenager with a full-time job, he meets Nezumi again -- at the same time Shion is arrested on suspicion of involvement with a mysterious parasitic disease. The major genre influence here seems to be not shounen manga/anime but rather prose science fiction -- I would not be at all surprised to see something like this marketed in the States as younger YA dystopian SF. Or possibly older YA, given Shion and Nezumi's relationship has romantic overtones in these opening books (which may be why the manga adaptation runs in a josei mazagine -- and, huh, turns out to be licensed in English. Looks pretty, too). Recommended -- [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija, this might be up your alley despite the lack of aaaaangst -- Shion is appealingly level-headed about his ups and downs -- and the link above includes Kindle formats.

The Book of New York Verse ed. Hamilton Fish Armstrong, where the quality of the poetry is, shall we say, uneven -- but the quality is not exactly the point here, and at least there's very little actually bad verse.* More problematic is, around the turn of the 20th century, the sudden knot of outright militaristic poems -- the sort where the fighting itself is extolled instead of just the imperialism it supports. Given this was published in 1917, I don't think the Great War counts as an excuse. I was however particularly touched, earlier on, by the Romantic description of the delights of nature just across the East River: "Yet I will look upon thy face again, / My own romantic Bronx ... "** One interesting cultural detail: in the early 19th century, Broadway was universally stressed on the second syllable, but by the middle of the century it had shifted to the current initial stress.*** Also: when young blades dueled, they crossed the Hudson to face each other at dawn upon the deserted beaches of Hoboken.

* Though some of the sonnets to, for ex, Fifth Avenue and Washington Square are nowhere near good.
** Note the lack of a definite article, from which I gather the poet is describing Bronx River rather than the nearby settlement that became the borough. It still makes me giggle, though.
*** And you wondered how poetic meter could be useful.

Romes Monarchie, sub-entitled "The Globe of Renowmed Glorie" in charming orthography, by one "E.L." -- an Elizabethan potted history in rime royal stanzas of Rome up to Nero. Frankly, it's not very good, nor indeed coherent -- if I didn't already have a solid grounding in the history and legends of the Republic I don't think I could have followed it at all. But as an example of what Elizabethans thought they knew about the stuff, it's interesting. The poetry is at best workman's verse: not terrible, but just as plodding as the less inspired parts of Mirror for Magistrates (with which it has more than a few generic connections). I'm not entirely sure how I managed to finish it, to be honest.

What I'm reading now:

No. 6 v3 -- onward in the series.

Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan by Giles Milton -- still reading in small snatches, usually over breakfast.

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikô ("record of a Yokohama shopping trip") v1-2 by Hitoshi Ashinano, a reread by way of experimenting with manga on a Kobo (results are mixed, as it chokes on whole volumes and sometimes hiccups with single chapters). I still love this muchly, even where Asano is still getting a handle on his material -- yet even so, the first two chapters contain subtle introductions of half the major themes he'll develop over the series. Not to mention, despite the character designs still settling out in the first volume, the art is oh so pretty. And relaxing. And given the relaxed story, it works nicely for a chapter every so often.

Poly-Olbion by Michael Drayton, a long "chorographical" poem systematically and exhaustively describing the geography of Britain, catching along the way as much local history and lore as he could sweep up. As you might expect, this is an odd duck, but it is for once not bad verse and is indeed a easy read, for Drayton was a thoroughly professional Elizabethan poet who learned better than any contemporary how to modulate sound from Spenser. I'm partway through the third of thirty "songs," starting down in Cornwall and the southwest coast -- in part, I suspect, so he could get to the legend of Brute as quickly as possible. I wish I had a detailed hydrological map, though -- he is very much into naming and personifying every. Single. River. Hills and forests and plains are also personified left and right, but they're less confusing.

The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse ed. Arthur Quiller-Couch -- though not in a concentrated way, unlike Braithwaite's volumes. Chosen over Stedman both because it's a more manageable size and because, while I don't trust Q's sentimentality or taste in range of voices, I have far more trust in his judgment of lyric quality. I mean -- Stedman actually includes multiple extracts from R.H. Horne's Orion, which is in my TBR queue of egregious epics. (This is the same Horne as this guy.) OTOH, I did have to struggle through Q's stretch of Emerson, so who knows.

Which all is too many things at once. Hmph.

What I'll read next:

Presumably further volumes of No. 6, unless something majorly wallbangworthy happens, and Metaphysical Lyrics & Poems of the Seventeenth Century is still in the queue. Though I foresee a need for fluffy and light this coming week -- any recommendations?

---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (some guy)
Animation with interpretive voiceover of asteroid discoveries 1980-2012. (via)

Fact-checking 10 pro-gun arguments. (via)

The final round of the 2012 O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship. (via)

And in more personal news, [livejournal.com profile] janni is giving away a couple interesting ARCs of novels due out soon and I've been hosting a week's discussion of very bad poetry.

---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (anime)
Where, Immortality, where canst thou found
Thy throne unperishing, but in the hymn
Of the true bard, whose breath encrusts his theme
Like to a petrifaction, which the stream
Of time will only make more durable?
—Horace Smith, from "Sicilian Arethusa"
Where indeed, Mr. Smith -- where indeed.

In compensation for ambushing you to that, I should cleanse your pallet with some Byron:
    The beings of the mind are not of clay:
    Essentially immortal, they create
    And multiply in us a brighter ray
    And more beloved existence: that which Fate
    Prohibits to dull life in this our state
    Of mortal bondage, by these Spirits supplied,
    First exiles, then replaces what we hate;
    Watering the heart whose early flowers have died,
And with a fresher growth replenishing the void.
—from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, canto IV


And one more to see us through:
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
—T.S. Eliot, from Four Quartets
Much better.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (hiking)
Longfellow's Poems of Places continues to amuse -- I've now read all of Switzerland, Australia & Oceania, and Italy, in addition to hopping around the rest of the world like a poetic jet-setter. Previous posts notwithstanding, the quality of the verse remains generally pretty high, and the thematic conceit focuses the selection away from the more tedious forms of Victorian sentimentality, leaving only the swamps of nostalgia to wade through, so to speak. The best parts are those swaths of continental Europe just beyond immediate contact with England.

Its holes are especially interesting: only four samples of Swinburne in the entire thing, and Rossettis only as translator. And only two extracts from Amours de Voyage for all three volumes of Italy? -- that's rather thin. In contrast, Byron is ALL OVER those volumes, with at least half of book IV of Childe Harold showing up in snippets, with Shelley almost as frequent.

Coverage of Asia, especially east Asia, is as bad as you might expect. OTOH, the Japan section is actually more translations from Japanese than poems by westerners -- pretty bad translations,* but Longfellow did try. Indeed, except for the Levant and Africa, there's consistent attempts to sample local poets including in translation if need be -- something conspicuously absent from other traveling anthologies of the time that I've seen.

All that said, Longfellow did let through some stinkers. Here, for example, is one from Alfred Austin, who in a few decades would become one of the worst poet laureates, which I select especially for [livejournal.com profile] mme_hardy and [livejournal.com profile] movingfinger:
There is a little city in the South,
A silent little city by the sea,
Where a stilled Alpine torrent finds its mouth,
And billowy mountains subside smilingly.
It knows nor weeping skies nor dewless drouth,
No seasons, save when April’s glancing glee
Slow steadies unto Summer’s still-poised wing,
Or mimic Winter lifts the mask from Spring.
My current theory is that Austin never read any of his drafts out loud, and so didn't notice that they are literally unspeakable.


* The presence of "Ashibiki Hill" is particularly telling, as the supposed name is a stock epithet meaning something like "foot-weary."


---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (anime)
William Gibson attempts a poetic description of Hawaii:
  An island, central with inferior groupings,
Like Jupiter, in the cerulean distance,
Magnificent among his circling moons.

  Planet-like poiséd half submerged in ocean:
One hemisphere above the water-level
Apparent, belted by three climate-zones.
To which I can only say, "Ow, my ear."

ETA: I should probably clarify that this guy lived from 1826–1887, and did not write science fiction.

---L.
larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (classics)
The career of W.B. Yeats is something of an inspiration and a comfort: his poetry showed great promise in his youth, and continued to promise for going on four three (edited because I cannot do math on the fly) decades before he finally started carrying through, some time around the end of WWI.


Today we think of Byron as the preeminent narrative poet in English of the Romantic era. Before he burst onto the best-seller scene, Walter Scott held sway with such hits as The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and The Lady of the Lake -- and before Scott, it was Robert Southey, now best known as the deserved target of Byron's vicious parody, The Vision of Judgement.

Madoc has not been the best regarded of his narrative poems, but since it was based on the same legends of Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd that L'Engle used in A Swiftly Tilting Planet and, well, it's been a while since I reported on very bad poetry, I decided to give it a try.

And, yanno -- it isn't that bad, at least as poetry goes. His storytelling is more than a little wonky, with a plot that wobbles like a top about to tumble, but the verse is readable, if a little plain. The story is a weird mishmash of pantisocratic radicalism and anti-revolutionary reaction (he wrote and revised it over a decade of increasing personal conservatism), and his attempt to give the Aztecs epic grandeur falls straight into that looming Noble Savage sinkhole. I can't actually recommend it for its own sake unless you're interested in the Madoc legend -- but as a sample of very bad poetry, it fails.


On the other hand, there's Lilith: The Legend of the First Woman by Ada Langworthy Collier -- and no, you are not expected to recognize that name, even if you are from Dubuque, Iowa (where she was born and lived), as what literary fame she had in her time came from articles and short stories. But she also published this book-length poem, spun out from a couple fragments of Jewish folklore she somehow managed to stumble upon.

I've gotten used to 19th minor narrative poets writing underbaked Byron, so I was caught a little off-guard to be confronted instead with underbaked Shelley. Shelley was not, in fact, a wholly pernicious influence, as Browning demonstrates -- but Collier was no Browning, nor indeed a Shelley.* Her verse at the line level is competent if not exactly glowing, and she rarely drops those jewels of gloriously inappropriate metaphors that are the delight of very bad poetry. Her set-piece scenic descriptions are even pleasant. And yet -- and yet -- oh dear gods her characters are so, so tiresome, even when they aren't speechifying. Possibly worse than that, she is downright wretched at transitions between scenes. The effect is: describe describe describe WRENCH high-flown speech, high-flown response WRENCH high-flown lengthy monologue WRENCH describe describe et cetera.

In other words, not only is the failure mode of Shelleyism entirely different from the failure mode of Byronism, it is less entertaining.


Goethe's Roman Elegies may be the most purely classical original work written in the modern era I've met. It is also the first book in a long while -- and the first book of poetry ever -- I've immediately reread upon finishing.


* Who often underbaked himself, if it comes to that.


---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (La!)
The Bad Poetry Round Robin at TusCon 39 was quite fun -- much laughter was had by all who came, and a couple people even made it through an entire poem without losing their straight face (I wasn't one of them). The bill of fare:
  • "How Strange Are Dreams!" J. Gordon Coogler
  • "The Tey Bridge Disaster," William McGonagall
  • "A New Temperance Poem, In Memory of My Departed Parents, Who Were Sober Living & Godfearing People," William McGonagall
  • "A Tragedy," Theophilus Marzials
  • "The Albion Battleship Tragedy," William McGonagall
  • "Ode to the Mammoth Cheese, Weight Over Seven Thousand Pounds," James McIntyre
  • "The Tomato," William B. Tappan
  • "Alcohol's Requiem upon Prof. P.F.K., a Gifted Man, Who Died a Victim to Strong Drink," Ella Wheeler Wilcox
  • "Oxford Cheese Ode," James McIntyre
  • "Prophecy of a Ten Ton Cheese," James McIntyre
The best part was possibly how one reader couldn't even make it through the entire title of "A New Temperance Poem" before breaking down, though another highlight was Tappan's waxing so enthusaistic about tomatoes that he apparently didn't notice how he slipped in and out of sexual innuendo, which had an effect even odder than if he'd stayed smuttily passionate throughout.

The Coogler was an interesting find -- the first four lines were anthologized in The World's Worst Poetry: An Anthology edited by Stephen Robins, and everybody quotes just this. It turns out there are reasons for this. Witness the full text:
"How Strange Are Dreams!"


How strange are dreams!—I dreamed the other night
  A dream that made me tremble,
    Not with fear, but a kind of strange reality;
My supper, though late, consisted of no cheese ...  )

---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (La!)
Now HERE's a glory of a poetic train-wreck: King Arthur, an epic by Edward Bulwer Lytton -- yes, that Bulwer Lytton. Rarely have I seen so much antiquarian erudition yoked to so much twaddle.

The sad thing is, BL -- if I may call him that -- knows how to turn a competent line of poetry: his meter is fluid, rhymes rarely jar, he rarely jumps metaphors mid-maneuver. His diction tends a little on the forsoothy side, but that's somewhat to be expected given the topic and time. You have to read a while to grasp how bad this stuff is. He seems to have particular difficulty with transitions. And antecedents. And antecedents around transitions. And pacing. And consistent characterization. And keeping his obsession with medieval Welsh history and culture from overloading his story. And with keeping his story within the bounds of plausibility. If BL was retelling a story from the Arthurian tradition, this last wouldn't matter as much -- but no, instead it's equal parts historical novel about the Saxon invasion of Britain and a high fantasy complete with prophecies and plot coupons, neither of which has more than the most tenuous relationship to existing Arthuriana.

In short, it makes no sense. At all.

Which means there's quite a bit of entertainment to be had if you give up all expectations of rational storytelling. I am especially amused by how slashy the narration gets any time Arthur is alone with another man. Not just Lancelot, either -- it's even more noticeable with old man Merlin, who has loved the King since he was a boy. (Er, deciding to use BL for short was ENTIRELY a coincidence here. But hilarious in hindsight.)

Fair warning: I haven't finished this, so it's entirely possible that coherence may show up before it's all over. But I'd bet against it.

([livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks, was it you who mentioned this thing, a few years ago? Because I've lost track of where I found out about it.)

---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (La!)
Now HERE's a glory of a poetic train-wreck: King Arthur, an epic by Edward Bulwer Lytton -- yes, that Bulwer Lytton. Rarely have I seen so much antiquarian erudition yoked to so much twaddle.

The sad thing is, BL -- if I may call him that -- knows how to turn a competent line of poetry: his meter is fluid, rhymes rarely jar, he rarely jumps metaphors mid-maneuver. His diction tends a little on the forsoothy side, but that's somewhat to be expected given the topic and time. You have to read a while to grasp how bad this stuff is. He seems to have particular difficulty with transitions. And antecedents. And antecedents around transitions. And pacing. And consistent characterization. And keeping his obsession with medieval Welsh history and culture from overloading his story. And with keeping his story within the bounds of plausibility. If BL was retelling a story from the Arthurian tradition, this last wouldn't matter as much -- but no, instead it's equal parts historical novel about the Saxon invasion of Britain and a high fantasy complete with prophecies and plot coupons, neither of which has more than the most tenuous relationship to existing Arthuriana.

In short, it makes no sense. At all.

Which means there's quite a bit of entertainment to be had if you give up all expectations of rational storytelling. I am especially amused by how slashy the narration gets any time Arthur is alone with another man. Not just Lancelot, either -- it's even more noticeable with old man Merlin, who has loved the King since he was a boy. (Er, deciding to use BL for short was ENTIRELY a coincidence here. But hilarious in hindsight.)

Fair warning: I haven't finished this, so it's entirely possible that coherence may show up before it's all over. But I'd bet against it.

([livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks, was it you who mentioned this thing, a few years ago? Because I've lost track of where I found out about it.)

---L.

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