Hot Best Seller

Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad PDF, ePub eBook

4.6 out of 5
30 review

Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad

Availability: Ready to download

File Name: Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad .pdf

How it works:

1. Register a free 1 month Trial Account.

2. Download as many books as you like (Personal use)

3. Cancel the membership at any time if not satisfied.


Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad PDF, ePub eBook To retrieve the Iliad's' energy, Alice Oswald has stripped away its story and her account focuses by turns on Homer's extended similes and on the brief biographies of the minor war-dead, most of whom are little more than names, but each of whom lives and dies unforgettably - and unforgotten - in the copiousness of Homer's glance. Alice Oswald has won several literary award To retrieve the Iliad's' energy, Alice Oswald has stripped away its story and her account focuses by turns on Homer's extended similes and on the brief biographies of the minor war-dead, most of whom are little more than names, but each of whom lives and dies unforgettably - and unforgotten - in the copiousness of Homer's glance. Alice Oswald has won several literary awards.

30 review for Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    The poetry of Alice Oswald is preternatural…preternaturally gorgeous, preternaturally immediate and relevant and precise. We want to sink into that language and be in that bright place—perhaps not to live (among the flashing swords), but to die there, amongst one’s brethren, with poetry read and songs sung in one’s honor. Everything about this book is beautiful, and new and bright and contemporary. The Afterword written by Eavan Boland answers all the questions one has while reading this wholly The poetry of Alice Oswald is preternatural…preternaturally gorgeous, preternaturally immediate and relevant and precise. We want to sink into that language and be in that bright place—perhaps not to live (among the flashing swords), but to die there, amongst one’s brethren, with poetry read and songs sung in one’s honor. Everything about this book is beautiful, and new and bright and contemporary. The Afterword written by Eavan Boland answers all the questions one has while reading this wholly original poem, this ‘oral cemetery’ memorializing the men who fought the Trojan War. I am tempted to suggest you read the Afterword first, but no, of course you must proceed directly to the glory that is the language exploring the feel of the Iliad, a story with so many deaths, so many deaths of young and old and brave and foolish and handsome men. EPICLES a Southerner from sunlit Lycia Climbed the Greek wall remembering the river That winds between his wheat fields and his vineyards He was knocked backwards by a rock And sank like a diver The light in his face went out… …Even AMPHIMACHOS died and he was a rarity A green-eyed changeable man from Elis He was related to Poseidon You would think the sea could do something But it just lifted and flattened lifted and flattened. Oswald gives the names she memorializes at the beginning of her work and then proceeds to tell in startlingly immediate language, how exactly they met their end, or some tiny biographical note that makes them, contrarily, come alive.EUCHENOR a kind of suicide Carried the darkness inside him of a dud choice Either he could die at home of sickness Or at Troy of a spear wound His mother was in tears His father was in tears but Cold as a coin he took the second option…Oswald tells us that the ancient critics of the Iliad praised its ‘enargeia,’ or ‘bright unbearable reality.’ And that is exactly how we perceive the language Oswald gives us: all the bright young brave men, all dead.ECHEPOLUS a perfect fighter Always ahead of his men Known for his cold seed-like concentration Moving out and out among the spears Died at the hands of Antilochus You can see the hole in the helmet just under the ridge Where the point of the blade passed through And stuck in his forehead Letting the darkness leak down over his eyes.Oswald strips the narrative from the oral tradition and gives us a kind of lament poetry aimed at translucence rather than translation. She wants to help us see through to what Homer was looking at. But the context is remarkably unnecessary. It is about young men at war. We understand immediately, sadly.And IPHITUS who was born in the snow Between two tumbling trout-stocked rivers Died on the flat dust Not far from DEMOLEON and HIPPODAMASThe poetry of war. Breathtaking. Heartbreaking.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    10/10 I've been robbed of my first words on this review by Eavan Boland, who begins an afterword by describing this work as luminous. Let me add transcendent. And sublime. And then, I should stop, for it is Oswald who owns the power of words, and not I. But when has that ever stopped me? Neither a re-interpretation, nor a translation of The Iliad, it's easy to suggest that Oswald channels the spirit of Homer through her incandescent verse. This is the Iliad as it was meant to be heard, through the 10/10 I've been robbed of my first words on this review by Eavan Boland, who begins an afterword by describing this work as luminous. Let me add transcendent. And sublime. And then, I should stop, for it is Oswald who owns the power of words, and not I. But when has that ever stopped me? Neither a re-interpretation, nor a translation of The Iliad, it's easy to suggest that Oswald channels the spirit of Homer through her incandescent verse. This is the Iliad as it was meant to be heard, through the voices of the dead, though not one of them speaks. Through their actions, through their failings, through the very act of falling down dead in the dust and blood, they sing a song of war that is horrific and appalling; they leave grave markers in the dirt, beside their bodies, that say quietly, eerily, be warned, for this is war. The very rhythm of war echoes down the lines of the poems, beating a tattoo of loss and waste and shame. Oswald has chosen the most beautiful way possible to describe the ugliest possible actions and repercussions of war, and in this counterpoint, the monstrosity of loss is all the greater. The cadence of her words has its own echo: a Greek chorus picks up the dirge, to rebound and reverberate long after the dead have been buried, in a disturbing hum in your soul. Calling the ghost of DOLON They remember an ugly man but quick In a crack of light in the sweet smelling glimmer before dawn He was caught creeping to the ships He wore a weasel cap he was soft Dishonest scared stooped they remember How under a spear's eye he offered everything All his father's money all his own Every Trojan weakness every hope of their allies Even the exact position of the Thracians And the colour and size and price of the horses of Rhesus They keep asking him why why He gave away groaning every secret in his body And was still pleading for his head When his head rolled onto the mud Like the fly the daredevil fly Being brushed away But busying back The lunatic fly who loves licking And will follow a man all day For a nip of his blood Like the fly the daredevil fly Being brushed away But busying back The lunatic fly who loves licking And will follow a man all day For a nip of his blood Every strength, every honour, every noble deed is here revealed; every indignity, every weakness, ever dishonour, every abasement is here exposed. Like a man running in a dream Can never approach a man escaping Who can never escape a man approaching This is the Iliad as not even Homer imagined it could be; or imagined it, but was waiting for Oswald to pick up the echo. Thanks to Trish for her excellent review which first made me aware of this work.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Roger Brunyate

      An Oral Cemetery PROTESILAUS ECHEPOLUS ELEPHENOR SIMOISIUS LEUKOS DEMOCOON DIORES PIROUS PHEGEUS IDAEUS . . .Eight pages, five hundred names, the roll-call of the dead in the Trojan Wars, they call to mind the names chiseled into the white marble of so many war memorials, filling four sides of a towering column. British poet Alice Oswald's poem, variously subtitled "a version" or "an excavation of Homer's Iliad," begins not in verse but in cold statistics. She has extracted the names of every person kille   An Oral Cemetery PROTESILAUS ECHEPOLUS ELEPHENOR SIMOISIUS LEUKOS DEMOCOON DIORES PIROUS PHEGEUS IDAEUS . . .Eight pages, five hundred names, the roll-call of the dead in the Trojan Wars, they call to mind the names chiseled into the white marble of so many war memorials, filling four sides of a towering column. British poet Alice Oswald's poem, variously subtitled "a version" or "an excavation of Homer's Iliad," begins not in verse but in cold statistics. She has extracted the names of every person killed, from Protesilaus down to Hector, without regard for heroism or rank, or even whether they were Trojan or Greek. War is war, death is death, no matter the reasons for which the armies were fighting. Then she goes through again, offering a brief eulogy or epitaph on all the slain warriors for whom Homer provides enough detail. But these passages are not strict translations of Homer. As she says herself: I work closely with the Greek, but instead of carrying the words over into English, I use them as openings through which to see what Homer was looking at. I write through the Greek, not from it—aiming at translucence rather than translation.To show this in action, look at this passage (Book 6, 23–33) from the classic translation by Robert Fagles: Euryalus killed Dresus, killed Opheltius, turned and went for Pedasus and Aesepus, twins the nymph of the spring Abarbarea bore Bucolion… Bucolion, son himself to the lofty King Laomedon, first of the line, though his mother bore the prince in secrecy and shadow. Tending his flocks one day Bucolion took the nymph in a strong surge of love and beneath his force she bore him twin sons. But now the son of Mecisteus hacked the force from beneath them both and loosed their gleaming limbs and tore the armor off the dead men's shoulders. This is the monumental quality one has come to associate with Homer, the recitation of proper names and pedigrees giving weight to the mythic history. But Oswald is lighter, rearranging the sequence, omitting many of Homer's dynastic details and imagining new human ones; not even punctuation gets in the way of her fluid idyll: There was a blue pool who loved her loneliness Lay on her stones clear-eyed staring at trees Her name was Abarbarea A young man found her in the hills He took one look at her shivering freshness And stripped off his clothes In the middle of his astonished sheep He jumped off a rock right into her arms And from that quick fling there were two children PEDASUS and AESEPUS They died at Troy on the same day. Whether by design or happenstance, there is a page turn just before the twins are named, making the outcome of that poolside passion seem even more harsh and abrupt. In Book 13, Homer has a sonorous passage of almost 50 lines concerning the death of Othryoneus, a suitor for King Priam's daughter Cassandra, who promised to prove himself worthy by great deeds in battle. But Oswald treats it with almost offhand irony, made poignant by the knowledge that Cassandra would be fated to prophesy the truth and never be believed: In this love-story there was a man Who wanted to marry Cassandra And she was Priam's bright-eyed neurotic Most beautiful daughter And he was OTHRYON the dreamer Who came from Cabesus with no money When he offered his life for her hand Her father accepted And so the dreamer went blushing into battle and died And everyone laughed and laughed Except Cassandra. The other element that Oswald has distilled from Homer is his plentiful use of nature images. After each brief portrait ending in a brutal death, she appends a simile, always beginning with "Like…" and making a comparison to something in the everyday world or the natural one: Like crickets leaning on their elbows in the hedges Tiny dried up men speaking pure light Like tribes of summer bees Coming up from the underworld      out of a crack in a rock A billion factory women flying to their flower work Being born and reborn and shimmering over fields None of these are actual translations, so far as I can see; at least they are not immediately associated in the Homer with the deaths that they follow. But they are absolutely Homeric, images that would be known to him and that recur frequently in his epithets, but with his grand pantheism made more immediate and more poignant. One last example must suffice: SCAMANDRIUS the hunter Knew every deer in the woods He used to hear the voice of Artemis Calling out to him in the lunar No man's land of the mountains She taught him how to track her animals But impartial death has killed the killer […] Like when a mother is rushing And a little girl clings to her clothes Wants help wants arms Won't let her walk Like staring up at that tower of adulthood Wanting to be light again Wanting this whole problem of living to be lifted And carried on a hipA striking feature of the poem is that every one of these similes is immediately repeated, the two stanzas identical. At first it looks like a mistake. You are tempted to skip past the second time. But read them twice, and the meanings deepen and evolve, the beginning of each stanza gaining a different significance now that you know how it will end. The repetition turns mere narrative into a ritual of remembrance. As Eavan Boland writes in his excellent afterword… …the soldiers die in one paragraph, but the world they lose occurs in two. The repetition builds throughout the poem into a sheer persuasion of sound. […] This bold practice aligns Memorial even more with the old, sacred purpose of the oral tradition, which is nothing less than to be an understudy for human memory. It is this which makes Memorial—in Oswald's eloquent phrase—"an oral cemetery."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Johnston

    I have spent all weekend feeling somewhat dazed by this poem. I read it twice yesterday; I have spent today picking it up, leafing to favoured passages, putting it down again. I have bailed people up about it all over the internet. I am in the first flush of love, and I think this will be a life-long relationship. 'Memorial' is Oswald's re-writing (rather than a retelling) of the Iliad. She has stripped out all the narrative, all the alliances, the bickering, the backstory, the begging and threat I have spent all weekend feeling somewhat dazed by this poem. I read it twice yesterday; I have spent today picking it up, leafing to favoured passages, putting it down again. I have bailed people up about it all over the internet. I am in the first flush of love, and I think this will be a life-long relationship. 'Memorial' is Oswald's re-writing (rather than a retelling) of the Iliad. She has stripped out all the narrative, all the alliances, the bickering, the backstory, the begging and threatening, blustering and posturing, the fate, the hubris, the tragic story arc. She has fined down the poem to two of its key features, ones perhaps obscured by the golden stories of Troy; brief descriptions of the non-heroic characters, and similes of nature, death, power, time. As she writes in the introduction: This is a translation of the Iliad's atmosphere, not its story. Matthew Arnold (and almost everyone ever since) has praised the Iliad for its 'nobility'. But ancient critics praised its 'enargeia', which means something like 'bright unbearable reality'.It's the word used when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves. This version , trying to retrieve the poem's enargeia, takes away its narrative, as you might lift the roof off a church in order to remember what you're worshipping. What's left is a bipolar poem made of similes and short biographies of soldiers, both of which derive (I think) from distinct poetic sources: the similes from pastoral lyrics (you can tell this because their metre is sometimes compressed as if it originally formed part of a lyric poem); the biographies from the Greek tradition of lament poetry. The poem begins with eight pages of names: all caps, one per line, marching in formation down the page PROTESILAUS ECHEPOLUS ELEPHENOR SIMOISIUS LEUKOS DEMOCOON DIORES PIROUS As you read, you unconsciously slow your pace. You roll each unfamiliar syllable in your mouth. Some names spark a memory - most are just a litany of men. Named men. Dead men. Then we launch into the poem The first to die was PROTESILAUS A focused man who hurried to darkness With forty black ships leaving the land behind Men sailed with him from those flower‐lit cliffs Where the grass gives growth to everything Pyrasus Iton Pteleus Antron He died in mid‐air jumping to be first ashore There was his house half‐built His wife rushed out clawing her face Podarcus his altogether less impressive brother Took over command but that was long ago He’s been in the black earth now for thousands of years Each man is given his due - a word, a sentence, a stanza. We are told of homes, families, mothers, wives, characters. 'SIMOISIUS born on the banks of the Simois / Son of Anthemion his mother a shepherdress / Still following the sheep when she gave birth / A lithe and promising man unmarried.' And 'ECHEPOLUS a perfect fighter / Always ahead of his men / Known for his cold seed-like concentration'. And death comes to them ignobly, dirtily, bloodily, sharp and hard. And PEDAEUS the unwanted one The mistake of his father's mistress Felt the hot shock in his neck of Meges' spear Unswallowable sore throat of metal in his mouth Right through his teeth He died biting down on the spearhead Interspersing these small stories of doom are the similes - some two lines long, some eight or twelve lines. Oswald takes Homer's descriptions of armies like swarms of bees, of hunting and hunted animals, of soldiers like stands of corn in the wind, and respins them. Each is printed twice, breaks over you once quickly and once more slowly. As if it was June A poppy being hammered by the rain Sinks its head down Its exactly like that When a man's neck gives in And the bronze calyx of his helmet Sinks his head down As if it was June A poppy being hammered by the rain Sinks its head down Its exactly like that When a man's neck gives in And the bronze calyx of his helmet Sinks his head down I could quote and quote and quote from this book. It is some of the most marvellous writing I have ever read - smooth, soft and hard, small words that surprise you. Oswald has made the epic poem sing for me anew; has focused my eye, slowed my breathing, touched my heart. DIORES son of Amarinceus Struck by a flying flint Died in a puddle of his own guts Slammed down into the mud he lies With his arms stretched out to his friends And PIROUS the Thracian You can tell him by his knotted hair Lie alongside him He killed him and was killed There seem to be black flints Everywhere a man steps Like through the jointed grass The long-stemmed deer Almost vanishes But a hound has already found her flattened tracks And he's running through the fields towards her Like through the jointed grass The long-stemmed deer Almost vanishes But a hound has already found her flattened tracks And he's running through the fields towards her ..... SCAMANDRIUS the hunter Knew every deer in the woods He used to hear the voice of Artemis Calling out to him in the lunar No man's land of the mountains She taught him to track her animals But impartial death has killed the killer Now Artemis with all her arrows can't help him up His accurate firing arm is useless Menelaus stabbed him One spear-thrust through the shoulders And the point cam out through the ribs His father was Strophius Like when a mother is rushing And a little girl clings to her clothes Wants help wants arms Won't let her walk Like staring up at that tower of adulthood Wanting to be light again Wanting this whole problem of living to be lifted And carried on a hip Like when a mother is rushing And a little girl clings to her clothes Wants help wants arms Won't let her walk Like staring up at that tower of adulthood Wanting to be light again Wanting this whole problem of living to be lifted And carried on a hip

  5. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Alice Oswald says her Memorial: A Version of Homer's Iliad is a translation of Iliad's atmosphere, not the story. The "Afterword" by the poet Eavan Boland tells us it's a catalog, comparing it to a cemetery for the Iliad's forgotten dead. These are the little-known warriors of the epic who receive only mention in Homer's poem. Oswald, in small verse biographies, brings them to the surface of the poem while letting Homer's heroes, the likes of Achilles and Agamemnon and Hector and Patroclus, sink Alice Oswald says her Memorial: A Version of Homer's Iliad is a translation of Iliad's atmosphere, not the story. The "Afterword" by the poet Eavan Boland tells us it's a catalog, comparing it to a cemetery for the Iliad's forgotten dead. These are the little-known warriors of the epic who receive only mention in Homer's poem. Oswald, in small verse biographies, brings them to the surface of the poem while letting Homer's heroes, the likes of Achilles and Agamemnon and Hector and Patroclus, sink out of sight. Each biography recording a man's death is followed by a short simile portraying some pastoral or domestic aspect of the man's life. Each simile is repeated in a process which Oswald explains is intended to present an elegy like that of a rhapsode which in Homer's Greece was followed by the chorus's repetition. The effect is stunning. I believe the similes the truest poetry of the book, even if Oswald tells us they're the closest to direct translation. An example: Like the hawk of the hills the perfect killer Easily outflies the clattering dove She dips away but he follows he ripples He hangs his black hooks over her And snares her with a thin cry In praise of her softness James Joyce, who included many in his novels, thought catalogs created a reality. That's certainly the effect of Oswald's long poem. Memorial becomes a long elegiac contemplation of not only war but the tragic loss of men who disappear in the obscuring pervasiveness of battlefield death. She reminds us that men like Euchenor and Opites deserve to be brought from the depths of an Iliad veiled by the dust of desperate fighting and the agony of their own fear and pain to be remembered. She reminds us that they are 21st century men as well as 9th century warriors on the plains outside Troy. In elegant curve from the present, Oswald has swooped to snare the epic majesty of the past and in the process created a brilliance that illuminates Homer's work.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Philippe

    Alice Oswald slashed seven-eights of Homer's epic and compacted it into a hypnotic sequence of biographic vignettes and pastoral similes. The shock of violent battlefield death is contrasted with timeless images of an elemental world subjected to an endless cycle of destruction and creation. A compelling antiphonal image of man in his world. And so very unlike anything else I have read. The poem's mesmerism is reinforced by the poetess' practice of (almost always) repeating the simile. This cert Alice Oswald slashed seven-eights of Homer's epic and compacted it into a hypnotic sequence of biographic vignettes and pastoral similes. The shock of violent battlefield death is contrasted with timeless images of an elemental world subjected to an endless cycle of destruction and creation. A compelling antiphonal image of man in his world. And so very unlike anything else I have read. The poem's mesmerism is reinforced by the poetess' practice of (almost always) repeating the simile. This certainly contributes to the work's attractive pulse, which makes it a joy to read aloud. The only thing that I found to jar somewhat with the poem's magnificence were some of the contemporary words ('motorbike', 'typically') that the author included in the text. But that may be explained by Oswald's ambition to convey the Iliad's raw 'energeia' as opposed to its more generally appreciated nobility. I would love to read more by Oswald. This one I'm keeping on my nightstand for a while. SARPEDON the son of Zeus Came to this ungreen ungrowing ground Came from his cornfields from his leafy river From his kingdom of paths and apple groves And was killed by a spear Then for a long time he lay crumpled as linen Until two soft-voiced servants Sleep and Death Carried him home again they left him Folded on the grass and a breeze from heaven Almost lifted him up almost shook him out And set him sighing and wispering but no one Not even a great man not even a son of Zeus Can buy or steal or borrow back his last breath Once he has hissed it out Through the shutter of his teeth Like the blue flower of the sea Being bruised by the wind Like when the rain-wind Bullies the warm wind Battering the great soft sunlit clouds Deep scoops of wind Work the sea into a wave And foam follows wandering gusts A thousand feet high Like the blue flower of the sea Being bruised by the wind Like when the rain-wind Bullies the warm wind Battering the great soft sunlit clouds Deep scoops of wind Work the sea into a wave And foam follows wandering gusts A thousand feet high

  7. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    Why do we write such exquisitely beautiful poems about death in war? We lament that aspect of a culture that conferred glory on death in battle, but Homer is so mesmerizing that we can’t escape his allure. I was absolutely captivated by this creative work that echoes the Iliad in the victims' names and some of the details of their homelands and deaths, but soars off on its own form and invention. Oswald gut punches you time after time with an end-stopped line or a wrenching simile. But in beautif Why do we write such exquisitely beautiful poems about death in war? We lament that aspect of a culture that conferred glory on death in battle, but Homer is so mesmerizing that we can’t escape his allure. I was absolutely captivated by this creative work that echoes the Iliad in the victims' names and some of the details of their homelands and deaths, but soars off on its own form and invention. Oswald gut punches you time after time with an end-stopped line or a wrenching simile. But in beautiful, soaring language that celebrates youth and the bereaved as well as the dead. My only quibble is that toward the end several of the similes didn’t seem connected to the rest of the poem or to Home, but maybe I was just tired when I read them. Small issues in an overall amazing accomplishment. Recommended!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    It is well worth getting the CD of Alice Oswald reading Memorial. It is akin to standing on Remembrance Sunday listening to the names of the dead being read aloud. These are the ordinary men who were killed during the Trojan wars - jumping to be first ashore (that was Protesilaus) or Charops who 'ran out his last moments in fear of the next ones'. You do not have to know anything about Homer or the Iliad as this poem stands on its own merits although it did make me want to go off and read the or It is well worth getting the CD of Alice Oswald reading Memorial. It is akin to standing on Remembrance Sunday listening to the names of the dead being read aloud. These are the ordinary men who were killed during the Trojan wars - jumping to be first ashore (that was Protesilaus) or Charops who 'ran out his last moments in fear of the next ones'. You do not have to know anything about Homer or the Iliad as this poem stands on its own merits although it did make me want to go off and read the original.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)

    It is mid-November 2011, and just a few days removed from November 11th, the traditional "Remembrance Day" (UK) and "Veteran's Day" (US), and somehow it seems highly appropriate that I have just finished reading a new book-length poem entitled, Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad, by the British poet, Alice Oswald. Oswald's poem deeply affected me in a fashion similar to that that has occurred upon each of my visits to the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Now, let me see if I ca It is mid-November 2011, and just a few days removed from November 11th, the traditional "Remembrance Day" (UK) and "Veteran's Day" (US), and somehow it seems highly appropriate that I have just finished reading a new book-length poem entitled, Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad, by the British poet, Alice Oswald. Oswald's poem deeply affected me in a fashion similar to that that has occurred upon each of my visits to the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Now, let me see if I can explain why. First of all, let me make myself clear, that while war, it seems, is a necessary evil and has been with us since the dawn of Humanity, this post is not about the morality, or immorality, of war. What I want to briefly focus on is the human cost, and how that cost is recorded and remembered, i.e., memorialized. Many countries have special days that commemorate their war dead, battles won, or wars fought. Most countries have physical monuments or memorials too, from the small monuments in village squares or parks, to those grand and elaborate national monuments typically found in capital cities. There's another type of memorial that some of us encounter through the course of our lives, and that is through the literature we read. For example, many of us have read Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, or Willa Cather's One of Ours, or Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, just to name a few; and they all, to one degree or another, describe the horrors and futility of war, and memorialize, if you will, its impacts upon the combatants. Over the ages, poetry has also been effectively utilized in a similar fashion, and one of the very first poems to deal directly with war and its costs is The Iliad by Homer. This is the subject of Alice Oswald's poem, Memorial. The poem starts with eight pages of a list of names--214 names--all in uppercase. This is a listing of each death described by Homer in The Iliad and presented in the chronological order in which it appears in the poem. It is staggering to slowly come to the realization that Homer has described 214 individual combat deaths through the course of nearly 16,000 lines of poetry. To see that long list of names, on page after page after page, could not but help instantly transport me to the National Mall to stand in front of the Vietnam Memorial looking at the chronological ordering of the 58,272 names (all in uppercase too) of those who lost their lives during the Vietnam War from 1959 through 1975. Oswald's listing of these names, one after the other, is an incredibly powerful and visceral mechanism for instantly engaging her reader. There's none of the bickering between Achilles and Agamemnon here, the speech-making of Odysseus, or even the divine intervention of the gods. Nope, Oswald instantly starts the reader off with the stark and undeniable cost of that messy little war on the Trojan Plain--in human lives."PROTESILAUS ECHEPOLUS ELEPHENOR SIMOISIUS LEUKOS DEMOCOON DIORES PIROUS PHEGEUS IDAEUS..."And on and on it goes. After the list, Ms. Oswald moves straight into her poem, and what she has done is eloquently embrace and adapt Homer's vignettes of information that he provides in the poem about many of the men that are killed. A poignant example of the grace and sensitivity that Oswald brings to telling the story of these dead men is in the first one--"The first to die was PROTESILAUS A focused man who hurried to darkness With forty black ships leaving the land behind Men sailed with him from those flower-lit cliffs Where the grass gives growth to everything Pyrasus Iton Pteleus Antron He died in mid-air jumping to be first ashore There was his house half-built His wife rushed out clawing her face Podarcus his altogether less impressive brother Took over command but that was long ago He's been in the black earth now for thousands of years"Whew! In twelve concise lines we see a man with a life in a pastoral land that was his, he had a house (half-built), and a wife, and then he sailed off to war with his men and his brother. And then he is dead. Sounds eerily like the story of the men that sailed off and then participated in the Normandy Invasion on D-Day, and now lie in the earth near the Omaha Beachhead. Oswald's Memorial respectfully, even reverently, yet relentlessly brings the reader front-and-center with each of the deaths in Homer's epic, through the slaughter that Diomedes wreaks upon the Trojans in Book 5; the death of Zeus' beloved son, Sarpedon, at the hands of Patroclus in Book 16, quickly followed by Patroclus' own death; and culminating with the last death, that of the Trojan great, Hector, killed by Achilles in Book 22. In between these more 'famous' deaths are all of the others, one after the other, after the other. Also, in an effort to provide a momentary respite or interlude from the carnage of killing and death, Oswald has masterfully utilized her own version of Homer's similes. These similes, always presented twice consecutively, give the reader a well-needed moment for pause and internal reflection. At times, Oswald's lines of poetry are humorous, and then others are unbearably sad. This is, I think, a poem about life at the moment of death--a celebration of the life, and a memorial to the death. Oswald herself says that the poem is like something "from the Greek tradition of lament poetry", and that her poem presents The Iliad as "a kind of oral cemetery...an antiphonal account of man in his world." Maybe it is fitting that I close this review with the death of Hector "Breaker of Horses"--"And HECTOR died like everyone else He was in charge of the Trojans But a spear found out the little patch of white Between his collarbone and his throat Just exactly where a man's soul sits Waiting for the mouth to open He always knew it would happen He who was so boastful and anxious And used to nip home deafened by weapons To stand in full armour in the doorway Like a man rushing in leaving his motorbike running All women loved him His wife was Andromache One day he looked at her quietly He said I know what will happen And an image stared at him of himself dead And her in Argos weaving for some foreign woman He blinked and went back to his work Hector loved Andromache But in the end he let her face slide from his mind He came back to her sightless Strengthless expressionless Asking only to be washed and burned And his bones wrapped in soft cloths And returned to the ground"Just as Homer lovingly describes the intimacy of the feelings between the Trojan husband and wife (Book 6), Oswald's modern verse reinterprets those hopes, desires, and fears within Hector's death scene in a few starkly spare lines in such a fashion that one almost feels as though you are standing there witnessing his last living moments. It is powerful stuff! This is experiential poetry in the truest sense, as Oswald forces the reader to confront one of the primary elements of The Iliad--Men killing, and Men dying. I have a shelf that contains seven different translations of Homer's The Iliad, as well as the three thin volumes of Christopher Logue's brilliant poetic reinterpretation (e.g., War Music, etc.), and David Malouf's gorgeous little novel Ransom. Alice Oswald's beautifully moving poem, Memorial, will be joining that company, as a monument to those 214 men who died on the Scamander Plain nearly 4,000 years ago. Somehow, I think Homer would see this as quite fitting. Memorial By Alice Oswald Faber and Faber Limited, 2011. 84 pages. ***

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Schirmer

    Astoundingly evocative retelling--perspective shift, really--of the Illiad. Now I want to read everything she's ever written.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jim Angstadt

    Memorial: A Version of Homer's Iliad Alice Oswald, Eavan Boland (Afterword) The first sentence of the authors introduction: "This is a translation of the Iliad's atmosphere, not its story." Huh? What does that mean? How is it even possible? The majority of this work is a brief poetic description of how people lived and died while fighting this war. The means of death were varied. The cause of death was war. The cumulative effect is indeed a heavy emotional atmosphere. One can barely turn another page Memorial: A Version of Homer's Iliad Alice Oswald, Eavan Boland (Afterword) The first sentence of the authors introduction: "This is a translation of the Iliad's atmosphere, not its story." Huh? What does that mean? How is it even possible? The majority of this work is a brief poetic description of how people lived and died while fighting this war. The means of death were varied. The cause of death was war. The cumulative effect is indeed a heavy emotional atmosphere. One can barely turn another page without the threat or fact of tears.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anders

    As a Classicist and an Iliad-enthusiast, this book was absolutely amazing. I think Oswald attains all she sets out to do in recreating the feel of the Iliad without the content. And her methods all prove effective, from the brief biographies of the dead to the repeated chorus of modified epic similes (and their juxtaposition). The book is haunting, in a way, that makes Memorial the ideal title. I'd say the book is definitely worth reading if you've read the Iliad. It recreates the dread so neces As a Classicist and an Iliad-enthusiast, this book was absolutely amazing. I think Oswald attains all she sets out to do in recreating the feel of the Iliad without the content. And her methods all prove effective, from the brief biographies of the dead to the repeated chorus of modified epic similes (and their juxtaposition). The book is haunting, in a way, that makes Memorial the ideal title. I'd say the book is definitely worth reading if you've read the Iliad. It recreates the dread so necessary to the narrative. If not, it might be interesting to read it anyway. Without the content, the dread itself becomes the structure, generating a pervasive atmosphere strong enough to grip the reader(me). I wish it were longer, Oswald's poetry is a pleasure to read. The fact that she decides to focus so overtly on the oral poetry aspect of the Iliad allows her to recreate the feel of the poem so powerfully. Her similes sit with you as plaintive embodiments of the lives and characters of the long dead.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kirsty

    In Memorial, her 'excavation' of the Iliad, Alice Oswald has interpreted the wonderful epic poem with emphasis upon its deaths. She begins by writing: 'This is a translation of the Iliad's atmosphere, not its story', and goes on to write a large list of character names who were killed during battle in the original. She has stripped away seven eighths of the original story, and has crafted a series of short biographies in order to memorialise the poem's dead. Memorial is cleverly structured and we In Memorial, her 'excavation' of the Iliad, Alice Oswald has interpreted the wonderful epic poem with emphasis upon its deaths. She begins by writing: 'This is a translation of the Iliad's atmosphere, not its story', and goes on to write a large list of character names who were killed during battle in the original. She has stripped away seven eighths of the original story, and has crafted a series of short biographies in order to memorialise the poem's dead. Memorial is cleverly structured and well evoked, along with being beautifully written. Oswald brings fresh eyes to the poem; it is a little bleak, as one will surely expect, but it is always rich and evocative. The natural imagery which she uses throughout as a contrast to the deaths is often startling and lovely, and the repetition which she uses is highly effective. Memorial is a wonderful interpretation of a classic, and I would highly recommend it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vishvapani

    Very beautiful. Very moving to read. Alice Oswald excavates one aspect of The Iliad: the laments that accompany many of the deaths, and the similes that accompany them. Here is a typical example: As if it was June A poppy being hammered by the rain Sinks its head down Its exactly like that When a man's neck gives in And the bronze calyx of his helmet Sinks his head down. For comparison, to get a sense of what Oswald is doing, here is Robert Fagles translation of the same lines: As a garden poppy, burst i Very beautiful. Very moving to read. Alice Oswald excavates one aspect of The Iliad: the laments that accompany many of the deaths, and the similes that accompany them. Here is a typical example: As if it was June A poppy being hammered by the rain Sinks its head down Its exactly like that When a man's neck gives in And the bronze calyx of his helmet Sinks his head down. For comparison, to get a sense of what Oswald is doing, here is Robert Fagles translation of the same lines: As a garden poppy, burst into red bloom, bends drooping its head to one side, weighed down by its full seeds and a sudden spring show, So Gorgythion's head fell limp over one shoulder, weighed down by his helmet. (8, 344) Fagles is an eloquent and expressive translator himself, but Oswald allows herself the freedom to write her own version, and as we see here, focuses the image making it sharp and the language taut. Many of her could stand alone as imagistic poems; together they form a powerful lament for the fallen. This is a different effect from that of Homer, who also celebrates warriors and offers a narrative that has its own effect. Oswald also spares us the brutality of Homer's descriptions of killing. She achieves a pathos that is far more than a literary achievement. It reaches back through time and lets us see those young men, dying one by one in surprise and confusion. The poem starts by simply listing the names of the men whose deaths are described: a litany that reminded me of an event at Birkenau, where the names of the dead were read out, one at a time. The context is sufficient to make each word a poem: PROTESILAUS ECHEPOLUS ELEPHENOR SIMOSIOS LEUKOS The complete poem offers a cumulative effect of their loss. Like leaves who could write a history of leaves The wind blows their ghosts to the ground And the spring breathes new leaf into the woods Thousands of names thousands of leaves When you remember them remember this Dead bodies are their lineage Which matters no more than the leaves

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kyo

    I liked the ideas integrated in the poem and some of it struck me, but overall I felt like the content didn't have the same 'height' as the idea and it didn't really make me feel/think overall.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Breathtaking and heartwrenching. Forget Fagles and Lattimore- Alice Oswald's Memorial is the best translation of the Iliad I've ever read. Oswald truly gets at the spirit of the original text, a story that shows that the glory of war leaves behind it a path strewn with death. Through her unaffected style and similes that Homer would be proud of, Oswald breathes a brief bit of life into barely-remembered characters before snatching it away mere moments later. Memorial is by no means a traditional Breathtaking and heartwrenching. Forget Fagles and Lattimore- Alice Oswald's Memorial is the best translation of the Iliad I've ever read. Oswald truly gets at the spirit of the original text, a story that shows that the glory of war leaves behind it a path strewn with death. Through her unaffected style and similes that Homer would be proud of, Oswald breathes a brief bit of life into barely-remembered characters before snatching it away mere moments later. Memorial is by no means a traditional interpretation of Homer, but it is perhaps one of the closest "translations" of how I felt when I first read the tale of Achilles' wrath.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Reuben

    Turns of phrase just gorgeous enough to transcend the passé and often self-indulgent nature of Homer reboots. Some choice cuts: "Like crickets leaning on their elbows in the hedges Tiny dried up men speaking pure light" & "Even when a man hacked off his helmet And he saw his own eye-holes Staring up at him from the ground It was not until the beak of death Pushed out through his own chest That he recognised the wings of darkness" [PS Thanks to Lou for sourcing this for me x]

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    Ms. Oswald is a British poet of great skill and interest. She has written a powerful book-length poem about the river Dart and several collections of poems, each uniquely accomplished. With Memorial Oswald again turns to the long poem form and borrows from Homer to create a remarkable elegy that both honors the source and by echoing contemporary media memorials that list the names and basic information of our combat dead respectfully challenges the folly that is war. The first section lists over Ms. Oswald is a British poet of great skill and interest. She has written a powerful book-length poem about the river Dart and several collections of poems, each uniquely accomplished. With Memorial Oswald again turns to the long poem form and borrows from Homer to create a remarkable elegy that both honors the source and by echoing contemporary media memorials that list the names and basic information of our combat dead respectfully challenges the folly that is war. The first section lists over eight pages the 214 Greeks and Trojans whose deaths are described in The Iliad. The next 62 pages is a narrative of death, brief descriptions of many of the named dead—those whose deaths are not described are again listed in sequence. “The first to die was PROTESILAUS / A focused man who hurried to darkness / With forty black ships leaving the land behind / Men sailed with him from those flower-lit cliffs / Where the grass gives growth to everything / Pyrasus Iton Pteleus Antron / He died in mid-air jumping to be first ashore.” The last to be recorded is Hector. “And HECTOR died like everyone else / He was in charge of the Trojans / But a spear found out the little patch of white / Between his collarbone and his throat / Just exactly where a man’s soul sits / Waiting for the mouth to open / ….Hector loved Andromache / But in the end he let her face slide from his mind / He came back to her sightless / Strengthless expressionless / Asking only to be washed and burned / And his bones wrapped in soft cloths / And returned to the ground.” Sub-titled a version—here, for example, his Fagles’s rendering of Hector’s moment of death: “The rest of his flesh seemed all encased in armor, / burnished, brazen—Achilles’ armor that Hector stripped / from strong Patroclus when he killed him—true, / but one spot lay exposed, / where collarbones lift the neckbone off the shoulders, / the open throat, where the end of life comes quickest—there / as Hector charged in fury brilliant Achilles drove his spear / and the point went stabbing clean through the tender neck…”—Oswald says in her forward that hers is a translation of the atmosphere, not the story of The Iliad. There is no thread of a story, Patroclus’s death is not linked to Hector’s, only a litany of deaths. After each described death comes a repeated simile, some six or eight or even twelve lines long, others briefer. “Like when they’re cutting ash poles in the hills / The treetops fall as soft as cloths // Like when they’re cutting ash poles in the hills / The treetops fall as soft as cloths.” It’s eerie and effective, even poignant. The final twelve pages each contain a single short verse, two to seven lines, comprised of additional similes. “Like leaves who could write a history of leaves / The wind blows their ghosts to the ground” begins one. The last one repeats on the final two pages. “Like when a god throws a star / And everyone looks up / To see that whip of sparks / And then it’s gone”. It is wondrously effective, moving and memorable. Oswald’s choices of topic and form seem to be motivated by an intense need to communicate something particular about human experience. There is nothing academic about her poetry. It is earthy, vital, and compelling precise.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Phil Watson

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Homer thrives on cataloging, the most notable example being the Iliad's interminable catalogue of ships. Oswald turns this to her advantage in Memorial, painting images of the countless dead barely earning a passing mention in the Iliad. Life stories flash across the page and are swallowed up one after another, always accompanied by brilliant similes that would make the brightest rhapsode proud. It is a relentless 84 pages, and Oswald's skill makes it that much more effective. Memorial perfectly Homer thrives on cataloging, the most notable example being the Iliad's interminable catalogue of ships. Oswald turns this to her advantage in Memorial, painting images of the countless dead barely earning a passing mention in the Iliad. Life stories flash across the page and are swallowed up one after another, always accompanied by brilliant similes that would make the brightest rhapsode proud. It is a relentless 84 pages, and Oswald's skill makes it that much more effective. Memorial perfectly captures the atmosphere of Homeric poetry, particularly in Oswald's use of formulaic repetition. The lengthy similes, particularly those of the final pages, effectively pound images into the reader's mind to communicate the full weight of war-dead—something that, as much in Homer's day as ours, goes overlooked in favor of lighter, brighter fare. "Like locusts lifted rippling over fields on fire Fleeing to the river A hanging banner of insects trying to outfly flame They hide by drowning" "Like when god throws a star And everyone looks up To see that whip of sparks And then it's gone"

  20. 5 out of 5

    Roy Kenagy

    Captures the brutal essence of the Iliad, interwoven with a chorus memorializing the lost beauty of everyday life. Review: http://bit.ly/oh4bIa "...it was reading Memorial alongside The Iliad (in Robert Fagles's translation) that made me feel the full force of Oswald's achievement. The task she has set herself is a poetic filleting (or, as she describes it, the "reckless dismissal" of seven-eighths of Homer's narrative) and a memorialising of every soldier, juxtaposed with extended similes – a Gr Captures the brutal essence of the Iliad, interwoven with a chorus memorializing the lost beauty of everyday life. Review: http://bit.ly/oh4bIa "...it was reading Memorial alongside The Iliad (in Robert Fagles's translation) that made me feel the full force of Oswald's achievement. The task she has set herself is a poetic filleting (or, as she describes it, the "reckless dismissal" of seven-eighths of Homer's narrative) and a memorialising of every soldier, juxtaposed with extended similes – a Greek chorus of them. She describes herself as trying to retrieve the poem's enargeia, which translates as "bright, unbearable reality", and writes that she is doing this "as you might lift the roof off a church in order to remember what you are worshipping"."

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah

    Evocative epic poem that charts the lives and deaths of warriors. Some of the similes of cliffs and birds are astonishingly beautiful. Makes you pause to think about life and war. Strangely elusive on the after life though - death for Oswald here is mere "darkness" again and again. The bodies go to the earth. This is an earthly modern vision of the ancient classical world where gods are pictures and the time is only now, never the hereafter. Adored that it was written continuously without ending Evocative epic poem that charts the lives and deaths of warriors. Some of the similes of cliffs and birds are astonishingly beautiful. Makes you pause to think about life and war. Strangely elusive on the after life though - death for Oswald here is mere "darkness" again and again. The bodies go to the earth. This is an earthly modern vision of the ancient classical world where gods are pictures and the time is only now, never the hereafter. Adored that it was written continuously without ending a single sentence or phrase. The lack of finitude to the sentence structure provides fluidity as you glide through the poem and a deep contrast to the endings - stops - to the lives depicted by it. A peaceful and visionary piece.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cooper Renner

    Though not flawless, this is a powerful and worthwhile poem, a reimagining of The Iliad as elegy and simile only. For me Oswald's insistence on repeating almost all of the heroic similes is a mistake, though it emphasizes the musicality/oral nature of her treatment. As a whole, the work becomes a kind of large implied metaphor as the recountings of the heroes' deaths reflects against the similes. Oswald's hand with the "long poem"is impressive.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alan Divack

    Haunting. It is like reading the Torah with the narrative striped away leaving only genealogy and the construction of the tabernacle. It makes you think hard what a work is really about and makes me want to return to the Iliaf itself soon.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Biscuits

    Holy wow. Why wasn't this my hands earlier? This is how you do it. It? Everything. This book is everything.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Scarpa

    So fucking good. Just so fucking good.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Albert

    Remarkable innovation here. This kind of visceral adaptation of Homer brings the ancients to life more than a faithful translation. Succinctly highlights the constellation of loss at the heart of the Trojan war (and indeed all war).

  27. 4 out of 5

    Peter Spaulding

    Unreal good.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Helena Schrader

    The oldest known work of literary history is "The Iliad." It is a work that has inspired works of art for more than three thousand years. In "Memorial," poet Alice Oswald attempts to capture the spirit more than the narrative of the ancient work in modern language. Or, as Oswald words it in her introduction, her poem is “a translation of the Iliad’s atmosphere, not its story.” This is an audacious task to say the least and therefore the most remarkable thing about Oswald’s work is that it succee The oldest known work of literary history is "The Iliad." It is a work that has inspired works of art for more than three thousand years. In "Memorial," poet Alice Oswald attempts to capture the spirit more than the narrative of the ancient work in modern language. Or, as Oswald words it in her introduction, her poem is “a translation of the Iliad’s atmosphere, not its story.” This is an audacious task to say the least and therefore the most remarkable thing about Oswald’s work is that it succeeds remarkably well – as far as it goes. The Iliad is a lengthy, complex work in which Gods, heroes and mere mortals interact on a grand canvas that stretches from the fertile valley of the Eurotas across the broad Aegean to the towering walls of Troy. The names of the principal protagonists have echoed down the centuries: Achilles and Hector, Helen and Paris, Menelaos, Agamemnon, Ulysses, and the rest. The "Iliad," for most of us, stands for the story of Helen’s abduction (whether voluntary or not), and the war that ensued and ended in the utter destruction of a great city. The "Iliad" is about ambition, hubris, pride, lust, jealousy, cowardice, betrayal, conjugal and fraternal love, heterosexual and homosexual love, vengeance, grief – and just about any other human emotion that I may have forgotten. Oswald’s poem in contrast is “just” 70 sparse – not to say laconic -- pages. Nor does it attempt to reconstruct a story that Oswald (like Homer himself) expects her readers to already know. The charm of “Memorial” is that reminds us that the "Iliad" itself was intended as a verbal memorial to the dead. Oswald draws the reader’s attention to the Greek tradition of “lament poetry.” This was a burial ritual of the ancient world in which the mourners remembered the dead in verse composed specifically to record the deeds of the deceased. The "Iliad" is littered with these laments for individual combatants. Oswald’s poem makes us stop and consider these men – Protesilaus, Echepolus, Elephenor, Simoisius. Never heard of them? That is exactly the point. These are men, mortals, not the demigods, the kings the heroes. Yet they too gave their lives. Oswald’s poem reminds us of them. And although Oswald’s images can be brutal (because she has translated the original, infamous for its realism), she does not glorify violence and brutality. Rather with only the barest outline – a mere brush-stroke of words – she brings characters to life. Memorial is a poem, not an epic poem, novel, play or history. It’s magic is in its ability to evoke an image and an emotion with the minimal use of words. As such it is both laconic and laconian. I recommend it. "Memorial: An Excavaton of the Iliad," by Alice Oswald, faber and faber, London, 2011.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anand

    Though The Odyssey seems to have been the more obviously influential of Homer's epics, appearing in Dante's Commedia, Vergil's Aeneid, Milton's Paradise Lost, Joyce's Ulysses, and other works, and though it seems to be the more popular of the epics among philosophers and readers, The Iliad's influence remains formidable. For much of literary history, and antiquity, it was the more popular epic, the one that is most vividly remembered whenever Homer is mentioned. The second half of Vergil's Aenei Though The Odyssey seems to have been the more obviously influential of Homer's epics, appearing in Dante's Commedia, Vergil's Aeneid, Milton's Paradise Lost, Joyce's Ulysses, and other works, and though it seems to be the more popular of the epics among philosophers and readers, The Iliad's influence remains formidable. For much of literary history, and antiquity, it was the more popular epic, the one that is most vividly remembered whenever Homer is mentioned. The second half of Vergil's Aeneid is a Romanization (and, in some ways, an intensification) of the bloodbath of the war poem. Achilles, Helen, and the matter of Troy still appear in later renditions. Though few dramatists of the ancient world actually dramatize the matter of Troy, there was still renditions from Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides of the Trojan War. The Iliad's portrait of martial masculine excellence, the fall of a city, of tragedy, of the sharp contrast between life and death, and the exigencies and appeal and thrill of honor and glory, continue to remain powerful. Also, and perhaps more crucially for us, the devastation of warfare in the poem is most prominent. Caroline Alexander's The War That Killed Achilles, a prose overview of the Iliad, highlights this, as well as her translation of the poem. So does Alice Oswald's reckless and wonderful Memorial, which strips the narrative and leaves us with the biographies of the dead and of the Homeric similes recast into poetry. I can't say with much knowledge how the rest of Alice Oswald's poetry relates to Memorial, as I haven't read much of it. Gilbert Highet's analysis of the symbolist poets, however, might help explain what Oswald is doing. "[T]he Greek poets state the essentials [the coherent narrative and theme and character and organization], and allow the hearer to supply the details. The symbolist poets do not state the essentials. Instead, they describe the details, which, although not central, are so vivid as to haunt the mind." The Iliad itself, organized around the rage of Achilles, his extended absence from the war, and his explosive re-entry into battle, has an essential structure that plays with the removal of details so as to create a tight narrative, but through various allusions and through an architectonic structure Homer replays the whole Troy saga, revealing some details and allowing knowledgable hearers and readers to supply the rest. Thus, the deaths and similes are molded into an organized and epic structure. Memorial continues in this vein, but sharpens it into a more "symbolist" work by showing the abruptness of the deaths and the abruptness of the similes. The start of the poem shows this: The first to die was PROTESILAUS A focused man who hurried to darkness With forty black ships leaving the land behind Men sailed with him from those flower-lit cliffs Where the grass gives growth to everything Pyrasus Iton Pteleus Antron He died in mid-air jumping to be first ashore There was his house half-built His wife rushed out clawing her face Podarcus his altogether less impressive brother Took over command but that was long ago He's been in the black earth now for thousands of years Like a wind-murmur Begins a rumour of waves One long note getting louder The water breathes a deep sigh Like a land-ripple When the west wind runs through a field Wishing and searching Nothing to be found The corn-stalks shake their green heads Like a wind-murmur Begins a rumour of waves One long note getting louder The water breathes a deep sigh Like a land-ripple When the west wind runs through a field Wishing and searching Nothing to be found The corn-stalks shake their green heads Already there is an "impression" - first, you have a biography, then you have repeated similes that display verbal choreography and "memorialize" the impression given. In this way, Oswald captures the Homeric poem's "enargeia," its bright unbearable shocking reality (much of the Iliad's action takes place in daylight, with several crucial moments happening during the night). Notable also is the absence of any prominent representation of the gods and goddesses, except for several mentions. The deities in The Iliad are set in their arbitrary whims and majesties against the contingencies of human mortality and fame. Here, the focus is on the human deaths that gain meaning in memorialization, with minimal presence of the divine. I also noted that Alice often refers to "god" in the singular, "Like when god keeps the night awake with lightning," as if to give a kind of monotheistic dimension (in contrast to the highly polytheistic pagan universe of Homer's poem). What do we have with these crucial omissions? A poem full of dying, mourning, sadness, and grief. The Iliad itself is also a poetic memorial to the dead warriors who have passed away at the time of Homer's writing. It is a memorial to Troy the fallen city and to its greatest human defender, Hector the father and husband and son who was always kind and brave and strong. It is a memorial to the kind Patroclus, the closest connection that Achilles had to the human race and the warrior that the Greeks honored so much that they risked their lives for his body. It is a memorial to the heroic age that has passed away. It is a memorial to the greatest of the Greek warriors Achilles who chose undying glory in exchange for a short life. It is a memorial of a time where the divine, in all its arbitrary glory and ease and caprice and will to power, seemed more present in human affairs than now. And, perhaps most crucially for us, it is a story and poem of sorrow and grief for the living survivors. Oswald's Memorial, in all its reckless omissions, ends up tapping into this crucial dimension of the Iliad that makes it so strange and also so appealing and enduring. Creative adaptations of old works can run into two extremes: they can either stay ruthlessly faithful to the original, or recklessly loose. At worst it can be pedantic or inferior; at best it can be a successful recreation of the original into a new form. The most successful adaptations of Homeric epic, Vergil's Aeneid, Dante's Commedia, and Milton's Paradise Lost creatively adapt the epic paradigm and put it to new uses and more "universal" schemes. Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida is a brutal satire and degradation of the heroic code of glory and the romantic code of the love affair; it is also a brilliantly sophisticated drama. Alice Oswald's Memorial is a reckless stripping of Homer's large epic into a "smaller" poem; it is also highly attuned to the Homeric poem's grief and serene sadness. In this, it is also quite faithful to Homer's focus on the various motivations for seeking human glory by bringing death to others and risking death to oneself, as well as to the steep and eternal costs of such a quest both to the warriors who undertake it and the family who are left behind. I want to close with two similes that get at this poem. I rearrange it as Oswald rearranges the Homeric original, so as to suggest the eternal transience that is in this poem: Like leaves who could write a history of leaves The wind blows their ghosts to the ground And the spring breathes new leaf into the woods Thousands of names thousands of leaves When you remember them remember this Dead bodies are their lineage Which matter no more than their leaves Like when god throws a star And everyone looks up To see that whip of sparks And then it's gone.

  30. 5 out of 5

    John

    Simply the best book of poetry you will read this year. I gave it an hour in the cold outside in the sun, and it was glorious. When I first read the Iliad a stark list of names of the dead might have seemed odd, but the memorials to our war dead that have sprung up on every courthouse in the last few decades have all but primed me to these lists of the fallen. Of course, when I first read the Iliad a 10-year war sounded more mythic than realistic. Alice Oswald starts with a couple hundred NAMES A Simply the best book of poetry you will read this year. I gave it an hour in the cold outside in the sun, and it was glorious. When I first read the Iliad a stark list of names of the dead might have seemed odd, but the memorials to our war dead that have sprung up on every courthouse in the last few decades have all but primed me to these lists of the fallen. Of course, when I first read the Iliad a 10-year war sounded more mythic than realistic. Alice Oswald starts with a couple hundred NAMES ALL CAPS just to outline our cast of characters. Patroclus and Hector are just higher-backstoried names in the midst of scores of feckless nobodies, all going into the same earth. Oswald brings the dead back, if only for a snapshot of their demise, too brief for elegy, too long for epitaph. In between death-scenes, she plucks out the longer similes and repeats them, like a chorus talking around what they cannot talk about. Sometimes the scenes these similes paint are somewhat pastoral or domestic, but mostly they speak of a power moving through a scene and as it goes on and on, seesawing between slaughter and simile, all these "likes" began to seem more ominous, like death moving without mercy through the land. Without the narrative of the war, without the heroes and villains, without the gods and goddesses, you are left with a killing floor that breaks down sons and brothers and fathers and uncles and shepherds and kings and veterans and green farmers alike. All the world is ablaze and everything that is not consumed is illuminated and warmed.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.