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War Music.

Before Fitzgerald undertook to translate The Iliad the English poet Christopher Logue was at work on an adaptation of Books 16, 17, 18, Patrocleia of Homer, not published here until 1988, as War Music--which begins with Patroclus donning Achilles's armor and going into battle.

Logue's War Music is an imitation, a poem launched by Homer's words. His language is stripped down, taut as a bowstring, but fully resonant. Logue--"unencumbered by Greek scholarship," his collaborator the inspired classicist D.S. Carne-Ross puts it--can take a particularly untranslatable passage from the Greek--the shout signalling Achilles's return to battle, and serve its terror and rage with a full-throated cry that shivers the Trojan camp.

Achilles on the rampart by the ditch:

He lifts his face to ninety; draws his breath;

And from the bottom of his heart emits

So long and loud and terrible a scream

The icy scabs at either end of earth

Winced in their sleep; and in the heads that fought

It seemed as if, and through his voice alone,

The whole world's woe could be abandoned to the sky.

Logue's approach is both lyric and cinematic. Like Fitzgerald, he cuts out the epic's epithets and repetitions, but he also brings in details from contemporary life.

Consider planes at touchdown--how the poise;

Or palms beneath a numbered hurricane;

Or birds wheeled sideways over windswept heights;

Or burly salmon challenging a weir;

Right-angled, dreamy fliers, as they ride

The instep of a dying wave, or trace

Diagonals on snowslopes

This is a Homer without compromises. Logue opts for lyric intensity over narrative flow and continuity. With help from Carne-Ross (whose afterword to Patrocleia constitutes its own challenge to translators "in the belief that no sort of fancy translationese should be allowed to muffle the impact of the original"), Logue mediates between the Greek and the English. He has reduced the number of actual lines by two-thirds, but the effect of the sequence is enlarged, given added torque.

Logue's is a modernist Homer, a Homer on high-contrast paper. He does to Homer what Pound did to Eliot's early version of The Waste Land: he retains only those verbal clusters whose energy is most intense. Logue sacrifices narrative in order to complement the stark, elemental beauty of the Trojan shores with the brutality of human behavior.

Faultless horizon. Flattish sea.

Wet shore. Wide plain. Look west:

King Menelaos sees Patroclus fall

And thinks: "His death will get us home."

Homer's similes run a thread of relation between gods and men, heaven and earth: they reaffirm common life amid the fury of war. Dawn in Homer breaks gradually, as it does in real time. Logue renders this precisely.





These colours came before the Sun

Lifted above the ocean,

Bringing light

Alike to mortals and Immortals.
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Author:Rudman, Mark
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Iliad.
Next Article:Hiding in the Universe: Poems by Wang Wei.

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