A cordial request for poetry suggestions
March 10, 2006 6:17 AM   Subscribe

PoetryFilter: Having never read a book of poetry in my life, I picked up a translation of Virgil's Eclogues & Bucolics (this one) and loved it. Can anyone suggest other, similar poetry I might like? I've seen poetry threads on AskMe before, so there might be someone out there who can help me.
posted by primer_dimer to Writing & Language (12 answers total)
Edmund Spenser wrote The Shepheardes Calender, a series of pastorals, in a style consciously evocative of Virgil's Eclogues as well as consciously archaic for its time.
posted by the sobsister at 6:28 AM on March 10, 2006

Best answer: I really like David Ferry's translation of those same works by Virgil, which I point out because reading multiple translations of classical poetry can be enlightening, as well as fun.

That said, you might try Catullus, translated either by Charles Martin or by Peter Green (and you can Search Inside! both these books at Amazon for a sense of what you'd be getting into).

You cannot go wholly wrong with either Latin Literature: An Anthology (edited for Penguin by Michael Grant) or Sappho in translation by Peter Green, Mary Barnard, or Anne Carson.

And I recommend without reservation Guy Davenport's Greek translations in 7 Greeks, which can blow your mind. Richmond Lattimore translated most of these, too, in a slender trade paperback called Greek Lyrics that you see in survey courses in college. Those translations also rule.
posted by cgc373 at 7:09 AM on March 10, 2006

Heminator beat me to it. Best ever.
posted by metaculpa at 7:44 AM on March 10, 2006

i've been meaning to read sappho for a while. any recommendations on which translation is best for someone accustomed to second half of 20th century standards?
posted by andrew cooke at 8:03 AM on March 10, 2006

De Rerum Natura

posted by matteo at 8:12 AM on March 10, 2006

For Sappho, try Anne Carson's If Not, Winter. She's a classics scholar as well as an excellent poet.
posted by the sobsister at 8:27 AM on March 10, 2006

I do think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore, and while I'm not well-versed in the classics you can't go wrong with Ovid's Metamorphoses (I like the Humphries translation).

I wholeheartedly second Anne Carson, though. Her translations are beautiful, as is almost anything she writes.

primer_dimer, since you want similar poems but don't, after all, specify the classics, it wouldn't hurt to even page through Carson's Autobiography of Red next time you're in a bookstore. Really.
posted by rafter at 9:57 AM on March 10, 2006

I ought to say, too, that classics in translation can be either very cheap when stocked by bookstores whose stockers don't know what they've got, or very expensive, because when buyers know what they've got they charge accordingly. So libraries are your friend for this, primer_dimer; libraries have your back.

(And Anne Carson is a Goddess, à la Robert Graves. The Beauty of the Husband astonished me.
posted by cgc373 at 11:27 AM on March 10, 2006

Best answer: While we're talking up Anne Carson (a pox on the person who borrowed my If Not, Winter and never returned it!), I really liked her newest, Decreation. The opera at the end is wonderful, as is the motel fight between Abelard and Heloise.

For translations of classics you can do a lot worse than Carson. The thing that makes her Sappho book so good is that she translates absolutely everything available. The fire-under-the-skin jealousy poem? Translated. A piece of papyrus the size of a postage stamp with two words on it? Translated. And everything is not only en face but set spatially as it was in the original so you get a physical sense of where the surviving words are on the page, and where there are gaps, tears, missing text. Delicious. Here's her translation of an Alkman fragment, to give you a flavor for her approach:
[?] made three seasons, summer
and winter and autumn third
and fourth spring when
there is blooming but to eat enough
is not
As far as other big name Latin poems to read: Catullus (available in Latin online, along with translations to many languages) and Ovid's Metamorphoses (here translated by Dryden, among others) are kind of a greatest hits. I have to admit I also like the Humphries translation of Ovid better.

If you want some poems by a more modern Greek that still deal with antiquity, Cavafy is very good. I like the Theoharis translation, so look for a cover with Gore Vidal's name on it, since he wrote the intro. Here is "The Ides of March" (Amazon link) as a sample.
posted by amery at 12:47 PM on March 10, 2006

Robert Pinsky's translation of Dante's Inferno is musical, smart and even has a quiet sense of humor.
posted by verysleeping at 1:53 PM on March 10, 2006

Response by poster: Many thanks to all who replied, particularly amery and cgc373 for their advice and links. I'll be heading to the library with a print out of this thread later on in the week.

posted by primer_dimer at 5:19 AM on March 11, 2006

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