CALENDAR OF COMPOSITION
To Harriet Monroe, 5 June 1916
My next contribution will probably be a 40 page fragment from a more important opus.
To Alice Corbin Henderson, 15 June 1916
Great God, what classics are you to read, without greek or latin? I read greek like a hen, but it is just possible to get good latin translations from the greek. I have always intended really to go into the matter of english translations from both latin and greek and see if there were ANY fit to read. I dare say you have read as much french as I have. Villon, Gautier, Charles d’Orleans. I dont know that there’s much new to be said. Anglo-Saxon is harder than greek or latin. and then there is hardly more than the Seafarer and a few lines in Wanderer. There remains always “Cathay” a small leaflet of translations from the chinese, but that you by now have exhausted.
In English<,> Rochester and Dorset and possibly some of the other more scurrilous restoration poets might entertain you. They are little read. Rochester has not left a great deal but some of it is as good as Heine.
Drummond of Hawthorneden is fine in spots and so also is William Dunbar.
I still think Byron amusing, but Browning and Fitzgerald are about the only later english poets that one can keep on reading. Do however read Landor<’>s Imaginary Conversations in bulk if you haven’t done so already. There are vast dull tracts but there are also priceless dialogues. The chinese one<s>, and the Petrarch-Boccaccio-Chaucer, and the Aspasia, and some of the earlier ones, also the <N>apoleonic period, and scraps elsewhere. Dents’ edition is not over expensive, I believe.
In German there is only Heine, and some of the very early Minnesingers, Von der Vogelweide etc.
Spanish next to nothing since the Poema del Cid.
except stray ballads
Italian; Dante, Guido, Leopardi.
I am temporarily off medievalism. I dont know that it will do anyone the slightest good to read Chaucer and the very early english poets. I mean for practical practicing contemporary writers to do so.
Butler’s “The Way of all Flesh” will amuse you if you haven’t yet read it. ages ago.
I think, about classics: I will send in as my next swot in Poetry some fragments from my l o n g poem. I don’t know. I dont know whether it would do me any good to print scraps until it is finished. There is one gob of classic in it that you might like. [his translation of Divus]
I dont know, If you dont read latin I should think the next best thing was Flaubert’s “Trois Contes”. One might have a lot worse “poetic” training than that of committing all three to memory, or rather the first and third. St. Julien gets a little distressing.
I suppose they contain all that anybody knows about writing.
To Iris Barry 20 July 1916
KOMPLEAT KULTURE: Schedule at II 227 b 5 q/12/4685
The main thing being to have enmagazined some mass of fine literature which hasn’t been mauled over and vulgarized and preached as a virtue by Carlyle, The Daily Mail, The Spectator, The New Witness, or any other proletariat of “current opinion.” This mass of fine literature supposedly saves one from getting swamped in contemporaneousness, and from thinking that things naturally or necessarily must or should be as they are, OR should change according to some patent schedule. ALSO should serve as a model of style, or suggest possibilities of various sorts of perfection or maximum attainment.
Greek seems to me a storehouse of wonderful rhythms, possibly impracticable rhythms. If you don’t read it and if you can’t read Latin translations from it, it can’t be helped. Most English translations are hopeless. The best are in prose. […]
I don’t know that one can read any trans. of the Odyssey. Perhaps you could read book XI. I have tried an adaptation in the ‘Seafarer’ metre, or something like it, but I don’t expect anyone to recognize the source very quickly.
Certainly the so-called “poetic” translations of Greek drama are wholly ‘impossible.’
Wharton’s “Sappho” is the classic achievement. That you should find in any decent library.
I am mailing you MacKail’s Latin Literature. It is in many ways untrustworthy and vicious, BUT MacKail has the grace really to care for the stuff he writes of. He is the poor dam’d soul of the late Walter Pater. Has written some poems which I thought, fifteen years ago, were finely chiseled. […]
Catullus, Propertius, Horace and Ovid are the people who matter. Catullus most. Martial somewhat. Propertius for beautiful cadence, though he uses only one metre. Horace you will not want for a long time. I doubt if he is of any use save to the Latin scholar. I will explain sometime viva voce.
Virgil is a second-rater, a Tennysonianized version of Homer. Catullus has the intensity, and Ovid might teach one many things.
The “Pervigilium Veneris” is beautiful; it is, however, MacKail’s own pet infant and he is a little disproportionately lyric over its beauty.
To the best of my knowledge there is no history of Greek poetry that is worth ANYthing. They all go on gassing about the “deathless voice” and the ‘Theban Eagle’ as if Pindar wasn’t the prize wind-bag of all ages. The “bass drum,” etc. […]
Cathay will give you a hint of China, and the ‘Seafarer’ on the Anglo-Saxon stuff. Then as MacKail says (p.246) nothing matters till Provence.
After Provence, Dante and Guido Cavalcanti in Italy.
Very possibly ALL this mediaeval stuff is very bad for one’s style. I don’t know that you have time to live through it and???? to survive? (If I have survived.)
The French of Villon is very difficult but you should have a copy of Villon and not trust to Swinburne’s translations (though they are very fine in themselves); they are too luxurious and not hard enough. Not hard enough, I mean, if one is to learn how to write. There are dull stretches in the “Testament” but one has to dig out the fine things.
To Alice Corbin Henderson, 14 October 1916
You are quite right in saying that W.B.Y. in his Wind Among the Reeds, gets a sort of unity which my books have never had.
He also produces the effect of having only one note or one key or one colour.
I know that I loose [sic] a certain amount, but then...
Then there’s so much unacknowledged cribbing. And a personal cult is usually rot. Look at the Tagore muck. And if what rotten personality I’ve got cant stand the strain of admitting that Q. Septimius translated some greek epigrams four centuries ago, the said personality had better “git out or git under.”
If I’m merely a collection of antiquities there is no use in pretending the contrary. Nihil humanum nisi nom meum gets more and more difficult as time goes on, or perhaps it doesn’t.
There is undoubtedly a present loss. A fake would get more immediate notoriety, but I cant see that it’s worth it.