Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christopher Logue, R.I.P.

It wasn't until late 1962, when I was a young (21 year old) Teaching Fellow in the English Department of the State U. of N.Y. at Buffalo, doing an M.A., that I began to fully feel and understand the extremes of terrible beauty and transformative power of poetry, beyond any I had previously experienced. It was when I encountered the new English version/translation of Book 16 of THE ILIAD by Christopher Logue, first published in issue number 28 of THE PARIS REVIEW.

Here is the final section.

Coming behind you in the dusk you felt
-What was it? - felt the darkness part and then
Who had been patient with you,

His hand came out of the east,
And in his wrist lay eternity.
And every atom of his mythic weight
Was poised between his fist and bent left leg.
And it hit the small of your back, Patroclus...
Your eyes leant out. Achilles' helmet rang
Far and away beneath the cannon-bones of enemy horses,
And Achilles' breastplate (five copper plys
Mastered with even bronze) split like a pod.
And you were footless... staggering... amazed
Between the clumps of dying, dying yourself,
Dazed by the brilliance in your eyes
And the noise, like weirs heard far away.
So you staggered, blind eyes open,
Dabbling your astounded fingers in the vomit
On your chest.
And all the Trojans lay and stared at you,
Propped themselves up and stared at you,
Feeling themselves as blest as you felt cursed.
All of them just lay and stared
Except a boy called Euphorbus.
He took his chance and threw. Straight.
The javelin went through both calves,
Stitching your knees together, and you fell
(Not noticing your pain) and tried to crawl,
Towards the fleet, and - even now - snatching
Euphorbus' ankle, Ah! and got it? No...
Not a boy's ankle that you got.
But Hector's

Standing above you,
His bronze mask smiling down into your face,
Putting his spear through...ach, and saying,
"Why tears, Patroclus?
Did you hope to melt Troy down
And make our women carry home the ingots for you?
I can just imagine it!
You and your marvellous Achilles sitting,
Him with his upright finger wagging, saying,
"Don't show your face in here again, Patroclus,
Unless it's red with Hector's blood."
You fool.
You weak, impudent, silly little fool."
And Patroclus,
Shaking his voice out of his body, says
"Big Mouth,
Remember it took three of you to kill me,
A god, a boy, and last of all a hero!
I can hear Death
Calling my name and yet,
Somehow it sounds like "Hector"
And when I close my eyes
I see Achilles' face with Death's voice coming out of it."

Saying these things Patroclus died.
And as his soul went through the sand like water,
Hector drew out his spear and said,