ENG 110 College of San Mateo Memorial as Oral Cemetery Essay

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ALSO BY ALICE OSWALD P OETRY The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile Dart Woods Etc. A Sleepwalk on the Severn Weeds and Wild Flowers EDITOR The Thunder Mutters: 101 Poems for the Planet Thomas Wyatt: Selected Poems MEMORIAL A VERSION OF HOMER’S ILIAD ALICE OSWALD W. W. NORTON & COMPANY NEW YORK LONDON Contents Begin Reading Acknowledgments Very many thanks to: Peter Oswald, Laura Beatty and the Keens, Sheila Hooker, Jules Cashford, Rupert Smith, Paul Keegan, Kevin Mount, Joe Richards, Iris Milward, Jo Larsen, Jerome Fletcher, Philip Franses, Minni Jain, Warwick Gould and the staff at Senate House Library, University of London – and Homer. 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 lyric (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. There are accounts of Greek lament in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. When a corpse was layed out, a professional poet (someone like Homer) led the mourning and was antiphonally answered by women offering personal accounts of the deceased. I like to think that the stories of individual soldiers recorded in the Iliad might be recollections of these laments, woven into the narrative by poets who regularly performed both high epic and choral lyric poetry. The Iliad is a vocative poem. Perhaps even (in common with lament) it is invocative. It always addresses Patroclus as ‘you’, as if speaking directly to the dead. This translation presents the whole poem as a kind of oral cemetery – in the aftermath of the Trojan War, an attempt to remember people’s names and lives without the use of writing. I hope it doesn’t need too much context. I hope it will have its own coherence as a series of memories and similes laid side by side: an antiphonal account of man in his world. I should add a note about my attitude to the printed Iliad. My ‘biographies’ are paraphrases of the Greek, my similes are translations. However, my approach to translation is fairly irreverent. 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 for translucence rather than translation. I think this method, as well as my reckless dismissal of seven-eighths of the poem, is compatible with the spirit of oral poetry, which was never stable but always adapting itself to a new audience, as if its language, unlike written language, was still alive and kicking. PROTESILAUS ECHEPOLUS ELEPHENOR SIMOISIUS LEUKOS DEMOCOON DIORES PIROUS PHEGEUS IDAEUS ODIOS PHAESTUS SCAMANDRIUS PHERECLES PEDAEUS HYPSENOR ASTYNOOS HYPEIRON ABAS POLYIDOS XANTHUS THOON ECHEMMON CHROMIUS PANDARUS DEICOON ORSILOCHUS CRETHON PYLAEMENES MYDON MENESTHES ANCHIALOS AMPHIUS TLEPOLEMOS COERANUS CHROMIUS ALCASTOR ALCANDER HALIUS PYRTANIS NOEMON TEUTHRAS ORESTES TRECHUS OENOMAUS HELENUS ORESBIUS PERIPHAS ACAMAS AXYLUS CALESIUS PEDASUS AESEPUS ASTYALOS PIDUTES ARETAON ANTILOCHUS ELATUS PHYLAKOS MELANTHIUS ADRESTUS MENESTHIUS IPHINOUS ENIOPEUS AGELAOS ORSILOCHUS ORMENUS OPHELESTES DAETOR CHROMIUS LYCOPHONTES AMOPAON MELANIPPUS GORGYTHION ARCHEPTOLEMOS DOLON RHESUS ISOS ANTIPHOS PEISANDER HIPPOLOCHUS IPHIDAMAS COON ASAEUS AUTONOOS OPITES DOLOPS OPHELTIUS AGELAOS AESYMNUS ORUS HIPPONOUS THYMBRAIUS MOLION ADRESTUS AMPHIUS HIPPODAMOS HYPEIROCHOS AGASTRAPHUS THOON ENNOMUS CHERSIDAMAS SOCUS CHAROPS DORYCLES PANDOCUS LYSANDER PYRASUS PYLARTES APISAON DAMASOS PYLON ORMENOS HIPPOMACHOS ANTIPHATES MENON IAMENOS ORESTES EPICLES IMBRIOS AMPHIMACHOS OTHRYON ASIUS ALCATHOUS OINOMAOS ASKALAPHOS APHAREUS THOON ANTILOCHUS DEIPUROS PEISANDER HARPALION EUCHENOR SATNIUS PROTHOENOR ARCHELOCHUS PROMACHUS ILIONEUS STICHIUS ARCESILAUS MEDON IASUS MECISTEUS ECHIUS CLONIUS DEIOCHUS KALETOR LYKOPHRON KLEITOS SCHEDIOS LAODAMAS OTOS KROISMOS DOLOPS MELANIPPUS PERIPHETOS PURAICHMES AREILYCUS THOAS AMPHICLUS ATUMNIOS MARIS KLEOBULOS LYKON AKAMAS ERYMAS PRONOOS THESTOR ERYLAOS ERYMAS AMPHOTERUS EPALTES TLEPOLEMOS ECHIOS PURIS IPHES EUIPPOS POLYMELOS THRASYMELOS PEDASUS SARPEDON EPIGEUS BATHYCLES LAOGONUS PATROCLUS EUPHORBAS HIPPOTHOUS SCHEDIUS PHORCYS LEOCRITUS APISAON ARETUS PODES KOIRANUS IPHITUS DEMOLEON HIPPODAMAS POLYDORUS DRYOPS DEMUCHUS LAOGONUS DARDANUS TROS MULIUS RHIGMOS LYCAON THERSILOCHUS MYDON ASTYPYLOS MNESIUS THRASIUS AINIOS OPHELESTES HECTOR 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 a perfect fighter Always ahead of his men Known for his cold seed-like concentration Moving out and out among the spears ECHEPOLUS 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 from Euboea in command of forty ships Son of Chalcodon nothing is known of his mother Died dragging the corpse of Echepolus A little flash of flesh showing under the shield as he bent Agenor stabbed him in the ninth year of the war He wore his hair long at the back ELEPHENOR Like leaves Sometimes they light their green flames And are fed by the earth And sometimes it snuffs them out Like leaves Sometimes they light their green flames And are fed by the earth And sometimes it snuffs them out born on the banks of the Simois Son of Anthemion his mother a shepherdess Still following the sheep when she gave birth A lithe and promising young man unmarried Was met by Ajax in the ninth year of the war And died full tilt running onto his spear The point passed clean through the nipple And came out through the shoulderblade He collapsed instantly an unspeakable sorrow to his parents SIMOISIUS And LEUKOS friend of Odysseus Little is known of him except his death And someone’s face pierced like a piece of fruit That was Priam’s son unlucky man Who made his living in the horse country North of Troy he was stepping backwards When the darkness hit him with a dull clang His name was DEMOCOON Like a man steps back Seeing a snake almost under his foot In a heathery hollow The fear flutters his knees it Sucks him white he steps back Like a man steps back Seeing a snake almost under his foot In a heathery hollow The fear flutters his knees it Sucks him white he steps back son of Amarinceus Struck by a flying flint Died in a puddle of his own guts Slammed down into mud he lies With his arms stretched out to his friends And PIROUS the Thracian You can tell him by his knotted hair Lies alongside him He killed him and was killed There seem to be black flints Everywhere a man steps DIORES 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 The priest of Hephaestus Hot-faced from staring at flames Prayed every morning the same prayer Please god respect my status Protect my sons PHEGEUS and IDAEUS Calm down their horses lift them Out of the fight as light as ash Hephaestus heard him but he couldn’t Hold those bold boys back Riding over the battlefield too fast They met a flying spear And like a lift door closing Inexplicable Hephaestus Whisked one of them away And the other died What happened to that man from Alybe far away in the east What happened to ODIOS what happened to PHAESTUS He came from Tarne where the soil is loose and crumbly Like snow falling like snow When the living winds shake the clouds into pieces Like flutters of silence hurrying down To put a stop to the earth at her leafwork Like snow falling like snow When the living winds shake the clouds into pieces Like flutters of silence hurrying down To put a stop to the earth at her leafwork 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 came out through the ribs His father was Strophius SCAMANDRIUS 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 Beloved of Athene PHERECLES son of Harmion Brilliant with his hands and born of a long line of craftsmen It was he who built the cursed fleet of Paris Little knowing it was his own death boat Died on his knees screaming Meriones speared him in the buttock And the point pierced him in the bladder 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 Like suddenly it thunders And a stormwind rushes down And roars into the sea’s ears And the curves of many white-patched waves Run this way and that way Like suddenly it thunders And a stormwind rushes down And roars into the sea’s ears And the curves of many white-patched waves Run this way and that way Brave HYPSENOR the stump of whose hand Lies somewhere on the battlefield He was the son of Dolopion the river-priest Now he belongs to a great red emptiness Like when the rainy fog pulls down its hood on the mountains Misery for the herdsman better than night for the thief You can see no further than you can throw a stone Like when the rainy fog pulls down its hood on the mountains Misery for the herdsman better than night for the thief You can see no further than you can throw a stone Diomedes a madman a terrible numbness Turned inside-out and taking over everything Killed ASTYNOOS killed HYPEIRON Killed ABAS and POLYIDOS Their father could tell the future But he never prophesied that Killed XANTHUS and THOON Both tall men but their father Was a little wisp of worries Waiting at home what could he do Now all his savings will go to other people’s children Now he will have to live off nothing But his sons’ names meanwhile Diomedes With his eyes peeled down to their see-through stones Seeing through everything to its inner emptiness Killed ECHEMMON killed CHROMIUS Tin-opened them out of their armour And took for himself their high-stepping horses Like the high unescapable eye Of the eagle Under whose beam The shadow-swift hare can’t hide Pressed flat to the floor Of a leafy wood That loitering eye looks once And kills Like the high unescapable eye Of the eagle Under whose beam The shadow-swift hare can’t hide Pressed flat to the floor Of a leafy wood That loitering eye looks once And kills son of Lycaon had a wife at home In his high-roofed house in the foothills of Ida He was captain of Zelea and he and his men Used to drink the black raw water from the river He was a rich man a master bowman Eleven war cars in his stables brand new beautifully made With rugs and thoroughbred horses He couldn’t bear to risk them in the War He went on foot to Troy with nothing but his bow But that was no good to him The arrows kept flying off at angles If I ever get home he said And see my wife and my high-roofed house May a stranger cut off my head if I don’t Smash this bow and throw it with my own hands Into the fire it has proved such a nothingness But he climbed up nevertheless next to Aeneas He charged at Diomedes and a spear Thrown by Diomedes pushed hard in by Athene Hit him between the eyes it split-second Splintered his teeth cut through his tongue broke off his jaw And came out clean through the chin PANDARUS Like an oak tree struck by lightning Throws up its arms and burns Terrifying for a man out walking To smell that sulphur smell And see the fields flickering ahead of him Lit up blue by the strangeness of god Like an oak tree struck by lightning Throws up its arms and burns Terrifying for a man out walking To smell that sulphur smell And see the fields flickering ahead of him Lit up blue by the strangeness of god the Trojan Was too eager too heroic He found praise yes But also death DEICOON Like snow falls quickly from god to the ground When the north wind blows down the heavens Like snow falls quickly from god to the ground When the north wind blows down the heavens and CRETHON grew restless They had shallow stony eyes Always staring at the pulling sea And they were the grandsons of a river Famous Alpheus whose muscular waters Wind round Pylos But those cold blue arms couldn’t keep them As soon as they were old enough They took a ship to Troy their story Finishes here in darkness ORSILOCHUS What happened to PYLAEMENES He came from the Black Sea those dusty plains That bring forth mules and loud men His heart was made of coarse cloth And his manners were loose like old sacking He was a great captain but Menelaus killed him And his driver MYDON in the act of turning his horses Was killed by Antilochus Like two mules on a shaly path in the mountains Carrying a huge roof truss or the beam of a boat Go on mile after mile giving it their willingness Until the effort breaks their strength Like two mules on a shaly path in the mountains Carrying a huge roof truss or the beam of a boat Go on mile after mile giving it their willingness Until the effort breaks their strength And MENESTHES ANCHIALOS AMPHIUS TLEPOLEMOS COERANUS CHROMIUS ALCASTOR ALCANDER HALIUS PYRTANIS NOEMON TEUTHRAS ORESTES TRECHUS OENOMAUS HELENUS ORESBIUS PERIPHAS And a massive man best fighter in Thrace Came over the choppy tides of the Hellespont And almost instantly took a blow on his helmet The spear pressed through to his skull Tipped with darkness It was Ajax who stopped him ACAMAS Like that slow-motion moment When a woman weighs the wool Her poor old spider hands Work all night spinning a living for her children And then she stops She soothes the scales to a standstill Like that slow-motion moment When a woman weighs the wool Her poor old spider hands Work all night spinning a living for her children And then she stops She soothes the scales to a standstill son of Teuthras Lived all his life in the lovely harbour of Arisbe Looking down at the Hellespont Everyone knew that plump man Sitting on the step with his door wide open He who so loved his friends Died side by side with CALESIUS In a daze of loneliness Their conversation unfinished AXYLUS 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 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 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 Like when a ditch-maker takes a mattock to water To cut it loose from its clods at first It’s just a secret trickle under nettles But then the pebbles shout out water And it runs downhill calling to his crops and orchards Leaving him staring Like when a ditch-maker takes a mattock to water To cut it loose from its clods at first It’s just a secret trickle under nettles But then the pebbles shout out water And it runs downhill calling to his crops and orchards Leaving him staring ASTYALOS PIDUTES ARETAON The flash of a spear Woke them with a jolt And ANTILOCHUS ELATUS PHYLAKOS MELANTHIUS Like when god keeps the night awake with lightning And the sky jumps into readiness for a huge rainstorm And sometimes hail or snow when blizzards wander in the fields Like when god keeps the night awake with lightning And the sky jumps into readiness for a huge rainstorm And sometimes hail or snow when blizzards wander in the fields almost survived it was horrible To hear the hoof-kicking struggle of his horses Tangled on a tamarisk branch The cart cracked the man tipped headfirst forwards And landed on his mouth in the dust And there instantly stood Menelaus A sundial moving over his last moments With a long shadowing spear ADRESTUS Take me alive said Adrestus I’ll give you everything gold bronze iron My father is a rich man take me alive But Agamemnon heard him Weakness what is this weakness Menelaus Don’t tell me you love these men With their impeccable wife-thief manners A death-curse on all of them kill them all Even the unborn ones in their mothers’ bellies Be uncried for unburied And that was the earth’s moment That was the death of Adrestus Like a good axe in good hands Finds out the secret of wood and splits it open When a man for example cuts out timbers for a boat And his axe is an iron decision swinging his arm Like a good axe in good hands Finds out the secret of wood and splits it open When a man for example cuts out timbers for a boat And his axe is an iron decision swinging his arm the only son of big-eyed Phylomedusa Came overland to Troy not quite knowing why Until he met Paris running in a love-rage towards him With the smell of Helen still on his hands MENESTHIUS Like a rainbow shining a warning to the world A bright banner of disruption hung above the fields Meaning war perhaps or maybe just a summer storm So that everyone stops work and looks up and the flocks grow restless Like a rainbow shining a warning to the world A bright banner of disruption hung above the fields Meaning war perhaps or maybe just a summer storm So that everyone stops work and looks up and the flocks grow restless Another man springing into his chariot Felt a blow on his shoulder and dropped Like a leaf from a topmost twig His name was IPHINOUS And ENIOPEUS with high hopes Drove Hector into battle Into the terrifying anti-world of the wounded The wheels kept slewing over bodies But he held tight he was good with horses Until a spear shocked him in the nipple He vanished backwards and hit the ground under their hooves Clang his soul burst into the open And AGELAOS in the act of turning Noticed the death cloud Diomedes towering towards him He was heaving his horses round swearing When a spearshot pushed through his shout and out through his chest He fell made of metal banging on the ground Like a man put a wand of olive in the earth And watered it and that wand became a wave It became a whip a spine a crown It became a wind-dictionary It could speak in tongues It became a wobbling wagon-load of flowers And then a storm came spinning by And it became a broken tree uprooted It became a wood pile in a lonely field Like a man put a wand of olive in the earth And watered it and that wand became a wave It became a whip a spine a crown It became a wind-dictionary It could speak in tongues It became a wobbling wagon-load of flowers And then a storm came spinning by And it became a broken tree uprooted It became a wood pile in a lonely field Eight flint-leaved arrows seemingly out of nowhere Shot through ORSILOCHUS ORMENUS OPHELESTES DAETOR CHROMIUS LYCOPHONTES AMOPAON MELANIPPUS That was Teucer Ducking behind his brother’s shield And now the arrow flies through GORGYTHION Somebody’s darling son As if it was June A poppy being hammered by the rain Sinks its head down It’s 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 It’s exactly like that When a man’s neck gives in And the bronze calyx of his helmet Sinks his head down Poor ARCHEPTOLEMOS Someone was there And the next moment no one Like fire with its loose hair flying rushes through a city The look of unmasked light shocks everything to rubble And flames howl through the gaps Like fire with its loose hair flying rushes through a city The look of unmasked light shocks everything to rubble And flames howl through the gaps What was that shrill sound Five sisters at the grave 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 Recently arrived and camping apart from everyone With weapons cleaned and layed down like cutlery This is horrible this is some kind of bloodfeast And beside each man his horses Twelve anonymous Thracians were killed in their sleep Before their ghosts had time to keep hold of their names It was so sudden The raw meat smell of their bodies woke up the dogs And these were rich men They had long smooth hair but Diomedes Red-faced quietly like a butcher keeping up with his order Got rid of them And the last one RHESUS was a king He should never have come here Bringing over the water those huge white horses With their chains and painted cheek guards Extraordinary creatures almost marble but moving Like wolves always wanting something Thin shapes always working the hills When a shepherd lets his flocks wander And the weaklings bleat their fear Within seconds wolves will appear Like wolves always wanting something Thin shapes always working the hills When a shepherd lets his flocks wander And the weaklings bleat their fear Within seconds wolves will appear Two more metal ornaments Knocked down anonymous in their helmets And when those iron heads opened Everyone whispered listen That was ISOS and ANTIPHOS They used to be shepherds they were hill people Working out of reach of the world Those were the two boys Achilles kidnapped Among the wolves and buzzards of Mount Ida They said it was wonderful to be tied in creepers And taken to the other side by that gypsy They said he could talk to horses They said his mother was a seal or mermaid And he introduced them to Agamemnon The great king of Mycenae poor fools Who came home as proud as astronauts And didn’t want to farm any more And went riding out to be killed by Agamemnon Like a boat Going into the foaming mouth of a wave In the body of the wind Everything vanishes And the sailors stare at mid-air Like a boat Going into the foaming mouth of a wave In the body of the wind Everything vanishes And the sailors stare at mid-air Antimachus was bribed this is well known Antimachus was a friend of Paris Who put the case for war He opened a door in the earth And a whole generation entered Including his own young sons PEISANDER and HIPPOLOCHUS Two dazed teenagers trotting into battle On their father’s expensive horses And those horses those colossal death-muscles Ramped and flared and the reins Slipped from the boys’ hands Please take us alive they shouted Our father is Antimachus a gentleman He has the cost of us both in cash back at home We could fetch it But Agamemnon remembered Their father was that sly old man Who tried to murder Menelaus Antimachus assured them He had acted in good faith But their ghosts said nothing Like close to the grey sea the waiting rocks Outstare the winds and the big waves Running at them open-mouthed Like close to the grey sea the waiting rocks Outstare the winds and the big waves Running at them open-mouthed a big ambitious boy At the age of eighteen at the age of restlessness His family crippled him with love They gave him a flute and told him to amuse himself In his grandfather’s sheep-nibbled fields That didn’t work they gave him a bride Poor woman lying in her new name alone She said even on his wedding night He seemed to be wearing armour He kept yawning and looking far away And by the next morning he’d vanished Arrogant farmhand fresh from the fields He went straight for Agamemnon Aiming for the soft bit under the breastplate And leaning in pushing all his violence All his crazy impatience into the thrust But he couldn’t quite break through the belt-metal Against all that silver the spear-tip Simply bent like lead and he lost Poor Iphidamas now he is only iron Sleeping its iron sleep poor boy Who fought for Helen for his parents’ town Far from his wife all that money wasted A hundred cattle he gave her A thousand sheep and goats All that hard work feeding them wasted IPHIDAMAS Grief is black it is made of earth It gets into the cracks in the eyes It lodges its lump in the throat When a man sees his brother on the ground He goes mad he comes running out of nowhere Lashing without looking and that was how COON died First he wounded Agamemnon Then he grabbed his brother’s stiffened foot And tried to drag him home shouting Help for god’s sake this is Iphidamas Someone please help but Agamemnon Cut off his head and that was that Two brothers killed on the same morning by the same man That was their daylight here finished And their long nightshift in the underworld just beginning Like when two winds want a wood The south wind and the east wind Both pull at the trees’ arms And the sound of smooth-skinned cornel whipping to and fro And oak and ash batting long sticks together Is a word from another world Like when two winds want a wood The south wind and the east wind Both pull at the trees’ arms And the sound of smooth-skinned cornel whipping to and fro And oak and ash batting long sticks together Is a word from another world ASAEUS AUTONOOS OPITES DOLOPS OPHELTIUS AGELAOS AESYMNUS ORUS HIPPONOUS THYMBRAIUS MOLION Like fawns running over a field Suddenly give up and stand Puzzled in their heavy coats Like fawns running over a field Suddenly give up and stand Puzzled in their heavy coats Also ADRESTUS and AMPHIUS Everyone knew they were going to die They were the sons of Merops the prophet He begged them to stay at home but they couldn’t listen Their own ghosts were calling them to Troy Immaculate in clean linen They set out together but Death Was already walking to meet them Like a goatherd stands on a rock And sees a cloud blowing towards him A black block of rain coming closer over the sea Pushing a ripple of wind inland He shivers and drives his flocks into a cave for shelter Like a goatherd stands on a rock And sees a cloud blowing towards him A black block of rain coming closer over the sea Pushing a ripple of wind inland He shivers and drives his flocks into a cave for shelter And HIPPODAMOS died Like a traveller trudging across a plain Who comes to a river and stands helpless Looking down at that foamy swiftness sweeping to the sea And takes a step back And HYPEIROCHOS died Like a farm boy looking after the pigs Who tries to cross a river in a rainstorm And gets swept away Typical competitive pride and madness Made AGASTRAPHUS get out of his chariot And walk and keep walking with no back-up No friend no horse as far as the front line Of course he was wounded he lay dying Thinking if only if only the mind Was more straightforward and efficient What was I doing thinking I could walk Through all that iron on my own And us Said THOON ENNOMUS CHERSIDAMAS Like a fish in the wind Jumps right out of its knowledge And lands on the sand Like a fish in the wind Jumps right out of its knowledge And lands on the sand Come back to your city SOCUS Your father is a rich man a breeder of horses And your house has deep decorated baths and long passages But he and his brother weren’t listening Like men on wire walking over the underworld CHAROPS died first killed by Odysseus Then Socus who was running by now Felt the rude punch of a spear in his back Push through his heart and out the other side poor Socus Trying to get away from his own ending Ran out his last moments in fear of the next ones But this is it now this is the mud of Troy This is black wings coming down every evening Bird’s feathers on your face Unmaking you mouthful by mouthful Eating your eyes your open eyes Which your mother should have closed Like when the wind comes ruffling at last to sailors adrift Trying to manage the broken springs of their muscles And lever and lift those well-rubbed oars Making tiny dents in the ocean Like when the wind comes ruffling at last to sailors adrift Trying to manage the broken springs of their muscles And lever and lift those well-rubbed oars Making tiny dents in the ocean And DORYCLES PANDOCUS LYSANDER PYRASUS PYLARTES APISAON All vigorous men All vanished Like in Autumn under the dripping wind The earth’s clothes grow heavy she can hardly stand God rains on the roof hammering his fists down He has had enough of violent smiling men Now every one of us is being looked at Under the rain’s lens Now the rivers are filling they are overfilling There are streams sawing through hills Cutting up the grass into islands Everything is clattering to the sea This is water’s world And the works of men are vanishing Like in Autumn under the dripping wind The earth’s clothes grow heavy she can hardly stand God rains on the roof hammering his fists down He has had enough of violent smiling men Now every one of us is being looked at Under the rain’s lens Now the rivers are filling they are overfilling There are streams sawing through hills Cutting up the grass into islands Everything is clattering to the sea This is water’s world And the works of men are vanishing the Trojan Running at a man thinking kill kill In years to come someone will find his helmet Shaped like a real head DAMASOS And PYLON ORMENOS HIPPOMACHOS ANTIPHATES MENON IAMENOS ORESTES Like the war cries of cranes going south escaping the rain Every winter the clang of their wings going over us And the shock of their parachutes Landing on someone else’s fields Like the war cries of cranes going south escaping the rain Every winter the clang of their wings going over us And the shock of their parachutes Landing on someone else’s fields a Southerner from sunlit Lycia Climbed the Greek wall remembering the river That winds between his wheatfields and his vineyards He was knocked backwards by a rock And sank like a diver The light in his face went out EPICLES Like the shine of a sea swell Lifting and flattening silently When water makes way for the wind And dreams of its storms Huge waves hang in a hush Uncertain which way to fall Until a breeze breaks them Like the shine of a sea swell Lifting and flattening silently When water makes way for the wind And dreams of its storms Huge waves hang in a hush Uncertain which way to fall Until a breeze breaks them Honourable IMBRIOS left his house in Pedaios And took lodgings in a drafty street in Troy He could have been a rich man He married Priam’s daughter Medesicaste But his marriage was a death warrant How can you kiss a rolling head 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 Like a stone Stands by a grave and says nothing Like a stone Stands by a grave and says nothing 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 Like a deer in the hills wounded Keeps running in pain There are dogs following her bloodprints But she goes on and on escaping into loneliness To the very breaking of her being Until it happens in some shadowy wood on a hilltop She gives up And the dogs set about eating her But at last at evening a lion appears A huge angel wandering the hills laying claim to the dead And the dogs scatter At last at evening a lion appears A huge angel wandering the hills laying claim to the dead And the dogs scatter Oh ASIUS ASIUS how has he done this Now he bangs down his knuckles on his knees He feels so luminous stupid Sitting in god’s headlights trembling In the narrow opening to the grave He was told to dismount And proceed on foot to the Greek camp But he couldn’t hear he couldn’t stop Having ridden those shining horses Over the Selleis and the Simois And all the stony way from Arisbe to Troy Like when winnowers bang their shovels down Black beans and chickpeas jump in the wind Their seed-shrouds flit along the ground Like when winnowers bang their shovels down Black beans and chickpeas jump in the wind Their seed-shrouds flit along the ground Somebody’s husband somebody’s daughter’s husband Stood there stunned by fear Like a pillar like a stunted tree He couldn’t bend his stones He couldn’t walk his roots His armour was useless it simply Cried out and broke open oh There stood ALCATHOUS and a spear Knowing nothing of his wedding Not knowing his feelings or his wife’s face Or her doting parents or her incredible needlework That spear went straight through his heart And began to tick tick tick but not for love Like a knife-winged hawk Balanced on a cliff with no foothold Not even a goat can climb there Like when he lifts his blades and begins That faultless fall Through the birds of the valley Like a knife-winged hawk Balanced on a cliff with no foothold Not even a goat can climb there Like when he lifts his blades and begins That faultless fall Through the birds of the valley OINOMAOS ASKALAPHOS APHAREUS THOON ANTILOCHUS DEIPUROS PEISANDER not quite ready for life Not quite solid always shifting from foot to foot With his eyes sliding everywhere in fear Followed his father to war He never came back to that house Three storeys high on the River Parthenios It was horrible the death-howl Of the father finding him gone HARPALION Like deer always moving on and looking back Knowing they are wanted by wolves they keep Stepping away through the pillars of the woods Knowing their guests are waiting Like deer always moving on and looking back Knowing they are wanted by wolves they keep Stepping away through the pillars of the woods Knowing their guests are waiting 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 spearwound His mother was in tears His father was in tears but Cold as a coin he took the second option Seeing as otherwise he’d have had to pay a fine It was no surprise when an arrow pierced his neck He recognised that prick of darkness EUCHENOR Like a stallion tugging at a rope breaks loose at last And his gallop is a drumbeat shaking the valley There he goes heading straight for the river Longing to wash in that clattering rush of cold When he holds his head high and runs like a king Under the wind-blown banner of his mane Then he knows his knees are going to lift him forever And a grassy cloth has been spread on the fields for his pleasure Like a stallion tugging at a rope breaks loose at last And his gallop is a drumbeat shaking the valley There he goes heading straight for the river Longing to wash in that clattering rush of cold When he holds his head high and runs like a king Under the wind-blown banner of his mane Then he knows his knees are going to lift him forever And a grassy cloth has been spread on the fields for his pleasure Who could be more ordinary than SATNIUS The son of Water When he died the River was so cold You’d never think it was his mother And PROTHOENOR died And then a spear with its own willpower Flying towards another man Chose to miss him at the last minute And struck ARCHELOCHUS Like the changing mind That moves a cloud off a mountain And makes rocks and cliffs appear Pushing the landshape’s sharp edges up Through more and more air Like the changing mind That moves a cloud off a mountain And makes rocks and cliffs appear Pushing the landshape’s sharp edges up Through more and more air Then PROMACHUS fell forgetting everything Like when they’re cutting ash poles in the hills The treetops fall as soft as cloth Like when they’re cutting ash poles in the hills The treetops fall as soft as cloth an only child ran out of luck He always wore that well-off look His parents had a sheep farm They didn’t think he would die But a spear stuck through his eye He sat down backwards Trying to snatch back the light With stretched out hands ILIONEUS Like oak trees swerving out of the hills And setting their faces to the wind Day after day being practically lifted away They are lashed to the earth And never let go Gripping on darkness Like oak trees swerving out of the hills And setting their faces to the wind Day after day being practically lifted away They are lashed to the earth And never let go Gripping on darkness Now STICHIUS has gone and ARCESILAUS Like smoke leaving the earth vanishing up When a town is under attack on a faraway island All day in a trance of war men murder each other But at dusk silence only the fingers of fires Lifting their question to the mainland Is there anybody there please help Like smoke leaving the earth vanishing up When a town is under attack on a faraway island All day in a trance of war men murder each other But at dusk silence only the fingers of fires Lifting their question to the mainland Is there anybody there please help Poor wandering MEDON born out of wedlock Stuck his hand into this ice-cold world And didn’t like it but he had no choice Grew up in Locris under the smile Of a slim respectable stepmother And murdered her brother Then it was years of sleeping under bushes He went north to Phylace then north to Troy And at last in the ninth year Death kicked him and he kicked it back He was close to no one Like when a donkey walking by a cornfield Decides to stop Stands there being prodded and whacked Thinking good I will wade and eat sideways And does just that eats and eats sunk in a pond of corn Exhausted farm boys beat him with sticks Their arms ache their sticks break But nothing moves that big lump of donkey From the fixed statue of his eating Until he’s full and of his own iron will Walks on And IASUS MECISTEUS ECHIUS CLONIUS DEIOCHUS Like bird families feeding by a river Hundreds of geese and herons and long-necked swans When an ember of eagle a red hot coal of hunger Falls out of the sky and bursts into wings Like bird families feeding by a river Hundreds of geese and herons and long-necked swans When an ember of eagle a red hot coal of hunger Falls out of the sky and bursts into wings carrying a flaming bit of wood About to fling it at the ships He and the fire went out together KALETOR And LYKOPHRON And KLEITOS it goes on and on His empty cart clattering away through leafless trees And SCHEDIOS LAODAMAS OTOS KROISMOS Like thick flocks of falling snow In winter when god showers his arrows at us Pouring them down putting the winds to sleep Until the hills the headlands the grassy lowlands All the ploughs and crops of the earth every living twig Is wiped out white with snow it goes on and on Falling and falling on the grey sea Blotting out harbours and beaches And only the breakers can shake it off endlessly rushing at the shore That’s how blank it is when the world succumbs to snow Like thick flocks of falling snow In winter when god showers his arrows at us Pouring them down putting the winds to sleep Until the hills the headlands the grassy lowlands All the ploughs and crops of the earth every living twig Is wiped out white with snow it goes on and on Falling and falling on the grey sea Blotting out harbours and beaches And only the breakers can shake it off endlessly rushing at the shore That’s how blank it is when the world succumbs to snow the strongest son of Lampus Not believing he could die Even when his spear hit solid metal And banged back again 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 DOLOPS Like when god unwinds his whirlwind A single cloud moves into the middle sky MELANIPPUS not really a fighter more a farmer the man from Mycenae Who tripped on his shield PERIPHETOS Like winter rivers pouring off the mountains The thud of water losing consciousness When it falls down from the high places Mixing its streams in the havoc of a valley And far away a shepherd hears it Like winter rivers pouring off the mountains The thud of water losing consciousness When it falls down from the high places Mixing its streams in the havoc of a valley And far away a shepherd hears it The River Axius has the silverest sweetest water It flows through Paeonia Where there are bison in the hills And men make curved bows from their horns To get there you have to go miles over mountains Some of his men might make it But not PURAICHMES Like a man running in a dream Can never approach a man escaping Who can never escape a man approaching Like a man running in a dream Can never approach a man escaping Who can never escape a man approaching And AREILYCUS THOAS AMPHICLUS ATUMNIOS MARIS KLEOBULOS LYKON AKAMAS ERYMAS PRONOOS THESTOR ERYLAOS ERYMAS AMPHOTERUS EPALTES TLEPOLEMOS ECHIOS PURIS IPHES EUIPPOS POLYMELOS THRASYMELOS Like hawkwings cut through a sheet of starlings Like wing-scissors open and close Through a billow of jackdaws Like hawkwings cut through a sheet of starlings Like wing-scissors open and close Through a billow of jackdaws One side had stables and stone water troughs They caught a horse in the windy hills They put it in the king’s paddock And called it PEDASUS the Leaper The other side had sacks of white barley They stole that horse and whipped it into battle Pedasus with unquestioning eyes Carried and served both sides Now the earth is his owner Like a drop of fig juice squeezed into milk Mysteriously thickens it As if a drip of lethargy Falls into the bucket And the woman stirring Stops Like a drop of fig juice squeezed into milk Mysteriously thickens it As if a drip of lethargy Falls into the bucket And the woman stirring Stops 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 whispering but no one Not even a great man not even a son of Zeus Can buy or steal or borrow back his own last breath Once he has hissed it out Through the shutter of his teeth SARPEDON 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 One of the Myrmidons a man of influence A prince of Budeion he was well-dressed He was generous and reliable Until he killed his cousin Then he became a runaway then a beggar Then a soldier then a corpse A sharp rock struck him And the understanding drained from his skull Now he doesn’t recognise himself He seems paler than EPIGEUS Like anger which is so rapturous so other It can turn a man any man into a murderer Then all his learning is outwitted He has to leave his home his country And go begging for shelter With blood printed on his hands And wherever he goes People stare and whisper Like anger which is so rapturous so other It can turn a man any man into a murderer Then all his learning is outwitted He has to leave his home his country And go begging for shelter With blood printed on his hands And wherever he goes People stare and whisper and LAOGONUS One a rich man one a priest Both became earth BATHYCLES In a courtyard on a flat stone Two children were playing dice And a quarrel had broken out Women rushed to the door They saw one child kill the other That was PATROCLUS nicknamed Innocent Who grew up blurred under the background noise Of his foster-brother’s voice And borrowed his armour In the mess of war he forgot his instructions He kept killing and killing Until the crack of his spear splintering And the hush of his helmet spinning through the air And the rare and immediate light Of Apollo with one hand Stopped him Like moonlight Or the light of a bonfire Burning on the cliffs When sailors get blown along Homesick over the sea They notice that far-off fire And think of their wives Like moonlight Or the light of a bonfire Burning on the cliffs When sailors get blown along Homesick over the sea They notice that far-off fire And think of their wives died Leaving his silver hairclip on the battlefield EUPHORBAS And HIPPOTHOUS SCHEDIUS PHORCYS LEOCRITUS Like little campfire stars lit round the moon No wind at all Under an upturned glass of air Exact black rocks show clear And the world simplifies into cliffs and clefts On nights like this Light is unspeakable it is breaking out of heaven And every star openly admits to god Making the shepherd glad Like little campfire stars lit round the moon No wind at all Under an upturned glass of air Exact black rocks show clear And the world simplifies into cliffs and clefts On nights like this Light is unspeakable it is breaking out of heaven And every star openly admits to god Making the shepherd glad APISAON ARETUS a close friend of Hector They used to have meals together He panicked he tried to run back to those times But time itself finished him PODES Like fire which is what A kind of visible vanishing That lights up trees The wind whisks it round It is nothing it is exhausting Whole thickets lose their footing and fall Under the weight of that light Like fire which is what A kind of visible vanishing That lights up trees The wind whisks it round It is nothing it is exhausting Whole thickets lose their footing and fall Under the weight of that light And KOIRANUS who came from the bright chalk cliffs Of Crete he was a quiet man A light to his loved ones And IPHITUS who was born in the snow Between two tumbling trout-stocked rivers Died on the flat dust Not far from DEMOLEON and HIPPODAMAS Like when a dolphin powered by hunger Swims into the harbour Thousands of light-storms of little fish Flit away to the water-shaken wall-shadow And hang there trembling Like when a dolphin powered by hunger Swims into the harbour Thousands of light-storms of little fish Flit away to the water-shaken wall-shadow And hang there trembling is dead who loved running Now somebody has to tell his father That exhausted man leaning on the wall Looking for his favourite son POLYDORUS Like a lion leading his cubs through a wood Walks into a line of huntsmen And stares himself stronger Clenching his whole face fistlike Around the stones of his eyes Like a lion leading his cubs through a wood Walks into a line of huntsmen And stares himself stronger Clenching his whole face fistlike Around the stones of his eyes There lay DRYOPS Like that dog in the barn Lying in a darkless half-sleep guarding his sheep All night there’s a lump of growl stuck in his throat So the fox tip-toeing through the woods Worries him awake Like that dog in the barn Lying in a darkless half-sleep guarding his sheep All night there’s a lump of growl stuck in his throat So the fox tip-toeing through the woods Worries him awake And DEMUCHUS LAOGONUS DARDANUS And TROS begging for his life But his life was over Like when two animals have found a little luckiness Of clear-running water in the mountains One dies and the other drinks it Like when two animals have found a little luckiness Of clear-running water in the mountains One dies and the other drinks it And MULIUS and RHIGMOS Like on a long beach the rustle of the sea Opening its multiple folds unfurling waves Like on a long beach the rustle of the sea Opening its multiple folds unfurling waves Laothoë one of Priam’s wives Never saw her son again he was washed away Now she can’t look at the sea she can’t think about The bits unburied being eaten by fishes He was the tall one the conscientious one Who stayed out late pruning his father’s fig trees Who was kidnapped who was ransomed Who walked home barefoot from Arisbe And rested for twelve days and was killed LYCAON killed Lycaon unkilled Lycaon Bending down branches to make wheels Lycaon kidnapped Lycaon pruning by moonlight Lycaon naked in a river pleading for his life Being answered by Achilles No Like when a lion comes back to a forest’s secret rooms Too late The hunter has taken her children She follows the tracks of that man Into every valley With her heart’s darkness Growing darker Like when a lion comes back to a forest’s secret rooms Too late The hunter has taken her children She follows the tracks of that man Into every valley With her heart’s darkness Growing darker Near the old fig tree the cart track That runs downhill from windy Troy Passes two springs where the Scamander Bubbles over stones the first one warm The second one ice cold even in summer Town people come and wash their clothes In those smooth rock-scooped pools The river knows their voices But Achilles killed so many men Standing downstream with his rude sword Hacking off heads until the water Burst out in anger lifting up a ridge of waves That now this whole river is a grave Women at the washing pools When they hear the river running Crying like a human through its chambers They remember THERSILOCHUS lying In a quick-moving never-ending darkness Between steep steps of echoing rocks They remember MYDON that frightened face Falling out of sight under the tamarisks And ASTYPYLOS blocking the channel MNESIUS rolled in sand THRASIUS lost in silt AINIOS turning somersaults in a black pool Upside down among the licking fishes And OPHELESTES his last breath silvering the surface All that beautiful armour underwater All those white bones sunk in mud And instead of a burial a wagtail Sipping the desecration unaware Like when a man dives off a boat Into wind-blackened water He vanishes then surfaces With his thoughts the other way up And his hands full of oysters Like when a man dives off a boat Into wind-blackened water He vanishes then surfaces With his thoughts the other way up And his hands full of oysters 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 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 the leaves Like chaff flying everywhere at threshing time The winnowers waft their fans and the wind does its work And a goddess is there picking the grain from its husk While a fine white dust covers everything Like thousands of water birds mill and mass in the air Great gatherings of geese and cranes and long-necked swans Flaring and settling in those fields where the rain runs down to the Cayster Continually shuffling and lifting and loving the sound of their wings They shriek as they land like a huge birdfair a valleyful of voices Like wandering tribes of flies that gather in sheds In shadowy spring when the milk splashes in the buckets Like crickets leaning on their elbows in the hedges Tiny dried up men speaking pure light Like strobe-lit wasps That have built their nest on a footpath Never give up their hollow house But hang about the walls Worrying for their children 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 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 restless wolves never run out of hunger Can eat a whole stag Can drink the whole surface off a pool Lapping away its blackness with thin tongues And belching it back as blood And still go on killing and killing With their stomachs rubbing their sides Haunted by hunger Like when water hits a rocky dam Its long strong arms can’t break those stones And all its pouring rush curls back on itself And bleeds sideways into marshes Like when god throws a star And everyone looks up To see that whip of sparks And then it’s gone Like when god throws a star And everyone looks up To see that whip of sparks And then it’s gone Afterword I Alice Oswald begins her luminous poem Memorial with two hundred names. As the work unfolds, these names follow their owners into the hullabaloo and upset of war. Each one comes with a nanosecond’s visibility, a camera flash of passionate lyric. For a brief moment – too soon to know them, but long enough to mourn them – we see these young men leaping, screaming, running forward into dust and confusion. And as fast as they go by, with just that speed Oswald cuts their moment into a keen, contemporary freshness of language. Here for instance is Diomedes, dealing with corpses on the battlefield ‘Red faced, quietly like a butcher keeping up with his order’. Or Pandarus, furious with himself for being in the war at all. If he ever gets home, he thinks, to his wife and his ‘high-roofed house’, he ‘will smash this bow / and throw it with my own hands into the fire’. Now more men, more moments. All are lit by Oswald’s signature alloy of diction, both hip and oracular. Soldier after soldier goes by. And however dismayed by their fate, every reader can relish the sheer verve of language that conveys it. In a few searing lines each name joins a young man, until all of them stand in front of us. Here’s Pylaemenes, whose ‘heart was made of coarse cloth’ and whose ‘manners were loose like old sacking’. And Iphidamus, a ‘big, ambitious boy’, so determined to fight that even on his wedding night his new bride thought ‘he seemed to be wearing armour’. And Echepolus who died ‘letting the darkness leak down over his eyes’. All of them are moving in one direction. All the names, neatly cataloged in the first pages of this poem, are following their owners into oblivion. They will all die in front of us before the poem is over. And we shouldn’t be surprised. There can be no other ending. In fact, they have already died long ago. They have already been named by Homer in the Iliad. Now Alice Oswald names them again. Memorial is built on Homer’s Iliad. It stands squarely on an epic foundation. The names are the same. Some of the actions are the same. The locations are identical. The similes are comparable. But why, the reader might ask, do these young men need to die again? Didn’t Homer already lay them down in his great text? These questions, far from being unsettling, are exciting. As are the clues Oswald offers in her preface. Despite her strong background as a classicist and her plain love for Homer’s epic, she is candid about taking liberties. ‘My approach to translation,’ she writes, ‘is fairly irreverent. 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.’ Oswald acknowledges the Iliad as debt and detour. ‘This is a translation of the Iliad’s atmosphere, not its story.’ She speaks of stripping away narrative, and this purposeful reductiveness clarifies our view. Through it we can look freshly, to paraphrase her, at what Homer was looking at. And what we see there is remarkable. What we see above all is that the atmosphere of epic has no expiry date. The soldiers here are not ciphers any more than they are merely symbols in the Iliad. In fact, the opposite is true. They are the brothers, husbands, sons of every war. And as we put down Memorial we wonder whether we first met them in Homer’s epic or saw them on last night’s news bulletin. II Alice Oswald describes Memorial as an ‘excavation of the Iliad’. In her preface she places herself in the active role of oral inheritor, rather than the more passive one of translator. ‘I write through the Greek, not from it – aiming for translucence rather than translation,’ she states. ‘I think this method, as well as my reckless dismissal of seven-eighths of the poem, is compatible with the spirit of oral poetry, which was never stable but always adapting itself to a new audience, as if its language, unlike written language, was still alive and kicking.’ The spirit of oral poetry is everywhere in Memorial. In the catalogs, in the cadences, but especially in Oswald’s decision that her method should remove ‘narrative, as you might lift the roof off a church in order to remember what you’re worshipping’. After that, she writes, ‘What’s left is a bipolar poem made of similes and short biographies of soldiers’. It is the similes juxtaposed to the biographies that make the reader part of the action. Oswald lays the lyric world beside violent death, like someone putting summer flowers in a coffin: a reminder of all that’s been lost. In one compelling passage, the death of a soldier, Scamandrius, is paired with a haunting simile of childhood. The graphic violence of his end – ‘One spear-thrust through the shoulders / And the point came out through the ribs’ – is framed by an animated sketch of a small, yearning child. The pairing is unforgettable. 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 These similes also allow Oswald to use one of the most compelling strategies in this book. The biography of each dead and dying soldier is followed by a simile. The similes occur in short stanzas like the one above, mentioning woodlands, children, sunlight, locales. These in turn serve to widen the blunt record of death into the music of elegy. They help to get at that essence of epic on which Oswald is so obviously focused. But just as we take this in, just as we absorb the juxtaposition, the simile-stanza is repeated. In fact, every simile-stanza occurs twice, right through the poem. The effect is intense. The soldiers die in one paragraph, but the world they lose occurs in two. The repeated stanzas hold an acoustic mirror up to each other. The repetition builds throughout the poem into a sheer persuasion of sound. Look, it seems to say, the ruin and music of war are sensory, not logical. Here for instance is Phaestus from Tarne: What happened to Phaestus He came from Tarne where the soil is loose and crumbly Like snow falling like snow When the living winds shake the clouds into pieces Like flutters of silence hurrying down To put a stop to the earth at her leafwork Like snow falling like snow When the living winds shake the clouds into pieces Like flutters of silence hurrying down To put a stop to the earth at her leafwork. 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’. III Of all the conversations that have sustained poetry in the last half century, few are as rich or exciting as the one about poetic translation. Memorial enters this conversation at a steep angle, sparking fresh insight and questions. We can see it evokes the Iliad. But what exactly does this evocation mean in our time and for it? How are we to read the relation between the two poems? Is Memorial a translation, an interpretation, or a restatement? A response? Certainly its originality suggests that it can’t be categorized. The source is clear. The Iliad is the story of the Trojan War. Its composition has been located in the eighth century, although controversy about the date remains. In the narrative, the Greeks, or Achaeans, wage war against the city of Troy because one of its princes has stolen Helen, the wife of the Spartan king, Menelaus. The Iliad remains one of the most compelling works in the Western canon – a mysterious alchemy of a possibly historical war and fictional gods. If the story of the Iliad is hard to extract from myth, its poet is even more shadowy. We have assumed him to be a single poet, but there is controversy about that, too. The few legends we have are unreliable. Some of them may have been smuggled out of folkloric texts that belong to Homer’s time but were probably the work of many poets. There is a reference to a blind Aeolian poet; there is a mention of Smyrna. But the connections are hard to prove. Across time, details have remained scarce and hard to come by. The truth is, Homer signals to us from a vast achievement, with no indulgence at all for our age of autobiography. But one thing we do know; one thing we can hold on to. And it has everything to do with the relation between these two poems: the Iliad – at least in its original form –was recited or sung, not written. Scholars have long accepted that it is an oral composition, reaching down into the patterned words of a preliterate culture, dipping its similes and images into a deep well of musical and memorable speech. The Greek poet Pindar, who lived a few hundred years after Homer’s time, referred to such a composition as a ‘rhapsode’ and its creator as ‘a rhapsodist’, although that term was not used in Homer’s time. There is even a hint that the rhapsodist held a wand in his hand as he began his recitation, just as the Anglo-Saxon scop recited Beowulf accompanied by a harp. In the same way, not so long ago, a traditional singer in the West of Ireland would have a man stand behind him as he sang unaccompanied, moving the singer’s arm to the beat of the song. Ancient methods of keeping time. Ancient ways of measuring the world. The most important fact in all this, the one essential to understanding the relation between Memorial and the Iliad is in the nature of both poems: A written text is fixed. An oral composition is not. There is a splendid air of unfinished business about an oral poem. And until it was written down and standardized, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that the reciter of the Iliad might well have intervened in the poem, adding and embellishing. For the reader of a later age, living in an era of fixed text, there is something bright and moving in this image of the Iliad as a river, not an inland sea, flowing in and out of song, performance, memory, elegy and human interaction. The best way of seeing Memorial, and its relationship to the Iliad, may be right here. As an evocation of a living, fluid tradition, an ardent remaking of a poem that was almost certainly hospitable to new makers in its origin. Seen this way, as an extension of rich and ancient improvisations, Memorial has a subtle and respectful relation to the Iliad, but by no means a submissive one. Within that relation, the poem enacts the quality Oswald points to her in her preface. ‘Matthew Arnold (and almost everyone ever since),’ she says there, ‘has praised the Iliad for its “nobility”. But ancient critics praised its “enargeia”, which means something like “bright unbearable reality”. ’ It is this reality we track as readers of Memorial, as we note the names, unite them to their owners and join both to their similes. And as we follow them to the end, we can watch this reworking of an ancient epic unfold in front of us into one of the most tender-hearted and ambitious of contemporary poems. Eavan Boland Additional Praise for MEMORIAL “Graceful and elegiac.” —New York Daily News “Alice Oswald’s reckless new adaptation of The Iliad is a lyrical masterpiece of lamentation, a concentrated war poem of startling beauty and terrifying clarity. It leaves me shaken and speechless.” —Edward Hirsch “The most profound reimagining of Homer since Derek Walcott’s Omeros.” —Peter Thonemann, Times Literary Supplement “Beautiful, bleak. . . . Oswald has achieved a miraculous feat. She’s exposed a skeleton, but found something magnificently eerie and rich. She has truly made, to borrow a phrase from Stephen Spender, a ‘miniature Iliad,’ taut, fluid and graceful, its tones knelling like bells into the clear air, ringing out in remembrance of all the untimely dead.” —Telegraph “Precise and scalpel-sharp. . . . The words are Homer’s, but refracted through her own lucent poetic imagination. . . . But it is also an exquisite and brutal thing taken entirely on its own terms. It’s a major achievement.” —Guardian “The measure of Oswald’s poetry is that, in the dignity it affords the war dead, and in the shimmering potency of its imagery and its similes, her verse does approximate to the Homeric. And it is still hard, almost 3,000 years after Homer wrote his Iliad, to think of a higher term of praise.” —New Statesman “Alice Oswald doesn’t so much revise as explode the tradition of translation. Her sawn-off, scrambled take on Homer’s epic of the Trojan War smashes it into poetic fragments that resonate with the clash of arms and the crackle of funeral pyres. Hypnotic imagery and eerie repetitions set the pity and terror of bloody battle against the power of language to commemorate the fallen. Oswald’s radiant poetry of remembrance will not be readily forgotten.” —Independent “Takes off from The Iliad to find a brilliance and resonance all its own.” —Sunday Telegraph Book of the Year “An uncompromising rewriting of The Iliad, stripping away its epic narrative to foreground its fallen foot-soldiers.” —Times Book of the Year Copyright © 2011 Alice Oswald Afterword copyright © 2012 by Eavan Boland First American Edition 2012 First published in 2011 in Great Britain by Faber and Faber Limited under the title Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad All rights reserved First published as a Norton paperback 2013 For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110 For information about special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact W. W. Norton Special Sales at specialsales@wwnorton.com or 800-233-4830 Production manager: Louise Mattarelliano Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Oswald, Alice, 1966– Memorial : a version of Homer’s Iliad / Alice Oswald ; with an afterword by Eavan Boland. — 1st American ed. p. cm. “First published in 2011 in Great Britain by Faber and Faber Limited under the title MEMORIAL: An Excavation of the Iliad”—T.p. verso. ISBN 978-0-393-08867-0 (hardcover) 1. Homer. Iliad—Poetry. 2. Achilles (Greek mythology)—Poetry. 3. Trojan War—Poetry. I. Title. PR6065.S98M46 2012 821’.914—dc23 2012022791 ISBN 978-0-393-34727-2 pbk. eISBN: 978-0-393-08981-3 W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10110 www.wwnorton.com W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., Castle House, 75/76 Wells Street, London W1T 3QT English 110 Feb 10 Map of the Ancient World
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The memorial as ‘Oral Cemetery’
In memorial, Oswald has made a tremendous effort to create an ‘oral cemetery’ for the
gallant soldiers who lost their lives in the Iliad. While there were many soldiers who lost their
lives in the Iliad, it is important to note that only a few of them have been recognized in history.
A significant majority of the soldiers have remained unknown or unrecognized by readers of the
Iliad and historians alike. Thus, the purpose of the memorial, as the same suggests, is to create an
'oral cemetery' for the forgotten soldiers. War memorials play an important role in society. One
of the roles of these memorials is to remember the various individuals who sacrificed their lives
for the sake of the development and progress of society. The freedom and space that many
individuals enjoy today came at a cost. There are people who lost their lives, and it is only fair
for them to be recognized. Notably, a society that forgets its heroes may stand the risk of going
backward, however progressive it may look. When a society forgets about the people who lost
their lives in its creation, it stands a chance of going back to the same issues that bedeviled
before it was rescued by its fallen heroes. Another role that war memorials play in society is to
make sure that society understands its history and use that knowledge for the creation of a better
tomorrow. It is important for a nation not to forget about its past, lest it repeats the mistakes that
it made in the past. In the United States, for example, one of the toughest periods in its history is
the Civil War period. ...


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