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Paul Valery (1871-1945) was a poet and essayist, and along with Verlaine and Mallarme is regarded as one of the most important Symbolist writers, and an influence on poets from Eliot to Ashbery. He had a quiet life by many standards, but in one respect it was exemplary, even legendary; he made an early reputation in little magazines, decided to stop writing verse when still only 20, kept his silence for 20 years, then began again; and his first book of verse, published when he was 45, was his masterpiece La Jeune Parque.'A poem should not mean, but be,' said Archibald MacLeish. La Jeune Parque ('the goddess of Fate as a young woman') certainly exists: she's beautiful and makes great gestures. And as for what she means, there's a substantial amount of argument about that, so La Jeune Parque is a poem by either definition. It's a classic, by general agreement, written to the full 17th-century recipe for alexandrine couplets, and it's modern, with every word pulling its weight in more than one direction. Alistair Elliot's translation with notes is aimed at making this rewarding but difficult long poem accessible enough for bafflement to turn into admiration. He attempts to clarify its small puzzles and also trace the overall narrative line of Paul Valery's poem: it does have a story (what should a young woman do?) and does struggle towards a resolution. He also provides an introduction which deals with the interesting circumstances of the poem's four-year composition (1913-17), which resulted in Valery's instantly becoming a famous poet at the age of 45, after having written no poetry for 20 years.
Alistair Elliot has claimed that anything he puts into a poem, he'll have in the after-life. Earlier books provide food and drink: he's now packing up whole countries, species, friends. Some poems here explain what it's like having a shower with women aged 20 when you're not, how horses express admiration for each other, what people do when world wars approach, and the greenish methods of an Iranian rubbish collector. Elliot continues to vary his scale of operation: there's a sonnet written by Rilke after his death, a biography of Pompey's last wife, and a long poem in couplets about losing boots in Arcadia.
The 'things' in the title of Alistair Elliot's new collection are the writer's back lane (a tempting distraction), a flag with medieval Syrian embroidery which the Queen of the Fairies gave to 'the' MacLeod, a radio which has provided news (or something) for six decades, posh flowers, and much else. As Elliot declares in a poem about a squashed bug in a book, one person's 'insignificant' can be right at the center for someone, perhaps, everyone else.
It is quite bizarre that a culture so besotted with food and all things relating to the stomach and the senses should have left but one cookery book. The curious, therefore, must resort to other sources of inspiration for information about the Romans at table. Not least among these sources is the poetry of men such as Horace, Martial, Juvenal, Catullus, Ovid, Livy and Seneca, here translated with grace and aplomb by the Latin scholar and poet Alistair Elliot. This work contains the Latin and English as parallels on facing pages. Alistair Elliot is a classical teacher and scholar, as well as a recognized poet.
Erotic poems praise male and female lovers, and the joys of physical love.
"In classical mythology, Phaethon is the child of the sun god Helios, who tries to drive his father's chariot and is killed in the attempt. Euripides explains how this happened: Helios had seduced Phaeton's mother - already betrothed to another - and as the price of her seduction had promised to grant her a favour. As an adult Phaethon claims the promise and asks to drive his father's chariot, with disastrous consequences...Only a quarter of Euripides' original version of Phaethon has survived. Alistair Elliot has translated these surviving 327 lines and reconstructed the rest, staying as faithful as possible to Euripides' time and way of thinking. The result is something very like finding a lost Euripides play, unperformed since the fifth century BC and amounting to a new masterpiece."
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