Monday, August 20, 2012

Dommage to Sextus Propertius

This began as a review of Pound's "Homage to Sextus Propertius" on Goodreads.  After a lively class discussion, I found even more things I don't like about Pound's poem(s).  Now, I think Pound is a pretty cool poet ("Hugh Whats-his-face Mauberley" and all that), and he must have also been a good friend, supporting poets like Eliot financially, emotionally, and editorially.  But I had just read Propertius' love poems translated by a scholar who was only interested in Propertius' love poems, so Pound's reinterpretation didn't sit right. Especially with the theories I've heard that he translated so loosely in order to better capture the spirit of the poems.  Pound instead just captures his own spirit, giving it form with some of Propertius' words.
"Homage" is a hybrid translation/reinterpretation of a few of Propertius' love poems. So again, it is neither straight translation nor something completely original with a mere hint of antiquity in it.  It lives in a muddy band of the reception spectrum.  But I expected something Propertius-like out of it anyway.  Here are the big differences that made Pound's take on this a bit disappointing:

Pound nearly removes Cynthia from the poems, and what little bit of her is there is nagging, weak, inactive. (Propertius' Cynthia is big, powerful, and terrifying in her loveliness.) When Pound does mention Cynthia (because he has to in the few closely translated poems) he lessens her power by not describing her actions. For instance, he writes "and so on..." when she is screaming at him, instead of hanging on her every angry word as Propertius does.  

Propertius is the moon and Cynthia is his sun.  For Pound, Cynthia is just an example that sometimes demonstrates his love theories.  He does not reflect her light.

Pound is confident and reflective and always availing himself of hindsight (Oh those women! I know all about them...), where Propertius is by turns happy-go-lucky on a nighttime stroll, fearing for his life at the feet of his statuesque lover, overcome with pleasure at the sight of her, pondering non-sequiturs like Spartan games or fashion whenever his thoughts wander. And Propertius is always ALWAYS in the moment.

Pound tries to turn the love poems into his philosophy of everything. Propertius is keeping a raw diary about his love.

Though these differences in the poems bother me, I guess there's no requirement for Propertius' elegies and Pound's English poem (in its own right) to be the same in spirit, since Pound was making something of his own out of the translation work.  He can receive it however he likes.  But Pound's measured pontifications are not very satisfying compared to Propertius' youthful ejaculations (pun intended).  Pound's poem has ED.

There is, however, one major intersection between the poets' aims: they both write love poetry with the cause of defending the writing of love poetry. They are both self-referential, defensive, and proud in this way.

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