Wednesday, December 06, 2006

On first looking into Chapman's Homer

by John Keats


Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

* * *

This Petrarchan sonnet shows how important the task of the translator can be. There are so many "realms of gold" quite untravellable to the English speaker without a translation. Furthermore, the translation has to be a good one, like Chapman's seems to have been: "loud and bold." The good translator transmits the tone of the original and not just the facts, so that the reader does not simply know the story, but actually travels in the realm of the story.

The pictures is of a "realm of gold" I travelled: Ravenna. I had expected a few more echoes of its Byzantine past than I found. Unfortunately, you have to pay to get to see any of the mosaics -- nearly all the churches with Byzantine art cost to get in, and I was too cheap to try it. But there was plenty of gold in the gingko trees, which God never asked payment for.

I also saw Dante's tomb. (Blogger refuses to upload the pictures. I will just have to post them later. Sorry.)

Dante died in Ravenna, exiled from Florence. Once he was dead the Florentines wanted his body, but Ravenna refused, on the reasonable grounds that they hadn't wanted him living, so they certainly weren't going to get the glory from him dead. The fight over his body lasted centuries. Finally the Florentines got the Pope on their side. He ordered Ravenna to surrender the body. Reluctantly, the Ravennese opened the sarcophagus, only to find that Dante wasn't inside! A Ravenna patriot had stolen and hidden the poet's remains. They were finally returned in the 19th century, and have stayed in Ravenna ever since.

3 comments:

Meredith said...

Sheila, that's fabulous. Don't you think that ginkos are rather like mallorns?

Righteous Ravenna! I think that the city suited Dante somehow.

Sheila said...

Yes, I always have. When I saw the leaves blowing in the wind I began to recite, "I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew."

I have a picture to show you. It turns out, after all this time, Catholics do worship pinecones after all!

Meredith said...

Gasp! Say it ain't so!!