Sunday, July 08, 2007

Daryl Hine's "Puerilities"

Read this on the Chinatown bus traveling back to NYC. The heat of these erotic epigrams from the Greek Anthology was preferable to the stuffy warmth of the bus. One seduces, while the other reduces.

I thought Hine's prose introduction says the obvious in unnecessarily complicated language. The very first sentence is a labyrinth:
The twelfth book of The Greek Anthology compiled at the court of Hadrian in the second century A.D. by a poetaster Straon, who like most anthologists included an immodest number of his own poems, is itself a part of a large collection of short poems dating from the dawn of Greek lyric poetry (Alcaeus) down to its last florescence, which survived two Byzantine recensions to end up in a single manuscript in the library of the Count Palatine in Heidelberg--hence its alternative title, The Palatine Anthology, usually abbreviated to Anth. Pal.

What is the focus of this sentence? What is the antecedent of "which"? Why the bombast in "florescence" and "recensions"?

The stuffed pomposity becomes unintentionally funny when Hine talks about the epigrams' carousing:
Alcoholic beverages, best known in the form of wine to the peoples of ancient Greece (though some, like Callimachus as resident of Ptolemaic Egypt, might have been familiar with the ancient Egyptians' everyday liquid refreshment, beer) were, like everything else important to life, celebrated as the gifts of god and were themselves godly.

How could alcoholic beverages be "godly"? The sentence reads like a parody, except that it is of a piece with the rest of the introduction.

Fortunately, Hine's poetic translations bear no resemblance to this prose. I don't know Greek, so I cannot tell how accurate or expressive of the originals the translations are, but the poems sing, swagger and sigh in English. They are compelling.

Meleager, in particular, has captured my heart. His metaphysical conceits:


Praxiteles once from marble sculpted some
Image of beauty, lifeless, stony, dumb.
His modern nakesake, by his magic art,
Modelled Love's lively likeness in my heart.
The name's the same; his works are more refined:
Instead of marble he transforms the mind.
I wish that he would kindly mould my whole
Nature and build Love's temple in my soul.

His personal urgency:


Help! I have only to set foot on land,
Having survived my maiden voyage, and
Love drags me here by force and shines his light
On this boy's beauty: what a lovely sight!
I dog his steps, and grasping for his fair
Imaginary form, I kiss thin air.
Have I escaped the briny deep and found
Bitterer depths of longing on dry ground?

His caustic, subversive wit:


His eyes flash beauty sweet enough to scorch:
xxxxxDoes Love equip young boys with thunderbolts?
xxxxxBringing a sexy gleam to mortal dolts,
Myiscus, shine on earth, my darling torch.

His saucy, surprising imagery:


My skipper's Venus, Cupid mans the helm,
xxxxxHolding my spirit's rudder in his hand;
Desire blows hard enough to overwhelm
xxxxxMe, breasting a sea of boys from every land.

His directness:


When I see Theo I see everything;
But when he's absent I can't see a thing.

Strato, the anthologist who packed the collection with his own poems, seems to be more acidic, less sentimental than Meleager. His poems tend to focus less on the beloved and more on his loving and lusting, as in this tight epigram:


I loathe a boy who won't be hugged and kissed,
Raises his voice and hits me with his fist,
Nor do I wish the wanton willingness
Of one who in my arms at once says, Yes.
I like one in between who seems to know
The secret of saying at once Yes and No.

You can hear the poet rubbing his hands in glee, at hitting upon the last line. The secret of desire is that of poetry too.

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