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· Hera’s beguiling girdle, worn for Zeus, found in Verlaine.

By KARL KIRCHWEY [Princeton University Press Blog] – I realize that discovering I was capable of using a system of imperfect rhyme, in translating all of the diverse rhyme schemes in Verlaine’s first book, actually prepared me to work on a long poem called Mutabor I have had in hand for several years now, some parts of which recently appeared in the new literary journal Little Star. That is, working in rhyme at book-length in the Verlaine translation gave me the confidence to undertake a book-length poem which is all in four-line stanzas rhymed variously. I have been working in imperfect rhyme for most of my career as a poet; the perfection of Richard Wilbur’s rhyme schemes (and coincidentally he is also our greatest living translator of Racine, Moliere and Corneille) have always been beyond me. But it has been a satisfaction to work within a larger and more open-ended architecture, in Mutabor, and this derived from my work on Verlaine.

To this I would add that translating brilliant and precocious poetry (which much of the work in  Verlaine’s first book is) is a very humbling experience, testing not only one’s knowledge of the foreign language, but indeed one’s own sensibility as a poet.

And one final startling discovery? The single strangest word in Verlaine’s first book is oaristys, which isn’t even French (it’s Greek), and which refers originally to the magic girdle of Aphrodite used by Hera to beguile Zeus in the Iliad, but which has come to mean “link of intimacy” or “pillow-talk.” Here in Rome, the architectural and artistic wonders contained in the Palazzo Farnese (which is the French Embassy) are momentarily available to the public. Yesterday I was studying Annibale Carracci’s stupendous ceiling frescoes on mythological subjects. There was Zeus, inching Hera toward bed: and bound firmly below Hera’s breasts was the oaristys!

Continued at the Princeton University Press Blog | More Chronicle & Notices.

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