Saturday, May 24, 2008

Five best: works of war poetry

Pulitzer Prize nominee James Anderson Winn is a Boston University College of Arts and Sciences professor of English and author of The Poetry of War.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of works of war poetry. Number One on his list:
The Iliad
Translated by Robert Fagles
Viking, 1990

For sheer, unblinking realism, no war poem can surpass Homer's "Iliad." When a man is "skewered . . . straight through the mouth," Homer unsparingly describes "teeth shattered out . . . both nostrils spurting, / mouth gaping, blowing convulsive sprays of blood." Homer's brutal honesty about warfare is apparent not only in these physical details but also in his treatment of the elaborate code of conduct that ancient Greek culture built upon the power of shame. "The Iliad" reveals the rules of that system and exposes its limitations. As Homer shows, the fear of being ridiculed or dishonored lurks beneath our clich├ęs about glory and honor. Princeton classics professor Robert Fagles, who died on March 26, gave us an "Iliad" that comes close to capturing the speed, intensity and stark horror of the Greek original.
Read about all five titles on Winn's list.

--Marshal Zeringue