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Memorial [Hardcover]

Alice Oswald
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Oct 2011

Matthew Arnold praised the Iliad for its 'nobility', as has everyone ever since -- but ancient critics praised it for its enargeia, its 'bright unbearable reality' (the word used when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves). To retrieve the poem's energy, Alice Oswald has stripped away its story, and her account focuses by turns on Homer's extended similes and on the brief 'biographies' of the minor war-dead, most of whom are little more than names, but each of whom lives and dies unforgettably - and unforgotten - in the copiousness of Homer's glance.

'The Iliad is an oral poem. This translation presents it as an attempt - in the aftermath of the Trojan War - to remember people's names and lives without the use of writing. I hope it will have its own coherence as a series of memories and similes laid side by side: an antiphonal account of man in his world... compatible with the spirit of oral poetry, which was never stable but always adapting itself to a new audience, as if its language, unlike written language, was still alive and kicking.'

- Alice Oswald

Product details

  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (6 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571274161
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571274161
  • Product Dimensions: 14.9 x 22.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 260,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Brilliant in its own right . . . has 15 or so perfect touches that show Oswald to be a considerable poet.' -- Craig Raine, Guardian Books of the Year >> '[One of] the two most impressive books of poetry I've read this year ... this brilliantly animates [The Iliad] as it creates a poignant new lament for war dead.' -- Andrew Motion, TLS >> 'A wonderful book, the most profound reimagining of Homer since Derek Walcott's Omeros.' -- Peter Thonemann, TLS >> 'Takes off from The Iliad to find a brilliance and resonance all of its own.' -- Anne Chisholm, Sunday Telegraph Books of the Year >> 'An uncompromising rewriting of The Iliad, stripping away its epic narrative to foreground its fallen foot-soldiers.' -- Josephine Balmer, The Times Books of the Year>> 'An elegy of quite extraordinary power.' Andrew Motion, The Times Books of the Year >> 'A deft and plangent reworking of Homer's Iliad.' --Sarah Crown, Guardian Books of the Year

Book Description

A glitteringly original new poem which is also a version of Homer's Iliad, from prize-winning poet Alice Oswald

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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War, breathless war 16 Nov 2011
By Hande Z
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Would you like to read Homer's Iliad in under two hours? This 84-page book, including 8 pages of the names of fallen warriors, one after the other in the order as they had fallen. Their names appearing as in a memorial of the dead in single columns. Oswald tells us in the first line of her introduction that "This is a translation of the Iliad's atmosphere, not its story". It is a fast paced account of the heroic and tragic moments in tenth year of the war. She skips the proem of the Iliad, which is traditionally in book One, where Agamemnon, the commander of the Greek expedition and Achilles, arguably the most famous name in the Iliad are introduced. Excluded are thus the main events, including one of my favourites - the chariot race in honour of Patroklos' death (traditonally, Book 23). Can the atmosphere of the war be adequately captured with the omissions of those events? The modern reader, familiar with the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the more recent wars against faceless, nameless enemies known only as "Terrorists", will surely appreciate what this book seeks to achieve. Achilles the great hero was only mentioned in passing since only the dead were honoured in this memorial and given names in block letters. And Hector, the main Trojan closes Oswald's book with his death, told in Oswald's verse without fanfare or excitement, just profoundly; the words ring the entire Iliad - as it does all human strife:

"And HECTOR died like everyone else
He was in charge of the Trojans
But a spear found out the little patch of white
Between his collarbone and his throat
Just exactly where a man's soul sits
waiting for the mouth to open
He always knew it would happen".
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memorial 8 Oct 2011
By S. Neal
Memorial elevates Alice Oswald to the position of England's premier poet in my view, building on her superb earlier books. This work is both moving and relevant. Decribed as an "excavation" of Homer's "The Iliad" it can be enjoyed as a stand-alone poem in its own right. A dramatic and serious tone is set from the beginning, with the first few pages listing the names of the war dead: each soldier's name being given the respect and gravity of an individual line. Astonishing writing follows, full of powerful simile and metaphor that made me gasp out loud at times. Oswald is one of only a few modern poets to truly be influenced by Ted Hughes, but it should be stressed she has a distinctive, original, voice of her own. In addition to this her ideas, projects and way of working seem quite unique. She talked in a reading I once saw her give of being interested in oral narratives being passed on through the ages, not only classical but from various cultures around the world, and this interest has reached fruition in this work. The fact it has been written at a time when the poet's own country is deeply involved in war adds to its poignancy.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars powerfully moving 13 Dec 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was persuaded to order a copy of this book by a very positive review in a newspaper but was not really sure what I was going to get. In fact it is a stripped down meditation on the Iliad responding to the many many deaths of the also-rans, the largely marginal figures in the story. The accounts of their deaths are brief almost incantatory cries of despair at the futility of war and the hollow-ness of nobility. Cumulatively they become something very powerful that has the immediacy and imaginative force of a great war memorial - one of the most affecting pieces of writing that I have read for a very long time and something to which I am sure I will return many times. I am in awe at what has been accomplished in this work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of genius 7 Oct 2012
By Besom
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
This is the best thing I have bought in a very long time. I heard Alice Oswald read from Memorial in person at a festival recently and was stunned by the power of the work and her rendition. I had never heard of her before. I bought several copies of the book for gifts (they all sold out at the reading) and when I discovered the recorded version I ordered it immediately. I am transported every time I listen to this exceptional poem. I remember hearing the young Seamus Heaney many years ago. This is the same feeling.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly beautiful 5 Dec 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a work of astonishing imaginative power and humanity. It's written in a direct, vivid style that makes it come across with complete clarity the first time you look at it, but it repays repeated rereading for its emotional richness and for sheer pleasure in the beauty of its language. I've read it several times in the last few weeks.

Instead of telling the story of the Iliad, Oswald concentrates on listing the dead, giving us a glimpse of each man's life as she tells us how he died. The sense of loss can be heartbreakingly intense and her pictures of the horror and madness of war are devastating, but the book is anything but depressing: although Memorial repeatedly shows us life in its moment of extinction and shows us so much of its cruelty, somehow it makes life's beauty and energy and its gentler qualities of love and compassion shine out more brightly than anything else I've read recently. That's why I've been drawn back to it so much.

The glimpses of lost lives are interspersed with condensed versions of Homer's epic similes, freed from their original contexts to become wider meditations on different aspects of life. The poem ends with a series of these similes. The two line one comparing tiny dried up old men speaking pure light to crickets leaning on their elbows in the hedges is as beautiful as anything I've ever read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very enjoyable
Published 22 days ago by Lynda Mawdsley
5.0 out of 5 stars a remarkable achievement
Memorial gives us short biographies of heroes of Homer's Iliad - drawn from Homer, descriptions of their deaths, and similes Homer uses to describe their deaths. Read more
Published 10 months ago by William Jordan
5.0 out of 5 stars Inexpressibly awesome
Powerfully moving. Almost unbearable in its depiction of the horrors of war. Alice Oswald is a genius. Listen to her, please.
Published 13 months ago by common reader
4.0 out of 5 stars Memorial
Beautifully written and thoughtful.
We shall think life and learn from fiction .
Our personal and shared memory of fictional events that once existed to narrate the... Read more
Published 22 months ago by ana paula
5.0 out of 5 stars Listen ...
Having had the good fortune to hear Alice Oswald perform 'Memorial' last week I recommend strongly that this is the way you first experience what she's done with The Iliad in... Read more
Published on 13 Feb 2012 by Judi Moore
4.0 out of 5 stars Memorial Audio CD
The CD is definetely worth getting. Alice Oswald is a marvelous reader of her own work. It's only an hour long and can be listened to in one sitting.
Published on 2 Dec 2011 by AR
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful - stunning
I have read and re-read stanzas of this poem over and over they are so evocative. A stunningly beautiful piece of writing.
Published on 30 Nov 2011 by P. Radcliffe
5.0 out of 5 stars Someone was there. And the next moment no one.
This powerful retelling and translation of Homer's Iliad, subtitled an "Excavation of the Iliad", consists of a haunting list of the men who die in it, each with perhaps some small... Read more
Published on 22 Nov 2011 by Scot Mcphee
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