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"A poem of vast dimensions, impersonal as the sea journeys of Homer."--Archibald MacLeish,
This review is from: Anabasis (Paperback)
Of all the poetry produced during the twentieth century two poems stand at the pinnacle, and this is one of them. "The Waste Land," by T. S. Eliot, is the other. "Anabasis" was written by St.-John Perse, the pen name of Alexis Leger, in 1924. It was translated from the French by T. S. Eliot with the help of Perse in 1930, a revised translation coming out in 1949. Perse was awarded the Nobel prize in Literature in 1960.
The Greek word "anabasis" means a march up-country, from the coast to the interior. Given the poem's setting one may be forgiven for thinking of Xenophon's "Anabasis." The word was also used by Plato in his allegory of the cave to depict the journey from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge.
From Eliot's introduction:
"The poem is a series of images of migration, of conquest of vast spaces in Asiatic wastes, of destruction and foundation of cities and civilizations of any races or epochs of the ancient East."
An excerpt from the poem:
"Milch-camels, gentle beneath the shears, sewn with mauve scars, let the hills march forth under the facts of the harvest sky--let them march in silence over the pale incandescence of the plain; and kneeling at last, in the fantasy of dreams, there where the peoples annihilate themselves in the dead powder of earth."
Whereas Eliot, in his poem, portrays the modern world as a wasteland, the result of a loss of faith, Perse, in his, gives us a picture of the ancient world, beautiful and barbaric.
Note: I have on the shelf three versions of Anabasis. The first two are the ones done by Eliot with Perse's help: the initial translation of 1930, published by Faber & Faber Limited of London and the 1949 revision, published by Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. The third rendition is Perse's 1959 emendation of the 1949 translation, done without Eliot's participation, published by Faber & Faber, London. The one to have is the revision of 1949. This is the version currently available in paperback from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.