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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 November 2011
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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on 7 April 2017
I came across a snatch of this on a serendipitous radio listening and I wanted to hear the rest. I love Christopher Logue's robust transliterations of the Illiad, and this is to my ear, the chorus's lament to his poems, an elegiac listing of names of the fallen and blunt hard statements of cause, interjected with beautiful free poetic translations of Homer's evocations of the field and landscape of battle through his smilies. A bewitching piece that has you reading it aloud before you notice that that is what you are doing.
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on 8 October 2011
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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on 13 December 2011
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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on 17 November 2013
I've heard Alice Oswalk recite this twice now. It is magical. If she is performing it anywhere near you then go and hear it. It exists, I believe, as an audio book. It also exists as a standard book. I have now bought a copy so that I can return to the half-remembered names of the dead who fell at the siege of Troy and how they died, and repeated lines of simile which transform a casualty list into a work of art.

She performs in a voice little above a whisper (although that is amplified, so you'll be fine if you're at the back), standing at a lectern on a bare, unlit stage. It really is an experience. Be warned: the performance takes an hour and a half. You will not want to wriggle, cough or clap during that time so make sure you are comfortable before she starts!

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on 13 February 2012
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 'Memorial'. It takes her an hour and a quarter, more or less, and she delivers this testosterone-filled material (which, let us not forget, she has also written) in such a rhythmical, low-key way that one wonders if one will stay awake in the warm dark. But the performance is RIVETING. Best hour and a quarter I've spent in a long time.

Get the CD first.
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on 22 October 2013
Last night I had the great privilege of seeing and hearing Alice Oswald perform her epic poem - it was breathtaking!

Deeply moving, intense and mesmerizing, her words silenced us all in the audience into our own thoughts.

I was taken back to my teens when I studied The Iliad at school in Latin lessons. In my own modest way, I enjoyed the translation then, the stories of the heroes at the fall of Troy, and now 50 years later this version brought the reality of war, any war, to the fore of universal consciousness.

Her poetic style, imagery and use of metaphor are extraordinary. She uses repeated lines that ease one, briefly, from the relentless death toll. The names of those who died, and how they met death, are far from the heroes of myth and legend. Ordinary men's names, ordinary men's lives, the poet deftly draws the stark reality of humanity destroying itself on the fields of Ilium, Afghanistan or Syria.

If you love epic poems, if you love vivid imagery and are willing to be profoundly moved by the poet's craft, this is an essential for you - better still, if you can see Alice Oswald perform it, you will be embraced by the spirit of Homer's original, taken to new dimensions, reach greater depths of understanding, and then some!
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on 5 December 2011
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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on 7 October 2012
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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on 21 December 2014
I listened to “Memorial” as an audiobook read by the author, and was captivated at once. It has two key virtues. First, it captures the concrete energy of Homer’s Greek better than any translation I have come across. Second, it throws a massive emphasis on Homer’s similes The simile is a device rather under-used in English, where we prefer the amibiguities of metaphor, which causes us to approach Homer with a degree of bafflement: “What on earth are all these extended similes doing?”. But Oswald rejoices in the similes she picks up, elaborating them, and repeating them each time, and the impact is dramatic and greatly effective, giving us a new insight into the Homeric poems. She is also outstanding as a reader of the poem.
The British reviews of “Memorial” have been uniformly laudatory (often in identical terms as if based on a press release). The review by William Logan in the New York Times is to my mind more balanced. He points out that the work is not a translation in the generally understood sense: it is not just a very heavily edited version of the Iliad, but one which strategically is focused only one part of the poem, and tactically is elaborated and embroidered – even with modern references. While not being a translation, it is in my opinion a wonderful, indeed a coruscating piece of work.
I am therefore surprised that it contains what to me is a major syntactical flaw: the persistent use of “like” where the sense demands “as”. As similes are effectively what this poem is about, this flaw is everywhere in it, and buzzed at me irritatingly like a demented bee throughout. This flaw was also noted by Logan in his review, and I am surprised that Faber’s editors did not pick it up. If this were corrected, the work would be truly outstanding.
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