T. S. Eliot Translation From The French
Anabasis, by St. J. Perse. Translated by T. S. Eliot. (Faber and Faber, 5s.).
Reviewed by JAMES GILBERT.
Anabasis is a series of images of barbaric civilisation, of the migration of a restless conqueror across Asiatic wastes. But, though the images are as clear as vision, the plan of the poem is obscure: A first reading and one has progressed through many vivid scenes, heard and seen many strange things and sensed the strong, changing atmosphere of the conqueror's caravan. But it would be hard to tell what had hap pened. This incoherence, Mr. Eliot tells us in his preface, is due to suppression of links in the chain, of explanatory and connecting matter . . . The justification .
is that the sequence of images coincides and concentrates into an intense impression.
The images should fall into the mind— appreciated and unquestioned. There they will take shape to form the whole intense impression and sequence in all its wealth of sound and movement. Its greatest power is its atmosphere, so strangely theurgised by blended suggestions. Take this, from the foundation of the city :
" In the great fresh noise of the yonder bank, the blacksmiths are masters of their fires! The cracking of whips in the new streets unload whole wainsful of unhatched evils. 0 nudes. our shadows under the copper sword! four restive heads knotted to the first make a living tuft against the blue . . . And already in the street the man sang alone, one of those who paint on their brow the cipher of their God. (Perpetual crackling of insects in this quarter of vacant lots and ruhhish) . . .
• * Again, when the conqueror feels the call onward: "I have told no one to wait. I hate you all. gently . .
" In my tholights I will protest against the activity of dream, I shall be off with the wild geese, in the sick smell of the morning!"
And this masterpiece of technique: "Those who lay naked in the huge season arise all together and cry that this world is mad! . . .
The old man stirs his eyelids in the yellow light; the woman stretches herself from nail to nail; and the gummed colt thrusts his bearded chin into the hand of the child. to whom it does not yet occur to knock out one of his eyes . . .
* * * * I would quote more, from The Desert, if only to illustrate the strangely mystic quality of the description: "The earth huge on its area rolls overflowing its pale embers under the ashes— sulphur colour, honey colour, colour of immortal things, the whole grassy earth taking light from the straw of last winter— and from the green sponge of a lonely tree the sky draws its violet juices. A place of stone and quartz! Not a
pure grain in the wind's beard. And light like oil. Front the crack of my eye to the level of the hills I join myself, I know the stones gillstained, the swarms of silence in the hives of light; and my heart gives heed to a family of acridians . . ."
And "man closes his lids and cools his neck in the ages" serves to illustrate the power of suggesting physical sensation that his words possess.
* * *
But picking out the plums seems rather the epicure's fun than a critic's work, perhaps metaphor might help more than explanation. I would like to say that Anabasis sounds as the clear, solemn voice of the precentor while a choir murmurs aside. It is vivid " Old Testament." It is timeless.
This poem is not verse, and I am glad of it. But it is poetry and not prose, and
certainly not prose poetry. M. St. Jean Perse's poem has been very beautifully translated by Mr. Eliot. The original French appears on the left-hand of the leaves. Therein is perhaps richer word music. Quitcd above is: 0 mules, our
shadows under the copper sword! The French reads : 0 mules. nos tenebres sous le sabre de cuivre ! and I think this more ominous richness resounds throughout the French.
Mr. Eliot, too, has added and changed the exact meanings. He says: "What inaccuracies remain are due to my own
fulness, not to my ignorance." I don't think he has erred: exactitude probably would have brought bald patches.
What is its mission, if it has any other than its existence as a work of art, I cannot say, only suspect.
From the Song at the close I would quote its purpose:
" I have halted my horse by the dovemoaning tree, I whistle a note more sweet . . . Peace to the dying who have not seen this day! But tidings there are of my brother the poet : once more he has written well. And some there are who have knowledge thereof . ..."
From elsewhere the dedication:
" There at the sensitive point of my brow where the poem is formed I inscribe this chant of all people, the most rapt goddrunken drawing to our dockyards eternal keels."
Tales of the Blessed Sacrament, by Desmond Murray, O.P. (Ouseley, 2s. 6d.) "Setting of the Holy Eucharist in a framework compounded from the Old Testament and from doctrinal aspects which are sometimes insufficiently realised." So writes Fr. Hugh Pope in his introduction to this handbook of the Blessed Sacrament.