Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

It’s ages since there’s been an episode of Poetry Corner here – mainly because, oddly enough, Thucydides doesn’t inspire an enormous amount of poetry. But there is not none, and every so often a new poet draws on the same powerful images of conflict and the crisis of civilisation that inspired W.H. Auden in 1 September 1939. Thucydides is, as ever, the dark prophet who anticipated our fate, not least in his terrifying account of civil war and social breakdown in Corcyra.

A storm had brewed over Corfu Isle

Thunder roared with the sounds of revolt

Moods had fashioned this weather a while,

All that was needed was a bit of a jolt.


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Poetry Corner 3

Approximately 97% of the time, the Tweetdeck column that monitors references to Thucydides churns through the same old quotations, some more or less accurate (interminable misspelled variations on the “secret of happiness is freedom” line) and some not (poor old William Butler continues to be robbed of credit for his “Scholars and Warriors” aphorism), plus intermittent bursts of the bloody Thucydides Trap whenever a new article on the South China Sea appears. But every so often it produces something entertaining or interesting; infuriated rants from students who’ve been told to read Thucydides, the occasional new quote (there’s one from Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, favourite book of Anthony Powell, that I need to check to see if he’s made it up) and occasional Other Stuff. Including (drum roll) a new Thucydides poem! (more…)

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I assume there must be a body of literary theory out there about titles, especially of short, ambiguous pieces and poems; the way they promise to be a key to interpretation, and certainly shape the reader’s expectations and influence her reading – but as a result clearly also have the potential to manipulate, deceive, draw her into position above the trap-door and so forth. This is certainly an issue when it comes to the (admittedly very small) number of extant literary pieces that mention Thucydides in their title and then deal with something that appears to be completely unrelated. Peter Handke’s ‘Noch einmal für Thukydides’ (1997), for example, which I’ve written about elsewhere, describes a series of trivial events on a March morning: a yellow leaf on the wall suddenly reveals itself as a butterfly and flies off, the snow begins to melt, and a crocus flowers; on the basis of the title, and Handke’s known interests, I’ve argued that this piece is engaging with different ideas of ‘realism’ as a style, closely associated with Thucydides – but maybe the whole point is that this is the absolute opposite of the things that Thucydides thought were important, battles and speeches rather than butterflies and the everyday. Maybe the title is simply intended as a provocation, or a joke. And one of these days I must have another go at working out what on earth The Mountain Goats‘ ‘Thucydides II.58’ has to do with anything, let alone Thucydides 2.58 (“Bed face at noon/ Strip naked, we can’t get free/ And doubling over in the street/ dozens just like me/ Spreading like a rumor/ spreading like a rumor.”)*

This edition of Poetry Corner offers another example: Sherod Santos’ ‘A Woman Named Thucydides’ (2010), which I found on the internet through a simple search for “Thucydides + poem”. (more…)

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The Internet is a wonderful thing, and one can discover all sorts of strange treasures in its wilder reaches – probably guarded by flying snakes and gold-digging ants… I can now add another item to the (admittedly very short) list of poetic engagement with Thucydides, which hitherto amounted to the poem by G.P. Grundy in the introduction to the second volume of his Thucydides and the History of his Age (1948), which I discuss in the preface to Thucydides and the Idea of History, and of course the second stanza of Auden’s September 1 1939. Gershon Hepner’s ‘Be the Rider, Not the Horse’ lacks the deep scholarly knowledge of the former and the contemporary immediacy of the latter (it was, Hepner notes, written in response not to any dramatic global events but to a review of Donald Kagan’s Thucydides: the reinvention of history), but I’m not going to turn down the chance to expand this section of my database of sources by 50%: (more…)

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