September 29, 2011

A Poem for the Day: An Excerpt from "All Day Permanent Red" by Christopher Logue

Whoo-Whee!  I have something new and definitely very, very different to share with all of my readers.  As all of you know, I am still working my way through many of the classics of ancient Greece.  The more I have read, the more I have discovered and realized that these ancient poems and plays are truly the foundation and building blocks of much of the great works of literature that we all read today.

These are some of the oldest recorded works in what we call the western canon, and the connections, themes, and ideas from these early works are clearly evident in subsequent literary works from antiquity all the way to the present.  Authors and poets, over the centuries, have reached back to these classics as they tell their own tales.  It never fails but to amaze me when I find these connections in whatever novel or poem I happen to be reading, or as I'm reading one of the Greek tragedies, I realize that I've seen the plot spun out as a poem by Keats, or a satirical novella by Margaret Atwood.

Well, what I have for you now is a bit of an epic modern poem that bridges the span of nearly 2,500 years back to Homer's The Iliad.  Since 1959, a British poet, Christopher Logue has been slowly but steadily working on his own interpretation of The Iliad.  He has carefully studied most, if not all, of the English-language translations, and has crafted his version, and published it in bits and pieces over the past nearly fifty years.  Of the 24 books in The Iliad, I think he has retold about a dozen so far.  I don't know if he plans to retell each and every book, but I believe he does intend upon publishing a combined, or unified, interpretation of his vision of The Iliad for our time.

I have three of Logue's books of poetry retelling portions of The Iliad, including the following:
War Music--An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad (University of Chicago Press, 1997);
All Day Permanent Red--The First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003); and
Cold Calls--War Music Continued (Faber & Faber, 2005).
All I can tell you is that this is some of the most visceral and shockingly intense poetry that I've read in a long, long time.  It is poetry that is elegant, beautiful, biting, emotionally gut-wrenching, painful, humorous, lyrical, cinematic, and extraordinarily powerful.  It screams to be read aloud, and it screams to be shared with everybody.  On my train home from work tonight, I had an uncontrollable urge to stand up in the car and just begin reading out loud--I didn't, but maybe I should have.

I'm going to dip into Logue's second book, All Day Permanent Red--The First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad for the bit of his work I'm sharing here.  The material covered by Logue in this volume is that generally contained in Books 4 and 5 of The Iliad.  What a great title too--"All Day Permanent Red"--to describe the vicious and desperate hand-to-hand combat between the Achaean and Trojan warriors; but Logue apparently took the title for this slim volume from an old Revlon lipstick advertisement!  It reminds me very much of the statement a veteran of the American Civil War made as he recalled the combat at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), "...that for a moment in his mind's eye the landscape around him turned red."

Without further ado, here is an excerpt from this brilliant poem--

All Day Permanent Red--The First Battle Scenes from Homer's Iliad

"Headlock. Body slam. Hands that do not reach back. Low dust.
Stormed by Chylabborak, driven in by Abassee
The light above his circle hatched with spears
Odysseus to Sheepgrove:

'Get lord Idomeneo from the ridge.'

Then prays:

'Brainchild Athena, Holy Girl,
As one you made
As calm and cool as water in a well.
I know that you have cares enough
Other than those of me and mine.
Yet, Daughter of God, without your help
We cannot last.'

Setting down her topaz saucer heaped with nectarine jelly
Emptying her blood-red mouth set in her ice-white face
Teenaged Athena jumped up and shrieked:
'Kill! Kill for me!
Better to die than to live without killing!'

Who says prayer does no good?

Seeing Athena's cry raise fight and fire in lord Odysseus,
Hera, Heaven's creamy Queen, told Diomed
(Still near the strip, content amid the crackle of snapped spears):

'Odysseus needs you. Go.'

Beneath a rise
300 paces downslope from
Chylabborak and Abassee
A party of 500 wandering Greeks
See Hector parked and praying:

'Lord of Light...'

While Lutie fills a bucket from the well
Where the Skean road that runs from Troy
Straight up the slope to the ridge
Crosses the track.

'...I shall be busy until dark.
If I forget you, do not you, me.'

Out from the wanderers the Teucer boys
Iolo, 16, from a wife, and Parthenos
Bred from a she Teucer inherited
Come crouch-down hurrying convinced that this
Their chance for fame Prince Hector dead etc. has come.
Parthenos set to plant his spear by Hector's spine,
Iolo, well...

Boy Lutie is astonished by their impudence
But not enough to not, in one,
Put down the bucket thrash his whip, its crack
Recalling Hector to his fate, its tip--as Parthenos
Jumped for the chariot's tailgate
And Hector's mittened hand snaffled his wispy beard--
Circling Iolo's wrist.

Parthenos kisses Hector's wrist.
His eyes are full of words.

'Take a deep breath before you speak, Greek boy.'

He does.

'Please, Prince of the Gate, take us alive.
We did not want to come to Troy.
We could not disobey our father's words.
His mother was your aunt Hesione.
He has a wall of swords--'
'With silver hilts,' Iolo says--
'And gold--a chest of gold.
Please. Please. Please. Please.'

The wanderers edge in.

Hector steps down.
The Teucer boys may not have been the brightest on the slope
But they are bright enough to know death when they see it.
'Keep your lives,' he said. 'A gift from Troy.'
And as they ran, made
'Go' to Lutie with his head,
Studied the wanderers,
Lifted the bucket, doused himself
And charged.
See an East African lion
Nose tip to tail tuft ten, eleven feet
Slouching towards you
Swaying its head from side to side
Doubling its pace, its gold-black mane
That stretches down its belly to its groin
Catching the sunlight as it hits
Twice its own length a beat, then leaps
Great forepaws high great claws disclosed
The scarlet insides of its mouth
Parting a roar as loud as sail-sized flames
And lands, slam-scattering the herd.

'That is how Hector came on us.'
Despite the few who ran
Out from the rest to get at him and died
Or ducked and dodged his restless spear
And came away covered with blood and died,
Like shoppers trapped by a calamity
The rest pressed back onto the rest.
And he, partly to please his comet's tail,
Took sideways jumps--one foot up to the other in the air--
Chattering his spear along their front.

The ridge.

Sheepgrove (as asked).

Idomeneo does not wait.

Dustlight.  Far off
A woman with an infant on her back
Is picking fruit."

(Pages 16-21)


Holy Cow!  Can you believe this stuff?  Every time I read these lines I am simply gobsmacked, and I need to reach down and pick my jaw up off of the floor.  Logue forces you to recall your mythology--Zeus' "brainchild," Athena--the petulant, teenaged, ice-white faced Athena.  This is great stuff!  The description of Hector charging into battle was awesome and flat-out terrifying--the simile simply could not be better--equating Hector to a ferocious male African lion!  And the perspective of young Lutie, Hector's nephew and chariot driver, sort of overlays the entire scene.  The ending of this section of the poem is such a juxtaposition too, an almost jarring contrast from the shocking combat to this pastoral moment of a woman off in the distance up on the side-slope of the hill with her child on her back quietly picking fruit. In other words, even in the midst of all of this drama and pathos, life goes on.  Trust me, all three of these books of poetry are like this.  Your eyes are wide, wide open as you read each page, your brain is a sponge just taking in Logue's metaphors, his use of simile and allegory, and his just plain masterful use of language in turning phrase after phrase.

I also think it is important for me to add that I want you to know that I don't think that this is Homer modernized.  No, this is a version--an interpretation--of Homer squarely landed in the oral tradition from whence it came, and somehow I think that Homer, and all of those who've translated The Iliad over centuries, would thoroughly approve of what Christopher Logue has done (and is continuing to do) and embrace his work wholeheartedly.

I plan to share more from Christopher Logue's volumes of interpretations of the books of The Iliad in the coming days, and I also plan to compare and contrast his poetry with my upcoming evaluation of Stephen Mitchell's new translation of The Iliad that is being released on October 12, 2011 (see my posting here).  Stay tuned!

September 25, 2011

A Poem for the Day: "The Last Chrysanthemum" by Thomas Hardy

Here we are just a couple of days after the Fall Equinox, and it feels like it is time to share another favorite poem of mine.  I recently ran across a wonderful review of one of Thomas Hardy's volumes of poetry, Poems of the Past and the Present (1901), over on the Ordinary Reader's blog, and it inspired me to look through my own collections of Hardy poetry again.  I came across The Last Chrysanthemum, and it just felt like a great poem to share in celebration of the beginning of the fall season.  I hope you enjoy it too.

The Last Chrysanthemum

Why should this flower delay so long
         To show its tremulous plumes?
Now is the time of plaintive robin-song,
         When flowers are in their tombs.

Through the slow summer, when the sun
         Called to each frond and whorl
That all he could for flowers was being done,
         Why did it not uncurl?

It must have felt that fervid call
         Although it took no heed,
Waking but now, when leaves like corpses fall,
         And saps all retrocede.

Too late its beauty, lonely thing,
         The season's shine is spent,
Nothing remains for it but shivering
         In tempests turbulent.

Had it a reason for delay,
         Dreaming in witlessness
That for a bloom so delicately gay
         Winter would stay its stress?

- I talk as if the thing were born
         With sense to work its mind;
Yet it is but one mask of many worn
         By the Great Face behind.


Performance: "Trojan Women (After Euripides)" at the Getty Villa, October 1, 2011

I love living in the LA area!  There's just so much cool stuff going on!

I just purchased tickets for my wife and I to attend a performance of Trojan Women (After Euripides), a world premiere production at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California, in the evening on October 1, 2011.  This performance, by the SITI Company, is being done outside in the Barbara and Lawrence  Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa, which is an outdoor performance space based upon the ancient prototypes still evident among the Greek-influenced ruins in the eastern Mediterranean region.  Recent classical performances at the Getty Villa have included productions of Aeschylus' Agamemnon, Sophocles' Elektra, Euripides' Hippolytos, and Aristophanes' Peace.  In September 2012, a performance of Euripides' rarely performed play, Helen, is scheduled to be put on.

Here's a 'blurb' about the play from the Getty's website--
"SITI Company, one of the country's leading theater ensembles, performs the world premiere of a new Getty-commissioned production, directed by Anne Bogart and adapted by Jocelyn Clarke. In the ruins of their burning city, the royal women of Troy—still mourning the slaughter of their husbands and sons—await enslavement and exile. Among the greatest of all antiwar dramas, the play is a timeless meditation on the moments of individual choice that separate death and life, despair and hope, future and past."
I am very excited to be seeing this play, an adaptation done by the playwright, Jocelyn Clarke, and seeing it done out-of-doors by the SITI Company's ensemble.  We plan to arrive at the Getty Villa early enough to enjoy a nice dinner on the veranda overlooking the theater, and maybe even a glass or two of wine.  I am also going to read a recent translation of Euripides' The Trojan Women aloud to my wife over the next few days, so that we both have the gist of the plot in our minds as we attend the performance.  I also promise to post a review of the performance when I get back.  Stay tuned!

September 23, 2011

The Challenge--What Translation to Choose and Read?

These days I'm reading a lot of great literature that was not originally written in English, and as I really don't speak or read any other language other than English, choosing a good translation would seem to be a very important step if I'm to fully experience these novels, plays, or poems.  Until a few years ago, I never really gave much thought to what translator or translation that I was reading.  I just purchased a copy of the book and started reading.  For the past few years I've maintained my on-line library on both Goodreads and Shelfari, and I've begun encountering a lot of information about literary translators and various translations of the books that I've read, I'm reading, or want to read.  Intuitively, at least to me, it would seem to make sense that a translation that is well-done and presented in a such a fashion as to make the author's work relevant can only improve the overall experience we readers can then have with the author and his/her book.  Consequently, I thought that it might be fun, and maybe even useful, to share with all of you my thoughts and observations about the various translations of some of the foreign language works I've read.  I'd also like to hear from you about translators and translations that you've encountered and liked or disliked.  So, let's get started--

I'm going to start in Russia with Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and War and Peace, and Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.  I first read Anna Karenina some 25+ years ago, about the time Masterpiece Theater was running a multi-part adaptation on television.  I was house-sitting for friends in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I just got completely lost in the novel over several weeks.  The translation that I read was by Constance Garnett (1861-1946), and I loved the book.  I followed that up several years later with my first reading of Tolstoy's War and Peace, also a Garnett translation.  In 2005, I ran across an article in The New Yorker that opened up my eyes to the value of a solid translation and the enormous amount of work involved in translating a great work of literature.  This article was entitled "The Translation Wars" and tells the story of how the husband and wife team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have tackled the translation of many of the great Russian novels into English (if you're interested, I've provided a link to the article here).  I've since read the Pevear/Volokhonsky translations of Anna Karenina and War and Peace, and have their translation of The Brothers Karamazov sitting on my to-be-read shelf.  I very highly recommend their translations of Tolstoy. Are Pevear/Volokhonsky translations better than the Garnett translations?  Far be it from me to adequately critique or judge one versus the other, but I do know that having read both translations, I can say that I personally prefer the Pevear/Volokhonsky translations--they just felt a little 'earthier' and more Russian.

Okay, let's move on to Beowulf.  I had tried reading this epic, book-length, poem several times over the course of my life and failed miserably, usually only getting a few pages into it before chucking it.  Whilst visiting my younger brother a few years ago, I encountered a battered copy of Seamus Heaney's translation (2001) of this poem on his bookshelf.  My brother raved about it.  I bought a copy, and the rest is as they say, "History!"  This started my love affair with all things Heaney.  Beowulf was incredible! First of all, the story was told in the spare, sparse, and gritty language of Heaney's bilingual translation of the Anglo-Saxon original that is something like 1,000 years old. Second, the plot of this elegiac poem was absolutely epic. The horror of Grendel and his Dam was palpable; and the heroism of Beowulf and his spear-fellows timeless. Finally, the ability to carefully study Heaney's translation, alliteration, and interpretation and then compare it to the Anglo-Saxon was almost surrealistic. It was an amazing experience to have the ability to look at and study the root language of modern English.  As a side-note, when you finished reading the Heaney translation, go out and find yourself a copy of the late John Gardner's slim volume entitled, Grendel (1971).  This existential little book tells the tale from the 'monster's' point of view, and is profoundly thought-provoking on many levels.

Now, let's go further back in time and look at the translations of the itinerant bard and poet, Homer, and two of the great literary works of humankind--The Iliad and The Odyssey.  Apparently, these two Homeric epics may have been first transcribed in Greek in the 8th Century BCE.  Prior to that I have to believe that traveling bards and storytellers around the Mediterranean region would have adapted and told elements of these tales in the villages and towns they visited (i.e., an oral form of translation).   From the perspective of translation and adaptation into English it even gets crazier.  Go on-line, or to your public library, and you'll see that these epic poems have been translated by just about anyone with a passing classical education.  If you look at the Wikipedia entry for "English Translations of Homer" there are, from the 16th century on, nearly 120 different translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey.  Some of the more prominent translations include those done by George Chapman (1611-15), Alexander Pope (1715), Richmond Lattimore (1951, and 1965), Robert Fitzgerald (1961, and 1974), and Robert Fagles (1990, and 1996) .  

I have read the translations by both Lattimore and Fagles, and have the Fitzgerald translation coming to me even as I write this.  I would have to say that my favorite, so far, is the Fagles translation.  It was just magical and the poem seemed alive with richness in a contemporary framework that I could readily understand. Fagles' translation is quite lyrical and loosely maintains a meter of five- and six-beats per line throughout. I encourage you to read it aloud, it just rolls off of the tongue, and becomes even more enchanting.  I also enjoyed the older translation by Richmond Lattimore.  It is elegant and feels more classical.  Again, I am certainly not qualified to judge the quality of one translation versus another, but I am able to judge my responses to each, and I would say that I related better to Fagles' translation.  Finally, I have recently become aware of a brand new translation that is being released in early October 2011, by Stephen Mitchell.  For more on the new Mitchell translation of The Iliad see my blog posting of September 21st.  I guarantee that I will certainly review Mitchell's translation of The Iliad as soon as I am done reading it. [And doesn't it just have the coolest dust-cover artwork?]

I have quite a robust collection of ancient Greek tragedies.  I think have at least one copy of all of the plays by the Greek classicists.  I have several translations of my favorites.  For example, I have four different translations of Aeschylus' trilogy The Oresteia (Thomson, Lattimore, Fagles, and Ted Hughes), with the Fagles and Hughes translations being my favorites.  The Fagles translation is probably the most faithful to the original Greek (and the Introduction by W.B. Stanford is worth the 'price-of-admission' alone), but the Hughes translation and/or adaptation is even more poetic and emotionally powerful.

Another ancient Greek playwright that I adore is Sophocles, and I have several wonderful translations of his plays.  For the three Theban plays (i.e., Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone) it is hard to beat the relatively recent translations by Robert Fagles.  Although, I have to say that the translations of Antigone by Seamus Heaney (The Burial at Thebes, 2005) and Diane Rayor (Antigone, 2011) are beyond sublime.  I also just finished reading a new translation of all seven of Sophocles' plays by Robert Bagg and James Scully, and their Antigone was hard-hitting as well.  I very much enjoyed their translations of Aias (Ajax) and Women of Trakhis too.  I have posted a more in-depth review of the Bagg/Scully translation collaboration here if you're interested.

Finally, I am in the midst of re-reading Victor Hugo's monumental novel, Les Miserables for the first time in some 20 years or so.  I read the Fahnestock/MacAfee translation (1987) shortly after it came out and loved it.  During the big Les Mis craze, I saw several musical adaptations on the stage and a television movie or two as well.  I received a lovely gift certificate for Barnes and Noble for my birthday (or Christmas?) and decided to splurge and buy myself the hardcover Modern Library edition of Julie Rose's new translation of Les Miserables.  I am only about one-quarter of the way through this massive tome, but I am loving and savoring every word.  I had forgotten how much I love this story, and how Hugo lays bare the soul of his characters, and I think Julie Rose has very capably preserved this aspect.  Again, I promise to post a comprehensive review of her translation when I am finished.

Well, have I definitively answered the question, "Which translation is the best?"  Heck no!  I am not even going down that road, as I'm sure that each of us has our own opinions and 'tried-and-true' favorites.  All I've tried to do with this posting is convey the notion that for many of these great works that we read that, in some cases, the translation selected and read can mean the difference between a memorable experience, or one that ends up being just 'ho-hum.'  Please, please take my recommendations with a grain of salt and recognize that these translations are ones that I personally enjoyed and appreciated.  I'm sure that you may have your favorite translations, and for equally valid reasons at that.  I'd love to hear from you about the translators and translations of books and poetry that you've encountered and that have made a positive impression on you.


September 21, 2011

News Flash: A New "Iliad" is Coming Soon!

"Hello!  My name is Chris, and I am addicted to Homer." 

I have made it my business over the past couple of years to find and read copies of all of the major translations of Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey.  While I very much love the elegant and classy translations by Richmond Lattimore (The Iliad, 1951; The Odyssey, 1965), I'd have to say that my current favorites are those by the late Robert Fagles (The Iliad, 1990; The Odyssey, 1996).  In my opinion, the Fagles translations are eminently readable and enthralling, and it is my understanding that he did a truly masterful job of adapting the original meaning of the Greek into the idiom of Modern English.  Well, at any rate, it sure works for me!

Anyway, I've just recently become aware of a new translation of Homer's The Iliad by Stephen Mitchell that is being released on October 11, 2011, published by Free Press.  From the reviews I've managed to find and read, Mitchell is well qualified and up to the task of giving the world this new translation of The Iliad.  In fact, a publication release I found on-line may provide a bit of the back-story of why Mitchell felt compelled to tackle his own translation of this epic poem--
"Mitchell’s Iliad is the first translation based on the work of the preeminent Homeric scholar Martin L. West, whose edition of the original Greek identifies many passages that were added after the Iliad was first written down, to the detriment of the music and the story. Omitting these hundreds of interpolated lines restores a dramatically sharper, leaner text. In addition, Mitchell’s illuminating introduction opens the epic still further to our understanding and appreciation."
Well, I for one, can't wait to get my grubby little paws on a brand-spanking-new hardcover edition of this book and dive in and form my own opinion.  I'm also seriously contemplating picking up my well-read copy of Fagles' translation and giving it a reread over the next couple of weeks, just so I'll have something to compare and contrast.

Finally, I've just found out that Stephen Mitchell is coming to the independent bookseller, Vroman's Bookstore, in Pasadena on Saturday, November 5th at 4:00 p.m., for a book-signing and discussion of his new translation of The Iliad.  Yup, you guessed it, I'll be there.  Wouldn't miss it for the world!

Review: "The Complete Plays of Sophocles--A New Translation" translated by Robert Bagg & James Scully

I finished this newly published (2011) volume of translations of the seven existing plays by Sophocles recently.  I unhesitatingly recommend this new work of the translators, Robert Bagg and James Scully, as they really did an outstanding job of presenting these powerful dramas with extraordinary lyricism and emotional impact.  For your information, I am providing a list of the plays in the collection and the primary translator--
Aias (James Scully)
Women of Trakhis (Robert Bagg)
Philoktetes (James Scully)
Elektra (Robert Bagg)
Oedipus the King (Robert Bagg)
Oedipus at Kolonos (Robert Bagg)
Antigone (Robert Bagg)
Interestingly enough, this was the first time that I had read Aias (Ajax) or the Women of Trakhis and I really, really enjoyed both of them. While I was familiar with the story of Ajax from The Iliad, I have to say that Sophocles and James Scully really made me realize the physical and psychological toll that warfare and combat has upon a soldier.  One has to believe that what is described in Aias can only be classified as a classic case of "post-traumatic stress disorder" (PTSD).  We see the toll that this 'madness' takes upon the family and friends of Ajax, and it is truly heartbreaking.  In the Introduction to the volume, Bagg and Scully indicate that excerpts from both Aias and Philoktetes have been performed for members of the American armed services and their families in the context of addressing and dealing with PTSD.  I say, 'Bravo!'

Finally, I have to say that I consider myself somewhat a connoisseur associated with Sophocles' Antigone, and the translated version in this collection is simply superb.  The dialog is spare, clipped, and drips with pathos--we emotionally respond not only to what Kreon and Antigone say in the play, but the overall intent of Sophocles in writing the play.  As Antigone prepares to meet her fate she laments,
"Hades, who chills each one of us to sleep,
will guide me down to Acheron's shore.
I'll go hearing no wedding hymn
to carry me to my bridal chamber, or songs
girls sing when flowers crown a bride's hair;
I'm going to marry the River of Pain." (890-895)
That'll wrench your heart-strings.  In this collection, Bagg and Scully have given us a new version of Sophocles that is dramatic, poetic, and lyrical, and incredibly relevant for our time.  The language incorporated in these translations is not in the slightest degree flowery or excessive.  In my opinion, not one word is wasted, the emotion is right there--in your face--and it just feels right.  Read these plays and see what you think.

September 11, 2011

Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer, U.S. Open Semifinal, September 10, 2011

Just a quick note to all of you tennis fans out there--

The U.S. Open Mens Semifinal between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, the world's number 1 ranked player (Novak) versus the number 3 ranked player (Roger) was unbelievably amazing from start to finish and is destined to be an instant classic.  The winner of the match would go on to face the winner of the Rafael Nadal/Andy Murray match in the final of the U.S. Open on Monday, September 12, 2011, and it totally lived up to its billing and all of the hype!

Djokovic was down two sets to love in a potential five-set match, and he looked like he was going to lose to the crafty veteran, Federer, in straight sets.  Shortly after the beginning of the third set the mood of the match changed, and it was evident that Djokovic had sunk his teeth into the match and was not going to go away without a fight--and fight he did!

Djokovic went on to reel off the next two sets, and the two men then started the fifth, and final, set to decide the outcome of the match and who would move on to the final on Monday.  Back and forth the two men went, both serving pretty well and hitting the most amazing returns and ground strokes.  This was championship tennis at its very, very best.

Federer even had two match points to finish off Djokovic and advance to the final, but it was not to be.  Djokovic cracked a laser-like return to negate one match point (this shot stunned Federer and the nearly 24,000 people in Arthur Ashe Stadium).  Federer then served a nearly 110 mph serve right into Djokovic's body that somehow the young Serbian managed to block back across the net for a winner.  This erased the remaining match point for Fed, and it was all Djokovic from this point on.  A stunning turn of events.  In retrospect, this exhibition of tennis excellence from Djokovic shouldn't have surprised me so much.  He has had an absolutely awesome year, with a win/loss record of 63-2--and has won two majors (The Australian Open and Wimbledon)!

While Rafael Nadal dispatched the Scot, Andy Murray, relatively easily in four sets in the other mens semi-final, I have to think that Djokovic will win his third major this year by winning the U.S. Open Final on Monday night.  It should be a helluva final--another great battle between Rafa and the Djoker.  Me, I'd like to see Djokovic win this and just put a heck of an exclamation point on the great year he has had so far.

If you really love tennis go to You-Tube, or the U.S. Open's website ( and look for the video of the match between Federer and Djokovic.  Awesome stuff!

Review: "Middlemarch--A Study of Provincial Life" By George Eliot

I have just finished reading Middlemarch, and this pretty much completes my reading of George Eliot's major works.  Middlemarch truly is quite the sublime novel from start to finish.  At first blush one has this sense of simply being immersed in a rather quiet and pastoral story, but there's really very much more going on here as one turns the pages.It is a story of rural England during the period of great reforms in politics, religion, agriculture, manufacturing, medicine, and even transportation.  Mostly though, it is the story of human beings, and what it means to be human.

Eliot gives us a wonderful cast of characters in Middlemarch, and they cut across all class lines from the landed gentry, tradesmen and women, and the simple country rustics that work the land and work in the manor houses.  While perhaps Dickensian in cast, the peoples that populate the novel are not laden with the satire or comedy of a Dickens or Thackeray novel.  No, these are all people that we can relate to even in this modern age.  These are your neighbors, some rich, some poor; these are your physicians; your pastors; your shopkeepers, and so forth.  The people of Middlemarch are your family, friends, and acquaintances and become even more so as the novel moves along.

As much as I truly enjoyed the plots in Eliot's Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner, I'd have to say that Eliot "kicked it up a notch" in Middlemarch.  This is a stately, sedate, sophisticated, and complexly elegant novel.  It really does demand the reader's full dedication and attention as it is read too, much like I found when I read her last novel Daniel Deronda.  Boy, is it worth the extra effort, and one can't help but find oneself savoring the pacing and structure of the novel as Eliot lays out the tale.

Eliot herself compares one of her primary characters, Dorothea Brooke, to St. Theresa de Avila.  She is a genuinely decent human being who very much cares for the welfare of all of those around her, including even the man she marries early in the novel--Edward Casaubon. Interestingly, at least to me, that through the novel there was an almost tidal 'ebb and flow' of how the reader viewed many of the characters.  The one exception was Dorothea, as she always stayed above the fray and maintains her 'saintliness'.  I suppose that some could say that maybe Dorothea's saintliness was laid on a bit thick, but I think the character of Dorothea and her actions are important in helping to bring home the novel's overall message and moral impact.  I think that this was also true in different degrees with some of the other characters, such as Tertius Lydgate, Rev. Farebrother, Caleb Garth, his wife, and their daughter Mary Garth.  Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the novel though is Eliot's ability to make her readers empathize and even sympathize with the characters that are not so likeable, e.g., Bulstrode or Casaubon.

Finally, I have to again say that somehow I really think that George Eliot had to have been some sort of inspiration for, or influence upon, the later works of Thomas Hardy.  I really do see a somewhat similar approach to realism and naturalism in the works of these two important authors.  While Eliot's novels don't showcase the impact of Fate or Chance perhaps as prominently as Hardy, they both inject a big dose of reality in the day-to-day lives of their characters.  Bad things do happen to good and bad people alike, just like Life.  The beauty of Middlemarch is that it depicts the indomitable Human spirit at its finest (and, dare I say, at its worst at times too).  Those who wish to do good can; and for those who don't, well they get caught out.

Great book!  I highly recommend reading this novel.  I have to be honest and fess up that I tried to read this book off and on for 20+ years, and it just never took with me.  I was finally able to sink my teeth (and brain) into it and just let myself become immersed in the peoples and landscape of Middlemarch, and what a profoundly satisfying and enriching experience it has been.  In all reality, I think that I am at a point in my reading and comprehension these days that I was finally ready for what Virginia Woolf described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people."  I do look forward to re-reading it again at some point and thinking about the messages and lessons of this rich novel that George Eliot has crafted and left us.

For me, now it is on to a new translation of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (translation by Ms. Julie Rose, 2008).  I'm also reading a new translation of the plays of the 5th century B.C. ancient Greek playwright, Sophocles.  This 2011 translation and adaptation has been done by Robert Bagg and James Scully.  Too much good stuff!