Saturday 3 December 2016

The Sunday poem: Anthony Cronin's personal anthology

Anthony Cronin

Published 15/02/2016 | 02:30

Anthony Cronin. Photo by Tony Gavin
Anthony Cronin. Photo by Tony Gavin

Sophocles was one of the three great classical dramatists of Greece, the others being Aeschylus and Euripedes. Of those who know something about him most will know that it was he who wrote; 'Never to have been born is best'.

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In fact this sentiment is expressed by the chorus in one of his plays, Oedipus Colonnus, and is not necessarily Sophocles' own personal view of things.

The partnership of twentieth century American poets Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald is the great modern translator of classical Greek, particularly of the dramatists. These passages are not from the Oedipus cycle, but from the related Antigone.

The Oedipus cycle itself has been given renewed popularity in recent years by Sigmund Freud's adoption of the name Oedipus to describe an aspect of infantile sexual development - though this aspect could be said to amount in the end to little more than a preference for one parent over the other. 

from Antigone trans. Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald

Sophocles

Numberless are the world's numbers, but none

More wonderful than man; the stormgray sea

Yields to his prows, the huge crests bear him high;

Earth, holy and inexhaustible, is graven

With shining furrows where his plows have gone

Year after year, the timeless labour of stallions.

The lightboned birds and beasts that cling to cover,

The lithe fish lighting their reaches of dim water,

All are taken, tamed in the net of his mind;

The lion on the hill, the wild horse windy-maned,

Resign to him; and his blunt yoke has broken

The sultry shoulders of the muntain bull.

Words also, and thought as rapid as air,

He fashions to his good use; statecraft is his,

And his the skill that deflects the arrows of snow,

The spears of winter rain: from every wind

He has made himself secure - from all but one :

In the late wind of death he cannot stand.

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