Kenneth Rexroth, Sappho, and The Bureau Of Public Secrets
August 20, 2002 11:44 PM   Subscribe

The Bureau Of Public Secrets, Kenneth Rexroth and Sappho. It was while looking for this fragment of hers, translated by him--(Details within)
posted by y2karl (7 comments total)
The moon has set,
And the Pleiades. It is
Midnight. Time passes.
I sleep alone.
--that I came across the Bureau. A better introduction to the Siuationist International, Society and the Spectacle--as if I'd know!--and, surprise, surprise, Kenneth Rexroth have I yet to find

Of Sappho, not much is known of her or her work. She was anthologized until the Christian era and then neglected. She lived on the island of Lesbos in the 6th Century BC, wrote in Aoelic Greek, and of her work, we have only fragments. The problems in translation across so great a gulf of time and place are nearly unimaginable.And yet across centuries and the gulf of translation, she shines.

I find that Kenneth Rexroth is a person I have underestimated in my vast ignorance. I came across his When We With Sappho while in search of the fragment I've quoted. Wowsers.

Therefore I invite you to, starting at the Rexroth Archive, dive into the deep end of the pool of the Bureau Of Public Secrets, through Debord, detournement, Ken Knabb and all his works. After taking the side trip, of course, to Sappho at the isle of Lesbos, 'cause that's how my mind works. See ya in the funny papers.
posted by y2karl at 11:44 PM on August 20, 2002

arrrhhhhgg... Information... Overload!

Good stuiff, karl. Have to take a look at those links in the morning..
posted by slipperywhenwet at 11:54 PM on August 20, 2002

You should have made two front page posts with this I think y2karl. But still, some of the most meaty subject matter I've come across on Metafilter so thanks for that.
posted by Summer at 1:19 AM on August 21, 2002

And a painting by Alma-Tadema, too! I'm mostly Greekless, but Sappho and the Greek lyric poets are high on my list of desert island books. My dog-eared copy of Barnestone's Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets is my favorite translation, even if a comparison to West's translation makes me wonder if it isn't a little too free. And my hometown boy Guy Davenport deserves a shout out, too, for his translation of 7 Greeks. Rexroth's translations are new to me, but your link and this review make me want to rush out and get it. Mmmm ... maybe I'll just take the rest of the week off ....
posted by octobersurprise at 7:27 AM on August 21, 2002

We were reading Sappho in a literature survey class freshman year in college and one of the other students kept saying, "he wrote this, he wrote that," etc. When the professor finally asked, "Who are you talking about?" the student said, "Sappho, of course!"

The professor said, "Sappho's a woman," to which the student replied, "But that's impossible, he's talking about being in love with a woman!"

Then they got in a big argument (at one point the student actually said, "Prove it!"). Man, that was funny.
posted by MarkAnd at 8:47 AM on August 21, 2002

Great links, y2karl. Sappho is one of my favorite poets -- I learned Greek mostly to read Homer, Archilochus, and her -- and the fact that we have so little of her poetry is a major point in my bill of particulars against Christianity. It's pretty amusing to see in the Edith Mora quote the collective result of two and a half millennia of fantasies concerning her life, about which (as you point out) we know essentially nothing. (I like the Situationists, too, but more in the way you like your crazy cousin Eddie who keeps setting his hair on fire.)

Oh, and the Rexroth poem is wonderful; I'll have to pay him more mind. I blush to confess, though, that when I first read the line
"All about us the old farm subsides"
I thought it said "farm subsidies." I've got to start reading fewer newspapers and more poetry.
posted by languagehat at 11:39 AM on August 21, 2002 [1 favorite]

You remind me that I haven't read any Rexroth since I was in high school. That ought to be remedied--he's wonderful. His memorial for Dylan Thomas tears me to pieces whenever I read it. In an entirely different mood, the bestiary he wrote for his daughters (of which an excerpt is available at the linked site) is sparklingly delightful, even with a too perceptive summary of Plato's Republic.

Anyone who knows even a little Greek should try reading at least the first two fragments of Sappho. The dialect is a bit unusual, but not too hard with a good commentary and maybe a couple of friends to help out. Even if you can't follow the grammar perfectly, they sound simply musical. Greek texts [fragment one; fragment two] of them are available online (though not, sadly, from Perseus). (I haven't yet been through all the links above, so those texts may already have been pointed out. I noticed a transliteration in y2karl's post, but these are Unicode, which makes for much nicer reading.)
posted by moss at 3:11 PM on August 21, 2002 [2 favorites]

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