At Waterstones Manchester on Thurs. 8 November at 6.30 p.m., Michael Schmidt, a founder-director @Carcanet will chair the discussion @WaterstonesMCR with poets Jane Draycott and Jenny Lewis; talk theme: Claiming the Great Tradition: Women Recalibrate the Classics.
The BookBlast interview with poet & translator Jane Draycott is HERE. Meet Jane in person: Thursday 8 November @WaterstonesMCR. A tutor on postgraduate writing programmes at Oxford University and the University of Lancaster, her published works include Prince Rupert’s Drop and The Night Tree. Her translation of the 14th-century Pearl is a PBS Recommendation and winner of a Stephen Spender Prize for Translation.
Pearl is a beautiful and moving medieval poem by the anonymous poet who also wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. He writes of his grief at the death of his two-year old daughter, Pearl, and how he dreams of seeing and speaking with her in a garden, where he learns that she is now living in heaven as a Bride of Christ. Jane Draycott’s superb modern translation catches all the moving power and lyrical beauty of the original, and its spiritual power and consolation.
Pearl (extract) translated by Jane Draycott
“One thing I know for certain: that she
was peerless, pearl who would have added
light to any prince’s life,
however bright with gold. None
could touch the way she shone
in any light, so smooth, so small –
she was a jewel above all others.
So pity me the day I lost her
in this garden where she fell
beneath the grass into the earth.
I stand bereft, struck to the heart
with love and loss. My spotless pearl.
“I’ve gazed a hundred times at the place
she left me, grieving for that gift
which swept away all shadow, that face
which was the antidote to sorrow.
And though this watching sears my heart
and winds the wires of sadness tighter,
still the song this silence sings
to me is the sweetest I have heard –
the countless quiet hours in which
her pale face floats before me, mired
in mud and soil, a perfect jewel
spoiled, my spotless pearl.
“In a place where such riches lie rotting
what will grow is a spreading of spices,
blossoms of blue and white and red
which fire in the full light, facing the sun.
Where a pearl is planted deep in the dark
no fruit or flower could ever fade:
all grasscorn grows from dying grain
so new wheat can be carried home.
From goodness other goodness grows –
so beautiful a seed can’t fail
to fruit, or spices fail to flower
fed by a spotless, faultless pearl.
“So I came to this very same spot
in the green of an August garden, height
and heart of the summer, at Lammas
when corn is cut down with curving scythes.
And I saw that the little hill where she fell
was a shaded place showered with spices:
pink gillyflower, ginger and purple gromwell
powdered with peonies scattered like stars.
But more than their loveliness to the eye,
the sweetest fragrance seemed to float
in the air there also – I knew beyond doubt
that’s where she lay, my spotless pearl.”
The BookBlast interview with poet Jenny Lewis is HERE. Meet Jenny in person: Thursday 8 November @WaterstonesMCR. She teaches poetry at Oxford University and has had three poetry collections published and seven plays. In 2013 she embarked on a PhD at Goldsmiths, London University, writing a new, more “woman-friendly” version of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The resulting book, Gilgamesh Retold, won the Warden’s Prize at Goldsmiths as part of Jenny’s “Writing Mesopotamia” project and was shortlisted for a Gladstone’s Library Residency.
“Stories evolve to suit contemporary tastes and each retelling must create its own unity in the mind of the storyteller before it can achieve coherence for the reader. Because of this, I describe Gilgamesh Retold as my response to its original source, the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. Early Sumerian poems concerning King Gilgamesh of Uruk started to be written down between 2100-1750 BC and were circulated orally long before that. This book tells the story in fifteen chapters, with a prologue and epilogue, using different poetic forms to suggest the telling in different voices.” — Jenny Lewis
From the Prologue
“Gilgamesh knew he understood
how the waters broke how the world was birthed
the weight of life heavy as a flood
the full womb the still grave
“He sensed secrets guarded by gods
wandered wide told a tale
dreaded death longed for light
found and lost his first love
“Often he travelled Shamash’s warrior
just as the dun god circles the earth
Gilgamesh built the wall of Uruk
a strong strand circling his city
“See these bricks from river mud
the rustle of reeds in winter is in them
the hubbub of storms in summer is in them
the smell of Euphrates and Tigris is in them.”
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