Sunday, December 17, 2017

"... meant to be sung, not read on a page ..." / 1966 and 2017: Through me tell the story / With Addendum

(a cover from "Tempest," released on September 10, 2012, the last collection of songs written and released by Bob Dylan before receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature)
"... When Odysseus in The Odyssey visits the famed warrior Achilles in the underworld – Achilles, who traded a long life full of peace and contentment for a short one full of honor and glory –  tells Odysseus it was all a mistake. "I just died, that's all." There was no honor. No immortality. And that if he could, he would choose to go back and be a lowly slave to a tenant farmer on Earth rather than be what he is – a king in the land of the dead – that whatever his struggles of life were, they were preferable to being here in this dead place. 
That's what songs are too. Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They're meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare's plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, "Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story." (am's italics)
(from the concluding words of Bob Dylan's Nobel Lecture, including the first words of Homer's Odyssey)
From nearly 30 years ago:
The final words of Homer's Odyssey, with the goddess Athena calling for an end to the war:

And now would they have slain them all, and cut them off from returning, had not Athena, daughter of Zeus, who bears the aegis, [530] shouted aloud, and checked all the host, saying: “Refrain, men of Ithaca, from grievous war, that with all speed you may part, and that without bloodshed.” So spoke Athena, and pale fear seized them. Then in their terror the arms flew from their hands [535] and fell one and all to the ground, as the goddess uttered her voice, and they turned toward the city, eager to save their lives. Terribly then shouted the much-enduring, goodly Odysseus, and gathering himself together he swooped upon them like an eagle of lofty flight, and at that moment the son of Cronos cast a flaming thunderbolt, [540] and down it fell before the flashing-eyed daughter of the mighty sire. Then flashing-eyed Athena spoke to Odysseus saying: “Son of Laertes, sprung from Zeus, Odysseus of many devices, stay thy hand, and make the strife of equal war to cease, lest haply the son of Cronos be wroth with thee, even Zeus, whose voice is borne afar.” [545] So spoke Athena, and he obeyed, and was glad at heart. Then for all time to come a solemn covenant betwixt the twain was made by Pallas Athena, daughter of Zeus, who bears the aegis, in the likeness of Mentor both in form and in voice.

This post came about after I read the text of Bob Dylan's Nobel Lecture, which I read while thinking about a drawing I did in the early 1980s from a photograph taken in Vietnam of my R and sent to me by R in 1970.   The drawing was returned under mysterious circumstances a few days ago, December 14, nearly 40 years after I had given it away.  

I was not going to post anything more about my R, feeling that I had told the story too many times already.  However, when my drawing was returned a few days ago on the anniversary of the day I met R in December 1966, there is something new to tell.  Another coincidence? (I had mentioned the first words of Homer's Odyssey on Valentine's Day of this year in connection with a dream visit from R).

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." (John Muir)


("Self-Portrait Of An Old Friend As A Young Man," chalk pastel on paper, 18 x 24, by am -- returned to me on December 14, 2017)

Addendum:  This morning I found an extraordinary cover of a lesser known Bob Dylan song.


Elizabeth said...

such an intriguing post -- I'm wondering whether you've heard of the new translation of The Odyssey -- finally -- by a woman. I've bought it but haven't read, yet, and I'm thinking I might do so this afternoon.

am said...

Thank you, Elizabeth, for mentioning the new translation. Our public library will soon have 3 copies. As of just now, I'm #12 in line. Looking forward to reading it. Have not read it since high school (1963-1967). From that reading, I distinctly remember only the words "rosy-fingered dawn" which were repeated again and again until I began to laugh each time I saw them. On that first reading, I understood very little of what I read and was happy to be able to understand that the sun was rising. I wonder which translation we read in high school. I wonder how those words appear in Emily Wilson's translation.

Sabine said...

I have listened to and read and watched The Odyssey in chapters and sections, TV series, cartoon and film version etc. since I am five years old. My father sent me to a school where I struggled to read it in and translate it from ancient Greek, the original as it were. My father will quote his favourite sections to you in Greek at the drop of a hat.

This story cannot be told too many times.

And neither can your story.

Anonymous said...

I'll be thinking about this post all day! I didn't know the Achilles quote: I've read the Illiad but not the Odyssey. Athena's appearances always gave me goosebumps. I'll have to dig out Homer again.