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Friday, May 19, 2023


 It's been said that Cavafy is "flat" or "prosaic."  It certainly can sound like that in translation.  Certainly it has a conversational tone (not the same thing as prosaic!).  

Does this mean that it is in the demotic register? Yet I have read that he also mixes in touches of more literary Greek, so his language is really more hybrid (not one-dimensional).  

People seem very incurious about its prosody. I know that some of it has rhyme and meter. That just disappears in the "flat" English translation.  

And the syntax is different in Greek and in English, too.  

Colloquial poetry is not just colloquial: the poetic effect emerges from the use of the colloquial as a poetic device in its own right.  It is poetic because it violates expectations. (That is one way of looking at it.) The fifth person to write in a colloquial style after it has been done for a while is no longer original. 


Andrew Shields said...

One example of your point (which you surely already know):

When Wordsworth and Coleridge published “Lyrical Ballads”, the poems were a bold, colloquial challenge to the dominant mode of eighteenth-century English poetry. As their influence spread, their style became the dominant mode, and what once seemed colloquial now came across as highly literary.

Jonathan said...

That's a great example. It seems colloquial in comparison with outdated and artificially elaborate "poetic diction" of 18th century, but it is still quite literary in relation to ordinary speech. I think Coleridge protested against W's prologue in which he over-emphasized the "language really spoken by men," etc... So the register of language (formal - informal / literary - colloquial) is always relative, not absolute.

Jonathan said...

It follows that people who make a [seeming] misjudgment about register are not mistaken. They are just using a different point of comparison.