Dipping into the pages of a new poetry collection by David Ferry, “Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations” (University of Chicago Press), makes me feel as giddy as I do when I hear that a new trailer of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” is about to be released.
Ferry is an acclaimed poet in his own right — check out “Of No Country I Know” — but what I’ve eagerly followed over the years are his translations from Virgil. His “Eclogues” and “Georgics” translations (both published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux), are beautiful songs of the Earth, of prophecy, of pragmatism and protest. Reading them has always made me wonder, When is Ferry going to tackle the big one? What about Virgil’s “Aeneid”?
His new collection “Bewilderment” gives the answer: He’s working on it.
Along with the sharp clarity of original lyrics “Coffee Lips” and “Street Scene,” there are long passages from books II and VI of the Mantuan’s masterpiece. I’m more than giddy, however; I’m also humbled by it. Ferry’s book is dedicated to his late wife, critic Anne Ferry, and near the end of this collection, his version of Aeneas’ departure from Troy feels informed by Ferry’s own grief.
After he evokes the image of Aeneas hoisting his lame-legged father onto his back:
I take up the tawny pelt of a lion and
Cover my neck and my broad shoulders with it,
And bowing down, I accept the weight of my father…
he then continues on with Aeneas’ grief when he fails to find his wife at a reunion site before the fugitive Trojans escape from their burning city:
When all of us,
At last, had gotten there, we all were there,
But she had vanished and she wasn’t there.
Gone from her people, gone from her child, and her husband.
That final line is searingly painful to read. Anyone who’s lost a loved one knows what this is. Everyone is Aeneas in their grief.
Glimpses and sightings of Virgil’s epic — I feel a little like Palinurus with Carthage behind and the deep sea ahead. Can’t wait for the rest of Ferry’s project.