- Finnegans Wake, in all its difficulty, was only “crying out for the invention of the web, which would enable the holding of multiple domains of knowledge in the mind at one time that a proper reading requires.” A wealth of new projects online aim to help readers parse, demystify, and/or grapple with the text; “maybe, just maybe, future generations will look back on early discussions of Finnegans Wake’s unreadability and wonder what the hell was the matter with us.”
- Borges’s “The Library of Babel” has been re-created online, too, in the form of a site that, if it’s ever completed, “would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, including lowercase letters, space, comma, and period … The library creates a tantalizing promise of reason—somewhere in its pages are all the works lost in the burning of the Library of Alexandria, and every future masterpiece—but drowned out by infinite pages of nonsense.”
- A lost 1972 interview with Ray Bradbury, animated for Blank on Blank: “People need you. Go on TV. It can be done. After you speak up a few times, people say, ‘Hey, we got a crazy man in the community,’ and they’ll begin talking to you.”
- A new documentary, Even Though the Whole World Is Burning, follows W. S. Merwin’s attempts to plant a forest of palm trees in Hawaii. “For forty years, [he] planted a tree every day that he could, restoring nineteen acres of land in Haiku, Hawaii, even as it seemed the world might well be ending, first from military conflict and then from ecological crisis. The film is a chronicle of a man struggling to make meaning through tiny, trembling acts.”
- Kaiser Wilhelm II liked to talk—a lot. “Virtually everything the Kaiser said, no matter how risible, was recorded and preserved for posterity … he cajoles, whines, demands, vociferates and babbles, bombarding his interlocutors with fantastical geopolitical speculations, crackpot plans, sarcastic asides and off-color jokes. Reading Wilhelm II on every conceivable subject … is like listening for days on end to a dog barking inside a locked car.”
Since it’s both International Translation Day and W. S. Merwin’s eighty-seventh birthday (many happy returns!), today’s a fitting occasion to excerpt this interview from our Spring 2002 issue, in which Merwin discusses his translation of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s sonnet “Whoso list to hunt,” from the sixteenth century. His interlocutor is the poet Jason Shinder.
Who so list to hount, I knowe where is an hynde,
But as for me, helas, I may no more:
The vayne travaill hath weried me so sore.
I ame of theim that farthest commeth behinde;
Yet may I by no meanes my weried mynde
Drawe from the Diere: but as she fleeth afore,
Faynting I folowe. I leve of therefore,
Sins in a nett I seke to hold the wynde.
Who list her hount, I put him owte of dowbte,
As well as I may spend his tyme in vain;
And, graven with Diamonds, in letters plain
There is written her faier neck rounde abowte:
Noli me tangere for Cesars I ame;
And wylde for to hold, though I seme tame.
W. S. MERWIN: I think this is probably the greatest sonnet Wyatt wrote, and I think it’s one of the greatest sonnets in English. I’ve known it for so many years, but it always startles me with the real strength of passion in it—and irony and freshness of language and the mixture of sensual feeling and bitterness that runs through the best of Wyatt. Take that first line—the whole courtly feeling about the opposite sex, which angers, quite rightly, the feminists—the pursuit of women becomes a kind of predacious pursuit: if hunting is what you want to do, I know a deer who’ll keep you busy. The speculation is that it’s about Anne Boleyn, and it may well be; it’s certainly about a very elusive and uncatchable person. […]
JASON SHINDER: To the modern ear, the language is also unfamiliar and difficult to access. As someone who reads Wyatt in public, how do you approach the poems?
MERWIN: We don’t really know what Wyatt’s language sounded like, and I’m not an expert on late Middle English and Tudor English. I don’t try to imitate what I think would be exact Tudor English. I don’t try to put him into the modern American either. For example, the line “Yet may I by no meanes my weried mynde.” I think the e in meanes was still slightly pronounced for Wyatt, so I keep it there. When I read these poems, they run through my mind like a piece of music.
Wyatt’s meter baffled Victorian editors—they tinkered with it until they got it into nice iambic pentameter and made it scan right. But iambic pentameter had little to do with it. My theory is that Wyatt’s meter was influenced by the lute—Wyatt was a great composer of lute songs, and I think he composed verse the way a lutanist would. His work is something in between metrical and syllabic verse. Read More
In 1955, The Paris Review paid a struggling Jack Kerouac fifty dollars for an excerpt from a then unpublished manuscript. The excerpt appeared as a short story titled “The Mexican Girl” and, after much acclaim, was picked up a year later by Martha Foley’s The Best American Short Stories. Due in large part to the success of “The Mexican Girl,” On the Road was soon accepted by Viking Press; the full novel was published in 1957.
The issue containing Kerouac’s excerpt—The Paris Review no. 11 (Winter 1955)—has long since sold out, but we’re happy to announce that it’s now available in digital form via the Paris Review app. For those interested in our hard-to-find archival issues, we’ve also digitized issues 1, 18, and 20, and many more are on the way.
In fact, for the next two weeks, readers who purchase a digital subscription via the Paris Review app will receive free digital access to the issue containing Kerouac’s excerpt. Alongside “The Mexican Girl” are stories by Gerard Reve and Marjorie Housepian, an interview with Nelson Algren, portfolios by Antoni Clavé and Oskar Kokoschka, and poetry by Louis Simpson, John Hollander, W. S. Merwin, Rolf Fjelde, Christopher Logue, and John Haislip. And all of that, of course, accompanies a year-long digital subscription to The Paris Review, beginning with issue 204.
There’s good reason for print subscribers to download the app, too—we’ve granted free digital access to any issue covered by your print subscription. (If you’re a print subscriber and haven’t yet set up your app account, send an e-mail to support [at] theparisreview [dot] org.) There’s also lots of free content, including our complete interview archive—now fully bundled for offline viewing—and The Paris Review Daily. That’s really all to say: there’s no good reason not to have us on your iPad or iPhone!
(To those with Android devices: we hope to have a version for you soon!)
- Walden: the most contemplative video game ever created?
- W. S. Merwin: the movie.
- The dog from The Artist has a book deal.
- Gertrude Stein’s bad war record.
- This is your kids on books.
- The Casablanca e-book: the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
- Predictions from 1962 on the future of book publishing: “Books will be smoother, faster and slicker, and will be strongly influenced by space travel.”
- New York Public Library, Monday afternoon.
We congratulate W. S. Merwin on being named Poet Laureate of the United States. Merwin published his first poem with the Review in 1955, and we have been proud to publish him ever since. Herewith, to celebrate his appointment (and for the pleasure of retyping it) one of his more recent contributions:
To the Long Table
The sun was touching the wet black shoulders of olives
in a chipped dish descended from another century
on that day I remember more than half my life ago
and you had been covered with a tablecloth of worn damask
for lunch out on the balcony overhanging the stream
with the grapes still small among the vine leaves above us
and near the olives a pitcher of thin black acrid wine
from the cellar just below and an omelette on a cracked white platter
a wheel of bread goat cheeses salad I forgot what else
the ducks were asleep down on the far side of the green pond
Jacques came and went babbling fussing making his bad jokes
boasting about old days that nobody else remembered
the lacquered carriages the plumes on the horses and what his mother
had replied to the admiral whose attentions amused her
all the castles they had lost before he had grown up
and when the meal was over he said you too were for sale
he had discovered you in a carpenter’s shop
where you had been used as a workbench without regard
for your true worth and the scars on you came from there
your history without words upon which words have gathered