Tuesday, August 26, 2014

`The Golden Age Continues, Even Now'

For some of us, connections with eminent forebears – real, physical connections, not sentimental swoonings -- are matters of some gravity. I’ve documented my pedigree and A.J. Liebling’s elsewhere, and now I’ve thought of another forming a pleasingly closed loop: I shook hands with Steven Millhauser, who shook hands with Lionel Trilling, who shook hands with Whitaker Chambers, who shook hands with Louis Zukofsky, who shook hands with Guy Davenport, who shook hands with me (many sub-loops could be traced, leading us to Auden, Barzun and Bellow, among others). I’m tempted to start another beginning with my introduction to Ralph Ellison but that’s enough phantom associations for now. I came across a more substantial, albeit broken, linkage while reading Walter Martin’s translation of Baudelaire’s Complete Poems (Routledge, 2002). In his “Afterthoughts,” Martin writes: 

“My credentials are as follows: Once I shook the hand of Basil Bunting, who dined with William Butler Yeats, who shared rooms with Arthur Symons, who spent twenty years translating Baudelaire and was a friend of Paul Verlaine, whose series of three articles on the book [Les Fleurs du Mal] had appeared in 1865. Two years later Baudelaire was dead, having refused, for reasons known only to himself, to meet Verlaine or Mallarmé or any of the young poets of his day who aspired to become him.” 

This notion of kinship, of writers as a sort of family to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, seems especially important to Martin. He traces two lines of descent from Baudelaire – Verlaine/Rimbaud,   Mallarmé/Valéry – and offers a lengthy list of writers who share his “complex patrimony.” Among them: Corbière, Proust, Eliot, Auden, Larkin, Montale and Winters. They passed along Baudelaire’s influence, Martin says, “so that in a sense, attenuated as it may be, exhausted as it is, the golden age continues, even now.” Martin’s fellow feeling extends to his acknowledgements page, where he expresses gratitude to, among others, Edgar Bowers, Dick Davis, Dana Gioia, Donald Justice, Helen (Pinkerton) Trimpi and Janet Lewis. Explaining his theory of translation, which includes replicating Baudelaire’s forms, meters and rhymes, Martin quotes bluesman Furry Lewis: “If it ain’t rhymed up, it don’t sound good to me or nobody else.” 

Martin sounds like an interesting fellow. The brief biographical note in the book says he was born in Texas, read French at Stanford and taught English in Nepal. He formerly owned Chimaera, a bookshop in Palo Alto, and was working on a translation of Théophile Gautier’s Émaux et Camées. Martin’s lineage and thankfulness prompts me to add an afterthought of my own: I’ve shaken hands with two men who shook hands with A.J. Liebling – Tony Hiss and James Salter.

No comments: