Reading progress update: I've read 214 out of 464 pages.

Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination - Peter Ackroyd

More notes and quotes for myself and anyone interested:


(p. 179) - compares Richard Rolle's writing (a recluse who wrote religious work) to the Bronte sisters because "he was always possessed by the landscapes of his childhood, that of the North Yorkshire moors and marshes". "There is indeed the same fervor, the same expansive longings, and the same musical cadence within his writing."



(p. 185-6) - Where is the information to back this up?!


...there will be signs and tokens of what Hippolyte Taine called "the old imagination" - whether in the music-hall or in the pantomime, in the writings of Tolkien or the novels of Anthony Burgess, in the tradition of "magic realism" in English fiction or in the paintings of Graham Sutherland. The allegories and bestiaries of the medieval English imagination re-emerge some centuries later in George Orwell's Animal Farm as well as in the best fables of Beatrix Potter and A. A. Milne. ...


No study of the English imagination can ignore the fact that the medieval English theater was revived to striking effect in the twentieth century. A study of this curious phenomenon has suggested that "more medieval drama has been produced in the twentieth century than in this own time" and in the closing decades of the last century there was "a performance of almost every extant medieval text."

(There was a footnote leading to "Modern Productions of Medieval English Plays" by John Marshall in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theater but that does not seem to connect with the idea above.)


After page after page of blah, he finally says something I'm dying to know about...and there's nothing to back it up with. This book is so angering!




(p. 209) - Translations as a major component to the building of the English language as well as the English imagination itself.


When we remember, too, that Spenser and Sidney imbibed their neo-Platonism from it's sources in fifteenth-century Italy, and that Spenser in particular derived his style from Erasums' lessons upon copia or rich and abundant style, then we may recognize the the origins of the English imagination are not wholly to be found in England itself. Christopher Wren remarked in 1694 "that our English Artists are dull enough at Inventions but when once a foreigne patterne is sett, they imitate so well that commonly they exceed the originall." It is a shrewd observation and may explain why the great English poets have excelled at translation.


Ezra Pound, a writer whose own true gift lay not in self-expression but in translation, remarked that after the Anglo-Saxon example "English literature lives on translation, it is fed by translation; every new exuberance, every new heave is stimulated by translations, every allegedly great age is an age of translations, beginning with Geoffrey Chaucer..."


For many centuries, in fact, translation itself was the characteristic activity of the English imagination. In John Donne's meditations it even became a metaphor for the sacred world. "All mankind is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the booke, but translated into a better language...God's hand is in every translation; and his hand shall binde up all our scattered leaves againe, for the Librarie where every booke shall lie open to one another."


Before the twentieth century every serious poet, or at least every poet who wished to be considered as serious, attempted translation as a significant and necessary art. These poets were, in truth, creating new works of art. It might even be claimed that the English imagination most successfully conveyed itself through the medium of translation; it stimulated fresh creation and brought renewed life into the language.



(p. 213) - more on translation


The English language was indeed strengthened and rendered more resourceful. One of the merits of translation, for example, was its encouragement of variety in both syntax and vocabulary. When John Dryden suggested that Virgil "maintains majesty in the midst of plainness" he was signalling his own ambitions for his translation, and so successful was he that in the process he manged to recast the native idiom.



I could copy the whole chapter on translation and I'm not done with it yet. I've always been amazed by how you could render words spoken in one language into another and the careful balance between the meaning of the words and preserving the rhyme, composition, and even ability to be understood. Direct translations can be fun to read but they do not hold the beauty that can be found in the original. I can't even imagine trying to do that in metered verse. All of this has given me a new respect for these men's work and I think I can agree with statements that many of the translators mentioned; Marlowe, Pope, thomas Wyatt, and others; did their best work in their translating and not their original work. The craftsmanship alone for a good translation makes me consider that possible.