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Family Album


Two-thirds of the way through the book, Carson finally solves for us the riddle of that opening Latin poem. It is Catullus 101, an elegy the Roman poet wrote in memory of his own brother, who also died overseas. “I have loved this poem since the first time I read it in high-school Latin class,” Carson writes, “and I have tried to translate it a number of times. Nothing in English can capture the passionate, slow surface of a Roman elegy. No one (even in Latin) can approximate Catullan diction, which at its most sorrowful has an air of deep festivity.”

This strikes me as the secret ambition of Nox, to produce a worthy translation of Catullus 101—not merely on a line-by-line level (although Carson does include her own moving translation of the poem) but in a deeper sense. Carson wants to reproduce, over the space of an entire book, the untranslatable qualities she most admires in Catullus: the passionate, slow surface; the deep festivity buried in the sorrow. She wants to reanimate dead things spoken in a dead language. “A brother never ends,” she writes. “I prowl him. He does not end.”

By Anne Carson
New Directions. $29.95.


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