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Reflections on a lost poem and its rediscovery by contemporary poets Gilgamesh is the most ancient long poem known to exist It is also the newest classic in the canon of world literature Lost for centuries to the sands of the Middle East but found again in the 1850s it tells the story of a great king his heroism and his eventual defeat It is a story of monsters gods and cataclysms and of intimate friendship and love Acclaimed literary historian Michael Schmidt provides a uniue meditation on the rediscovery of Gilgamesh and its profound influence on poets todaySchmidt describes how the poem is a work in progress even now an undertaking that has drawn on the talents and obsessions of an unlikely cast of characters from archaeologists and museum curators to tomb raiders and jihadis Fragments of the poem incised on clay tablets were scattered across a huge expanse of desert when it was recovered in the nineteenth century The poem had to be reassembled its languages deciphered The discovery of a pre Noah flood story was front page news on both sides of the Atlantic and the poem's allure only continues to grow as additional cuneiform tablets come to light Its translation interpretation and integration are ongoingIn this illuminating book Schmidt discusses the special fascination Gilgamesh holds for contemporary poets arguing that part of its appeal is its captivating otherness He reflects on the work of leading poets such as Charles Olson Louis Zukofsky and Yusef Komunyakaa whose own encounters with the poem are revelatory and he reads its many translations and editions to bring it vividly to life for readersReflections on a lost poem and its rediscovery by contemporary poets Gilgamesh is the most ancient long poem known to exist It is also the newest classic in the canon of world literature Lost for centuries to the sands of the Middle East but found again in the 1850s it tells the story of a great king his heroism and his eventual defeat It is a story of monsters gods and cataclysms and of intimate friendship and love Acclaimed literary historian Michael Schmidt provides a uniue meditation on the rediscovery of Gilgamesh and its profound influence on poets todaySchmidt describes how the poem is a work in progress even now an undertaking that has drawn on the talents and obsessions of an unlikely cast of characters from archaeologists and museum curators to tomb raiders and jihadis Fragments of the poem incised on clay tablets were scattered across a huge expanse of desert when it was recovered in the nineteenth century The poem had to be reassembled its languages deciphered The discovery of a pre Noah flood story was front page news on both sides of the Atlantic and the poem's allure only continues to grow as additional cuneiform tablets come to light Its translation interpretation and integration are ongoingIn this illuminating book Schmidt discusses the special fascination Gilgamesh holds for contemporary poets arguing that part of its appeal is its captivating otherness He reflects on the work of leading poets such as Charles Olson Louis Zukofsky and Yusef Komunyakaa whose own encounters with the poem are revelatory and he reads its many translations and editions to bring it vividly to life for readersReflections on a lost poem and its rediscovery by contemporary poets Gilgamesh is the most ancient long poem known to exist It is also the newest classic in the canon of world literature Lost for centuries to the sands of the Middle East but found again in the 1850s it tells the story of a great king his heroism and his eventual defeat It is a story of monsters gods and cataclysms and of intimate friendship and love Acclaimed literary historian Michael Schmidt provides a uniue meditation on the rediscovery of Gilgamesh and its profound influence on poets todaySchmidt describes how the poem is a work in progress even now an undertaking that has drawn on the talents and obsessions of an unlikely cast of characters from archaeologists and museum curators to tomb raiders and jihadis Fragments of the poem incised on clay tablets were scattered across a huge expanse of desert when it was recovered in the nineteenth century The poem had to be reassembled its languages deciphered The discovery of a pre Noah flood story was front page news on both sides of the Atlantic and the poem's allure only continues to grow as additional cuneiform tablets come to light Its translation interpretation and integration are ongoingIn this illuminating book Schmidt discusses the special fascination Gilgamesh holds for contemporary poets arguing that part of its appeal is its captivating otherness He reflects on the work of leading poets such as Charles Olson Louis Zukofsky and Yusef Komunyakaa whose own encounters with the poem are revelatory and he reads its many translations and editions to bring it vividly to life for readers


5 thoughts on “Schmidt M Gilgamesh The Life of a Poem

  1. says:

    Schmidt is the head of Carcanet Press and brings a poet's view to this 'essay' on the ancient poem Gilgamesh The main body of the book essay is a study of each of the 12 tablets on which the poem now survives It is book ended by quite a bit of introduction and de briefing It weighs in at about 150 pages of modest size text about 45 hours of readingHis poetic perspective reflects his preferred type of poetry precision measurement construction Poetry is not woolly but accurate ie can be right or wrong Early on he notes that he first read this poem as a student when he was keen on Zufkosky Olson and Bunting all poets notable for their accurate construction He presents Gilgamesh as a poem that shares that concern for accuracy At the end Schmidt distinguishes his book on the poem from Ziolkowski's 2011 study of Gilgamesh as a cultural 'brand' the various creative uses to which it has been put since the fragmentary tablets were re discovered in the nineteenth century Schmidt wants to give us the poem not the cultural mis translationsHe starts by dismissing versions of the poem by those unfamiliar with the various Assyrian languages He wants a translation to make it clear that there are gaps in the text not to paper over them He doesn't want a translation that interprets the book for our culture he wants the original detail to be conveyed It is the odd bits that draw the attention that reveal the construction and delineate its precise form make it distinctive For example he is keen to tell us that the numbers 3 and 7 occur frequently in the poem and that Gilgamesh is described as being nearly as wide as he is tall We can only guess at the cultural value originally attached to these details if there was a single original As it is they are what make the poem distinctiveUnsurprisingly he is fairly dismissive of Shwerner's poem The Tablets which brilliantly mocks the earnest focus on accuracy in culturally alien texts Oddly though he mocks Schwerner's poem for its fake textual apparatus which can't be too different from that used by one of his own Carcanet poets Philip Terry in his book The Dictator a poem Schmidt quite justifiably likesOverall I think I got quite a good sense of the poetry of accuracy from the way Schmidt approached this ancient poem He doesn't spell this out himself it is a case of show not tell Perhaps what I haven't made clear is that Schmidt writes well clear direct and helpful His focus on precision is never dry or dull I recommend this