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Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations
     

Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations

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by David Ferry
 

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David Ferry's Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations provides a wonderful gathering of the work of one of the great American poetic voices of the twentieth century. It brings together his new poems and translations, collected here for the first time; his books Strangers and Dwelling Places in their entirety;

Overview

David Ferry's Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations provides a wonderful gathering of the work of one of the great American poetic voices of the twentieth century. It brings together his new poems and translations, collected here for the first time; his books Strangers and Dwelling Places in their entirety; selections from his first book, On the Way to the Island; and selections from his celebrated translations of the Babylonian epic Gilgamesh, the Odes of Horace, and of Virgil's Eclogues. This is Ferry's fullest and most resonant book, demonstrating the depth and breadth of forty years of a life in poetry.

"Though Ferry is perhaps best known for his eloquent translations of Horace and Virgil, "Of No Country I Know" demonstrates that he deserves acclaim for his own poetry as well."—Carmela Ciuraru, New York Times Book Review

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
The Unknown Region

David Ferry spends quality time with dead poets. An acclaimed translator of Virgil, Horace, and the Mesopotamian epic, Gilgamesh, he's also an accomplished scribe in his own right. Of No Country I Know gathers works from Ferry's four-decade career into an outstanding collection. It features selections from three books of translations and his first poetry volume, entire reprints of Dwelling Places and On the Way to the Island, and 60 pages of new material. This is Ferry's most vital offering to date.

His talent transports classic themes into a contemporary template framed by urgency, poetic timelessness, and a robust yet tender skepticism. Ferry glances into the common at original, illuminating angles. "Coldly the sun shone down on the moonlit scene," begins "Committee"'s inversion of the expected:

        Our committee stirred uneasily in its sleep.
        Better not know too much too soon all about it.
        The knees of grammar and syntax touched each other,
        Furtive in pleasure under the oaken table.

Each poem reveals this delight in language's rhythms and formal grace. In Ferry's hands grammar and syntax become the bearers of pleasure, flitting and discrete against any committee's rote communication. Although themes, settings, and situations shift with each poem, a thoughtful and unhurried voice links works penned a generation apart. Skipping to "The Soldier", written 33 years before, one discovers Ferry's deceptively simple insight fully developed:

        Saturday afternoon. The barracks is almost empty.
        The soldiers are almost all on overnight pass.
        There is only me, writing this letter to you,
        And one other soldier, down at the end of the room,
        And a spider, that hangs by the thread of his guts,
        His tenacious and delicate guts...

Ferry is adept at compressing complexity while draping his sentiment in unassuming words. He's a poet of the people who neither baffles nor stoops to the audience. "Courtesy" describes a one-on-one basketball game outside a house filled with partygoers: "The easy way he dribbles the ball...to make it / Easy for the kid to be in synch; / Giving and taking, perfectly understood." Ferry honors the sharing of life's tiny details, moments of communication between individuals in motion. Nevertheless, his writing is underpinned by intimations of solitude and silence. A zeal for the social grapples with knowledge of a fundamentally isolated existence. "A Night-Time River Road" concludes: "Out in the dark the river / Was telling itself a story. / There in the car nobody / Could tell where we were going." He is an honest poet, in language, idea, and execution.

A self-described "nice Boston Brahmin elderly man," some of Ferry's most stirring verse depicts women near the end of terminal illness. His eye for physical and psychological nuance shines with sensitivity:

        We got her seated in a chair that was placed
        A little too far from the nearest table,
        At the edge of the abyss, and there she sat,
        Exposed, her body the object of our attention--
        The heaviness of it, the helpless graceless leg,
        The thick stocking, the leg brace, the medical shoe...

A true poet, Ferry appraises pain with gentleness. Life's ungainly declinations are made all the more wrenching by contrast with the stanzas' balanced architecture. "That Evening At Dinner"'s conclusion operates doubly as a metaphor for Ferry's practice of quiet, haunting lyricism:

        The dinner was delicious, fresh greens, and reds,
        And yellows, produce of the season due,
        And fish from the nearby sea; and there were also
        Ashes to be eaten, and dirt to drink.

He's an Epicurean to the last. The autumnal mix of fullness and decay is a touchstone theme, and several Hölderlin and Rilke translations explore it with breathtaking beauty.

Ferry's rendering of Horace's odes and the eclogues of Virgil are notable for their warmth and respect. Occasional liberties in translation (a Ouija board appears in one, a barroom scene in another) are only to ensure that the classics communicate across time and, magically, resonate with that distance (from "Ode i.11"):

        Take good care of your household.
     The time we have is short.
        Cut short your hopes for longer.
     Now as I say these words,
        Time has already fled.

Of No Country I Know eschews ornamentation and exhortation, wisely opting to embrace the demotic. Ferry hones in on the magnificent and tragic kerneled within the everyday. In one poem the author refers to himself as "utterly benign." Sarcasm is absent, hyperbole hard to find, and common incidents bloom into revealing vistas. It is perhaps this union of humility and emotional depth that makes his poetry so welcoming. Through dead languages he nurtures newness, in the ordinary he finds valor. Of No Country I Know is elegant proof that Ferry stands faithful to the profession as translator and poet.

—Jace Clayton

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ferry's rapturously received translations, most recently The Eclogues of Virgil (Forecasts, June 28) and The Odes of Horace, have won the respect and admiration of peers and audience alike. The appearance of this uneven collection thus won't do much harm, and will introduce many new readers to the better poems here. Ferry tends to work in the academic-domestic mode, where the cares and rhetorics of study, family, travel and worship commingle, and occasionally produce a rebellious spark: "The answer to that question you asked?/ The whole world in His Hands? Fucked Up? Again?" Poems from his first two collections On the Way to the Island (1960) and Strangers (1983) seem very much of their respective eras, with the former's formalist impulses seeking an outlet in dailiness, and the latter's post-confessional ruminations forcing some embarrassing repetitions, as in "A Telephone Call": "A strong smell of dog, of my dog's death;/ My old dog is lying there, giving me lessons in dying.// I talked to my father, my father called me tonight:/ The sour breath of the telephone telling the truth." The collection is rounded out by poems and translations from the past decade, with a section of new work at the head. The uninitiated will be better served by seeking out the full-length translations, but many lines from the new poems suggest that Ferry's best work is yet to come: "The page is green. Like water words are drifting/ Across the notebook page on a day in June/ Of irresistible good weather. Everything's easy." (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Carmela Ciuraru
Ferry's poems are contemplative, humble and keenly perceptive...Though Ferry is perhaps best known for his eloquent translations of Horace and Virgil, Of No Country I Know demonstrates that he deserves acclaim for his own poetry as well.
The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226244877
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
11/28/1999
Series:
Phoenix Poets Series
Edition description:
1
Pages:
310
Sales rank:
1,356,752
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

David Ferry was born in Orange, New Jersey in 1924. He is the author of a number of books of poetry and has translated several works from classical languages. Currently he is the Sophie Chantal Hart Professor Emeritus of English at Wellesley College, as well as a visiting lecturer in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Boston University and a distinguished visiting scholar at Suffolk University.

His book of new and selected poems and translations, Of No Country I Know, published in 1999 by the University of Chicago Press, received the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress.

In 2011 he was awarded the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement. Other awards include the Sixtieth Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets, the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, the Teasdale Prize for Poetry, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Ingram Merrill Award, and the William Arrowsmith Translation Prize from AGNI magazine. He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998.

He won the 2012 National Book Award for Poetry for Bewilderment.

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Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nominated for the New Yorker Book Award for Poetry.
Guest More than 1 year ago
David Ferry's Of No Country I Know is one of the most interesting, beautiful and mature collections of poetry to come out in years. As a reader familiar with Ferry's masterful translations of Gilgamesh, Horace and Virgil, I was not surprised by the authority of voice, subtlety of perception, and depth of feeling of this volume, yet the book continues to stun me for its brilliance. Of No Country I Know is a major contribution to modern poetry.