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

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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; 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....
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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; 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.
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Editorial Reviews

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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
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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: 1,479,659
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (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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Table of Contents

What's Playing Tonight 3
Character Analysis of Mary in Earlier Life 4
At Lake Hopatcong 5
Wolf Woman 10
Little Vietnam Futurist Poem 11
Song of the Drunkard 12
Movie Star Peter at the Supper for Street People 13
On a Poem 15
Wallenda 17
Backyard Dog 19
The License Plate 21
An Alphabet 22
My Harvest 25
An Autumn Afternoon 26
Courtesy 27
Down by the River 29
Halfte des Lebens 31
An die Parzen 32
Roman Elegy X 33
News from Mount Amiata 34
About Sylvia's Stories and Teaching 37
She Speaks Across the Years 38
That Evening at Dinner 40
Multas per gentes 44
Shubshi-meshre-Shakkan 45
Old People 53
Janus 54
First Night 55
The Chair 57
The Late-Hour Poem 63
The Bird 65
The Soldier 66
At a Bar 68
Out in the Cold 70
A Farewell 71
In the Dark 72
Learning from History 74
Augury 77
The Embarkation for Cythera 78
On the Way to the Island 79
Quand vous serez bien vieille 80
The Crippled Girl, The Rose 81
Musings of Mind and Body 82
Poems of Marianne Moore 85
Johnson on Pope 86
Dog and Fox 87
The Unawkward Singers 88
What It Does 89
By the Sea Shore 93
The Beach at Evening 94
Descriptive 95
Aubade 96
Envoi 97
A Tomb at Tarquinia 103
At the Bus Stop; Eurydice 104
Ellery Street 105
My Mother's Dying 107
Several Voices 108
A Night-Time River Road 109
On a Sunday Morning 113
Sculptures 114
Evening News I 115
Evening News II 116
Caprimulgidae 121
A Charm 122
On Haystack Mountain 123
The Waiting 124
Table Talk 125
Cythera 126
In Eden 127
A Walk in the Woods 128
Seen Through a Window 129
Out at Lanesville 130
To Sestius 135
La Farandola dei Fanciulli 137
In Balance 138
A Telephone Call 141
At the Hospital 142
At the Hospital 143
To Sally 144
At the Hospital 145
After Spotsylvania Court House 149
Photographs from a Book: Six Poems 151
Graveyard 157
Counterpart 158
Rereading Old Writing 163
Strabo Reading Megasthenes 169
Dives 170
The Guest Ellen at the Supper for Street People 172
Committee 174
Civilization and Its Discontents 175
The Blind People 176
The Proselyte 177
A Young Woman 181
Goodnight 182
Nocturnal 183
Abyss 184
Name 185
Of Rhyme 186
Epigram 187
Autumn 188
Garden Dog 189
Horses 191
Unos Caballos 192
Roof 193
A Morning Song 194
Of Violets 195
Levis Exsurgit Zephirus 197
Herbsttag 198
The Lesson 199
In the Garden 200
Roman Elegy VIII 203
When We Were Children 204
Mnemosyne 209
Harvesters Resting 213
Mary in Old Age 214
Prayer to the Gods of the Night 224
Envoi 226
from Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse (1992)
Tablet VII 229
Tablet VIII 237
from The Odes of Horace: A Translation (1997)
To Leuconoe (i.11) 245
To Varus (i.18) 247
To the Republic (i.14) 249
Of Cleopatra (i.37) 250
Of the God's Power (i.34) 252
To Tyndaris (i.17) 253
To His Lyre (i.32) 255
To Virgil (i.24) 256
from The Eclogues of Virgil (1999)
Eclogue Five 261
Eclogue Nine 267
Two Epistles of Horace (1998-)
To Florus (ii.2) 273
Envoi (i.13) 284
Notes 287
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2000

    New Yorker Book Award nomination

    Nominated for the New Yorker Book Award for Poetry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2000

    Beautiful, important work!

    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.

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