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Over the Wine-Dark Sea …

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Monday would have been the 100th birthday of a poet whose translation of Homer’s “The Odyssey” brought me one of the really memorable reading experiences of a lifetime.

Robert S. Fitzgerald, who awoke to his interest in poetry at a high school in Springfield, Illinois and whose work translating Homer’s Greek into English – while maintaining the original poem’s meter, which wasn’t easy to do – was one of the Library of Congress’ former poets laureate (in those days, the title was “consultant in poetry”). 

My encounter with Fitzgerald’s dactylic hexameter also came in high school.  My father had already pointed me to his collection of poetry – from Shakespeare and Robert Frost to Edna St. Vincent Millay and e.e. cummings – but it was an amazing high-school English teacher, Mary Burns, who told me about the Fitzgerald translation of the Odyssey and lent me her personal copy of it, just out in paperback.

I blew through that thing in about three days, reading between classes and in the evening – the translation just flowed like a river. Later I went out and got my own copy.  And I kept finding more and more poetry to enjoy.

If you love poetry, the Library of Congress has much to offer you – from evening readings by major poets to its poetry authors at the National Book Festival to lower-key “Poetry at Noon” events at the Library. 

Happy Birthday, and a figurative hecatomb, to Prof. Fitzgerald, who died in 1985.

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