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It Could Be Done

In response to:

The Unfolding Elegy from the October 14, 2010 issue

To the Editors:

I am surprised that Dan Chiasson [“The Unfolding Elegy,” NYR, October 14] describes Catullus’ ode on the death of his brother as “untranslatable.” Does he know this one, from the New Statesman of about 1974 made by Donald Hope when his brother was killed in a plane crash?

I’ve come through many countries and across many seas,
my brother, to do these sad obsequies,
to bring you posthumous presents and hopeless wishes
and make a useless speech to your dumb ashes;
My poor brother, since fate has callously
taken you, and cheated me of your company
here are these merely conventional things,
traditional sad funeral offerings:
take them—all wet with your brother’s tears—and my
last greeting and everlasting goodbye.

James Guest
Jolimont, Victoria Australia

Dan Chiasson replies:

I was characterizing Carson’s fruitful defeatism when I used the word “untranslatable,” not presenting my own view. But I was happy to read this beautiful and admirable version of the poem, nonetheless.

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