Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Perpetually Occupied in Slaughter

William Cowper, letter to Walter Bagot (January 3, 1787):
Is it possible for a man to be calm who for 3 weeks past has been perpetually occupied in slaughter. Letting out one man's bowels, smiting another through the gullet, transfixing the liver of another, and lodging an arrow in the buttock of a fourth? Read the 13th. book of the Iliad, and you will find such amusing incidents as these the subject of it, the sole subject. In order to interest myself in it and to catch the spirit of it, I had need discard all humanity. It is woeful work, and were the best poet in the world to give us at this day such a List of Killed and wounded, he would not escape universal censure, to the praise of a more enlighten'd age be it spoken. I have waded through much blood, and through much more I must wade before I shall have finish'd. I determine in the mean time to account it all very sublime, and for two reasons. First, because all the Learned think so, and 2dly, because I am to translate it. But were I an indifferent by-stander perhaps I should venture to wish that Homer had applied his wonderful powers to a less disgusting subject. He has in the Odyssey, and I long to get at it.

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