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  #31  
Old 09-13-2017, 08:20 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I'll just agree with AZ on the point that for much of the history of literature, over much of the planet, originality was not at all what writers and their audiences seem to have expected. In the European tradition, with which I am least unfamiliar, this is true from Aeschylus to Virgil to Marie de France to Racine. Yeats's "When you are old and grey..." is, for a good half of the poem, Ronsard.
That point seems worth making in this discussion.

True wit is nature to advantage dressed;
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed.


Cheers,
John

Last edited by John Isbell; 09-13-2017 at 08:28 AM. Reason: correcting Pope
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  #32  
Old 09-13-2017, 05:58 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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It is a conversation, but even if it were true that half of Yeats' "When You Are Old" is Ronsard's, this isn't quite the same thing as, say, a poet taking a teenaged girl's poem and merely cutting it, or the example given above. Chaucer and Shakespeare stole plots, stole lines, but reshaped them. To me that isn't plagiarism. That is the heart of intertexuality.

And, just for comparison's sake:

Ronsard
Quand vous serez bien vieille

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant :
Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j’étais belle.

Lors, vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille réveillant,
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle.

Je serai sous la terre et fantôme sans os :
Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos :
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,

Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie.

Yeats

"When You Are Old"

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Notice here that Yeats' title draws the explicit connection to an educated reader, but that rather than parrot him he takes the superficial similarities and goes in different direction within a pretty established poetic motif.

I'm sympathetic to the arguments of intertexuality, and to the invention of "originality." Frankly, I don't think any translation of another's poem, for instance, should neglect the translator. The poem is a synthesis rather than a literal carrying over. Any poems I translate carry their own title, and have "after [x]" after them for that very reason: the French poem is Verlaine's, but what's in front of you is something else. But I'm unsympathetic to more than an unattributed line or phrase swipe, especially in one's own language, and especially when the thief is the powerful figure taking something from the less powerful. Random similarities in phrasing is one thing, but most of the examples given in Matt's article are more than that.
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  #33  
Old 09-13-2017, 06:23 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Yes, my little point is twofold: first, the simple one that much - not to say most - great art is built in conversation with the past, and second, that auctoritates for one's plots and so forth were fundamental to art around much of the planet before say 1780. As I recall, educated Japanese men composed little poems in Chinese, to demonstrate taste, for a good part of the early modern period. For Europe, I refer the curious to E.R. Curtius's European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages.
Yeats is an example of the former more than the latter, and I think a pretty good one. But we speak to an extent at cross purposes.

Cheers,
John
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  #34  
Old 09-14-2017, 12:04 AM
Kyle Norwood Kyle Norwood is offline
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Only the first 2 1/2 lines of "When You Are Old" parallel Ronsard; the next 9 1/2 lines go their own way. Ronsard is one of the most celebrated French poets, and a fair number of Yeats's readers would have been familiar with him, so Yeats couldn't have thought he could keep the origin of the poem a secret. By today's standards, Yeats should have identified his source in an endnote.

If today's standards are not inherently right, neither are they inherently wrong. They're just today's standards. Today's standards allow a degree of sexual explicitness that would have been considered appalling in many times and places. We're not right or wrong about that either; we're just who we are. Until there's wide agreement that stealing poems is okay, today's standards prevail, and writers should cite their non-obvious sources, whatever their personal views of the matter might be. If they don't, they're asking for trouble.

Last edited by Kyle Norwood; 09-14-2017 at 12:06 AM. Reason: added thought
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  #35  
Old 09-14-2017, 03:04 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Yes, the endnote convention was already available to Yeats, as T.S. Eliot makes apparent in The Waste Land - Eliot, who also said great poets steal. But as you say, Yeats likely felt his conversation with the past - which it is - was apparent. I constantly write in conversation with the past, and hope to produce some good stuff along the way. Art in which the past is not apparent - and plenty of recent American poetry fits this definition - risks seeming shallow and ungrounded sub specie aeternitatis. As formalists, we are most of us here in constant conversation with the dead.
I also like Andrew's rather different point about power relationships, which seems a distinction worth making.

Cheers,
John
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  #36  
Old 09-14-2017, 05:30 AM
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Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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Yes, Andrew's mention of power relations is excellent and should be the last say on the matter.
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  #37  
Old 09-14-2017, 06:36 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I am reluctant ever to call for the last word on a matter. As I said, I think Andrew makes an important point. This does not prevent other important points being made, by whoever it might be, in the open conversation I welcome as a key achievement of civilization. By all means, let conversation continue.

Cheers,
John
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