Poet, translator, essayist, and voracious reader--Kenneth Rexroth was an omnivore in the fields of literature. The brief, radiant essays of Classics Revisited discuss sixty key books that are, for Rexroth, "basic documents in the history of the imagination." Ranging from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Huckleberry Finn, these pieces (each about five pages long) originally appeared in the Saturday Review. Distinguished by Rexroth's plain, wide-awake style, Classics Revisited presents complex ideas in simple language, energized by the author's air of talking eye-to-eye with his reader. Elastic, at home in several languages, Rexroth is not bound by East or West; he leaps nimbly from Homer to The Mahabharata, from Lady Murasaki to Stendhal. It is only when we pause for breath that we notice his special affinities: for Casanova, lzaak Walton, Macbeth, Icelandic sagas, classical Japanese poetry. He has read everything. In Sterne, he sees traces of the Buddha; in Fielding, hints of Confucius. "Life may not be optimistic," Rexroth maintains in his introduction, "but it certainly is comic, and the greatest literature presents man wearing the two conventional masks; the grinning and the weeping faces that decorate theatre prosceniums. What is the face behind the mask? Just a human face--yours or mine. That is the irony of it all--the irony that distinguishes great literature--it is all so ordinary."
A reissue of Rexroth's 1969 "Classics Revisited" series, which originally appeared in Saturday Review. Rexroth, the late poet, translator, and essayist, had presented the series as "basic documents in the history of the imagination." They are that, ranging from Gilgamesh, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Beowulf, down through Tacitus, Plutarch, and Marcus Aurelius, across the centuries to Malory, Cervantes, Montaigne, and Shakespeare, to the moderns, such as Flaubert, Rimbaud, Mark Twain, and Chekhov - 60 selections in all. His purpose, which emerges clearly throughout, is to show how all great literature, demonstrates, as he says, "a human face - yours and mine." The great irony that he discovers as the common distinguisher of all great literature is that "it is all so ordinary. "This ordinariness stems from the fact that we are all so ordinary and all great writing is, simply, a chronicle of Man. The bond of mankind spans millenia, so that, as Rexroth writes in his Livy essay, "both Corneille and Henry Adams look to Livy for their patterns of contemporary noble conduct. "Rexroth did not hold to a naive vision of mankind as never-changing, however. In his essay on Chekhov, for instance, he compares Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides to Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov: ". . .If we go directly from a performance of [Antigone] to Chekhov's Three Sisters, it is difficult not to believe that the men of Classic times were different from us, a different kind of men." The omissions are as intriguing as the included works. Virgil's Aeneid, for example, is not cited; neither are Aristotle, Pascal, Samuel Johnson, or Charles Dickens. Of those he chose, Rexroth wrote so intelligently that reading through this volume should propel anyone straight to the Classics section of their bookshop. (It might be added that his literary executors have discovered notes for a second volume which, hopefully, they will put together soon.) (Kirkus Reviews)
Number Of Pages: 228
Published: 17th May 1986
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 20.47 x 13.28 x 1.58
Weight (kg): 0.25