Friday, January 24, 2014

A Homeric Faulkner simile

It’s in As I Lay Dying (1930). “Really a Homeric simile,” says my note in the margin. Darl Bundren is the narrator:

A feather dropped near the front door will rise and brush along the ceiling, slanting backward, until it reaches the down-turning current at the back door: so with voices. As you enter the hall, they sound as though they were speaking out of the air about your head.
It’s fitting that a Homeric simile should appear in this novel. As the 1990 Vintage edition of the novel notes,
When asked about source of his title, Faulkner would sometimes quote from memory the speech of Agamemnon to Odysseus in the Odyssey, Book XI: “ As I lay dying the woman with the dog’s eyes would not close my eyes for me as I descended into Hades.”
The woman is Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra. I’m unable to find a translation that matches Faulkner’s.

[Homeric simile, or epic simile: an extended comparison. It presents the unfamiliar (actions and things from days of old, the epic past) in familiar terms: a fallen warrior likened, say, to a young tree swiftly cut down. Homer’s similes invoke the world of the farm, the countryside, everyday realities. They are occasions for the poet to show his stuff: a student of mine (whose name I wish I could remember) once likened them to guitar solos.]

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

One meaning of a riff was more than just a lick or variation, but rather an extended comment on something. Maybe jazz can be Homeric?

Michael Leddy said...

I’d say that the work of the improvising musician, drawing upon a lifetime’s art, is not far at all from the work of an oral poet.