Poetry. Translation. The Mutability Cantos
have long been recognized as Edmund Spenser's crowning achievement, and along with his unfinished Faerie Queene
, of which they appear to be an isolated fragment, they constitute a founding text of English poetry, and of the entire Romantic movement. In FASTNESS, Trevor Joyce gives us a poem which his subtitle describes as "A Translation from the English" of the Mutability Cantos.
His introduction justifies this provocation on historical and poetic grounds. Spenser migrated to Ireland in 1580 and, as administrator and settler colonist, he served as an intrinsic part of England's colonial enterprise, and a participant in its barbarities. It was in his castle at Kilcolman in north County Cork that he wrote most of the Faerie Queene
, including the Mutability Cantos,
and it was in that Irish landscape that he situated many of the idylls of his epic poem. It was there too that he composed his "View of the Present State of Ireland," a prose tract which advocated the conquest of Ireland through a savage policy of scorched earth and induced famine, which provided a model for Cromwell's campaign fifty years after Spenser's death. It is the break made by Cromwell's conquest, and the massacres and ethnic cleansing which accompanied it, that radically alters the meaning of Spenser's text viewed in historical retrospect, and justifies calling FASTNESS a translation. Joyce's poem turns allegory inside out, foregrounding the political narrative which underlies the mythological surface of Spenser's text. The Mutability Cantos
grafted Elizabethan colonial politics onto a base of classical mythology. In FASTNESS, Joyce strips out Spenser's poetic dialect, and refits the narrative with modern poetic vernacular, viewing this monument of English culture through four centuries of British imperial and colonial history.
"Trevor Joyce's superb introduction to his translation of Spenser's English into our English tells us what we need to know about Spenser's time, his method, his politics, Ireland then, and the making of a poetry that is twined around sound, syntax, and sense. This is a bracing book held fast by multitudinous events spinning in unison. We see how the gods behaved towards Earth (a clod of turf in space) savaging her with bad weather. Wild Irish weather from mountains to sea, season to season, day to day: ever mutable. The held-fastness of the words together give indigenous a new poetic meaning."-- Fanny Howe
"Part of a series of oversettings of Edmund Spenser's work that commenced with Joyce's Rome's Wreck
(2014), a monosyllabic 'translation into English' of the sonnet sequence The Ruines of Rome,
this new rendering of Spenser's The Mutability Cantos
is nothing less than a radical postcolonial Irish poem. In FASTNESS, Joyce gives us back Spenser's language both ruined and revived, as Spenser, the settler colonial official and land- grabber of Kilcolman Castle, Cork, plotted the ruin of Irish culture, language and people. Like Blake's Milton, FASTNESS is Spenser's poetry with sympathy for the devil, a language of Mutability, fast in its vernacular and in its rollicking narrative, and holding fast, as Joyce always does, to the ample resources of the language that its ruination reveals. Read, and enjoy the ride."--David Lloyd