An unfortunate flaw of most Audible.com poetry anthologies is their paucity of information. Here, fortunately, we know the narrator, Mark van Doren, who does a superb and seamless job introducing each poem excerpt (all of them British) with brief enlightening information. All authors and virtually all works are identified. The latter are the usual canonical suspects, although there are a couple enjoyable surprises. Unfortunately the narrators, classically-trained British actors, are not named ??? which is a shame, since they are uniformly excellent. One example: Having heard at least a dozen recordings of Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (and if truth be told being somewhat tired of it!), I was utterly blown away by the 2 or 3 minutes excerpted here; so emotionally powerful and delicately nuanced was this performance, I'd give anything to know the reader and have the opportunity to hear his complete rendition. This delightful anthology, whose contents are presented in strict chronological order (from John Dryden to Lord Byron) is far too short: one wishes it included (where practical) the poems in their entirety.
I know very little about Russian literature, to say nothing of the challenges it poses for English translation, though I've heard said that no less a Russian literary genius than Vladimir Nabokov declared Pushkin's classical verse novel "Evgenii Onegin" "mathematically impossible to translate." Which didn't stop him from trying (albeit in prose). Mary Hobson herself told a BBC interviewer that "although I keep translating him he's absolutely untranslatable" (6 January 2004)!
Here, the justly acclaimed Shakespearean actor and Audible stalwart Neville Jason turns in a brilliant performance in the first-ever recording of Mary Hobson's amazing new translation, mostly in iambic tetrameter, of "Evgenii Onegin." Now, there have been over two dozen previous translations of this work, in various poetic and prose formats. Doctoral dissertations have been written on the challenges of translating Pushkin. All I know is that I love this current rendition — but I also very much like the equally lively Kindle version "Eugene Oneguine" by Henry Spalding (1881), which doesn't seem a bit outdated to me. In fact, it's fun (if not especially easy!) to read and compare the latter work (perhaps not line by line, but rather stanza by stanza) with Mary Hobson's Audible translation.
One of the coolest things about "Evgenii Onegin: A New Translation by Mary Hobson" is the backstory. Now 86, British homemaker and grandmother Mary Hobson went to university and graduated with a bachelor's degree in Russian in her 60s, after reading and falling in love with "War and Peace" (in English) while laid up in the hospital. She went on to complete a PhD in Russian literature when she was 74. Dr. Hobson has earned the Griboedov Prize (1996), Pushkin Gold Medal (1999), and Peredvizhnik Prize (2009), among other prestigious Russian translation awards. Guardian critic Sue Arnold recently called Mary Hobson's "Evgenii Onegin" a "BREATHTAKINGLY BRILLIANT TOUR DE FOURCE" (8 June 2012). But realizing she's getting too old for her whirlwind winter commutes to Moscow and Irkutsk ["My idea of hell is a holiday in the sun ... I never feel so good as in really freezing weather!"], Dr. Hobson has recently changed her focus from Russian to ancient Greek. Which means that over a daily breakfast of All-Bran, wholemeal toast and a pot of black coffee she now gets to read Marcus Aurelius and Plato in their original language — and perhaps even more age-appropriately, in bed.
This is one of the best Audible.com recordings in my audiobook library. If you've never read "Evgenii Onegin" but enjoy Lord Byron, there are some thematic and structural similarities to "Don Juan" and "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage." And the accompanying Naxos guide is short (15 pages) but sweet.
Born (as was Charles Dickens) in 1812; died (as did Gerard Manley Hopkins) in 1889, Robert Browning (part Romantic, part Victorian, and certainly part Modern) remains one of the most influential yet controversial literary giants of the 19th Century. Controversial? Henry James called him "a poet without a lyre." Oscar Wilde acknowledged that Browning had a lyre but that its strings were broken, famously remarking, "He used poetry as a medium for writing in prose." Yet both men admired him as a consummate creator of character, rivaling Shakespeare. These evaluations notwithstanding, those of us who vaguely remember Browning from high school as the quintessential composer of blank-verse dramatic monologues, will perhaps be surprised and delighted at the range of rhythmic -- and rhyming -- patterns the poems in this collection show. Indeed, in a market fairly saturated with wonderful E.B.B. and R. Browning offerings, it was savvy of acclaimed British actor Greg Wagland to concentrate here on shorter, lyrical poems that I, as a casual Browning fan, was unfamiliar with. But how, with the aforementioned embarrassment of riches, does one choose one Robert Browning audiobook? If, as publisher-critic Michael Schmidt has written, "we read [poetry] with our ears," I would rephrase this by saying that if we're lucky, we also hear it with our eyes. But I'm not lucky; unlike prose, I MUST HEAR poetry, and the nature of (especially) this particular poet's oeuvre is such that he demands to be heard in dramatically polished recordings such as this one by Wagland — the new kid on the Browning block. (At Audible you can also compare veteran voice actors David Timson and Patience Tomlinson's superb collaboration, with James Mason's iconic portrayals of disturbed priests and uxoricidal husbands; you can purchase 3 to 15-minute readings by Cathy Dobson, or at the other extreme Frederick Davidson's 5-hour (!) monotone marathon.) Obviously narrators differ in vocal tone and timbre, as well as interpretive approach. For these reasons alone you and I may prefer different readers. On a theoretical continuum from straight-up reading to the over-wrought ACTING so preciously satirized by Jon Lovitz's SNL sketches, Greg Wagland lands in the golden middle: not quite understated; pensive but not subdued. That said, unlike say Davidson (who always sounds like Davidson), Wagland's tone varies as it should depending upon the poem, and his interpretations are always moving and dead on. The poems on this audiobook, listed in ORDER, are: 1. The Bishop Orders his Tomb ... 2. The Lost Leader 3. Love Among the Ruins. 4. Up at a Villa ... 5. A Woman's Last Word. 6. A Toccata ... 7. Love in a Life. 8. Life in a Love. 10. Two in the Campagna 11. Dubiety 12. Apparent Failure 13. Prospice 14. Soliloquy ... 15. A Grammarian's Funeral 16. Pictor Ignatius 17. My Star. All poems but the first one rhyme. So much for high-school memories and Oscar Wilde.
An author search for "John Donne" yields 13 albums on Audible.com, most of them multi-poet anthologies. I own 4 John Donne audiobooks, including this one ??? "Poems by John Donne" (narrated by Christopher Hassall, 24 minutes) ??? plus "Richard Burton Reads the Poetry of John Donne" (35 minutes); "Love Poems" (Edward Herrmann; 2 hours 27 minutes); and "John Donne: Selected Poems" (Frederick Davidson; 3 hours).
In my opinion, the two shorter JD albums are far and away the best. You just cannot find better Donne interpreters than Hassall and Burton. These late great British actors are, alas, ill-served by three factors: the recordings are abridged (leaving the listener wanting SO much more), there's no TOC, and the poem titles are not announced. However, the audio quality of both albums is fine.
The aforementioned three problems do not plague the 5-to-6-times-longer recordings by Herrmann and Davidson: all poem titles are announced. Herrmann, an American actor, is a decent reader of John Donne, though not in Burton or Hassall's league. Unfortunately the audio fidelity of Herrmann's album is mediocre at best.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with the audio quality of Davidson's album. This distinguished British voice actor is well represented on Audible.com, but ??? and this is one BIG but ??? I cannot stand his voice. To say anything more (as I attempted to, in a past review of his "Don Juan"), would probably get this review expunged. Since the qualities that contribute to our enjoyment (or detestation) of a given narrator are mostly subjective ??? e.g., some listeners will complain about a reader's impenetrable English accent whereas others will detect no such "problem"! ??? I will simply urge you make sure you enjoy Davidson before committing to listening to him for ??? 3 hours.
But back to this page and "Poems by John Donne" (n. Christopher Hassall). It's hard to do better ??? unless you prefer Richard Burton ??? than these legendary recordings. I highly recommend this album!
I don't understand the criticisms by some other reviewers of this album's audio quality. Might they be referring to an earlier release of this album (which has been offered in several formats by a few vendors over the years)? The quality is absolutely outstanding, and the readings by Stephanie Beacham, Colm Meaney, Julian Sands, David Warner, Gabriel Byrne, Roger Rees, Minnie Driver, and Samantha Eggar are as fine as you could ever want.
There are 88 "tracks" on this album. Unfortunately Audible's space limitations preclude me from providing here a Table of Contents. What I will say is that titles of poems are introduced, but not who's narrating what: a typical (and frustrating) lapse in documentation by Audible.
Any Yeats lover should buy this new release, as roughly a quarter of the poems are not present on the 4 other Audible.com Yeats compilations.
This review is written in response to the disappointment expressed by the preceding reviewers. I own multiple Audible.com recordings of "The Rubaiyat" (including this one). Perhaps the BEST, by British actor Michael MacLiammoir, is the second poem [157-22:50] of "The World's Greatest Poetry Volume 5." It also happens to be the complete, original (= canonical) Edward Fitzgerald "translation," whereas Davies reads here an alternate, non-standard version which I consider inferior.
Initially ... only for a few seconds, really ... it was disorienting to hear "Don Juan" read by the passionate American Hollywood film actor Tyrone Power; I've gotten accustomed to hearing distinguished knights of the British stage reading the Romantic poets on Audible.com. But early 19th-century British poetry with an American accent: how dare they?!
But then, quite rapidly, things got downright spooky. The swashbuckling Power BECOMES the swashbuckling Byron. While Tyrone Power has been dead now for 51 years and Lord Byron for 185, both men died tragically young: Power at 44, Byron at 36. Both were Byronesque figures in real life, the latter no less so than his eponymous predecessor. Bisexuals both, subjects of scandal both, larger-than-life artistic talents both. And by all means DO surf the web for their portrait and photo, respectively: the two men even resemble one another!
All of this I learned only AFTER listening to this audiobook, of course. Although this is obviously a transfer of an old LP, the audio quality is superb. But it is Tyrone Power's powerfully engaging interpretive reading ... particularly the fluency and passion of the interpretations, the nuances, the super clean diction that together with Lord Byron's colloquial prose make these poems sound so modern ... which makes this one of the very best Audio.com purchases I have ever made. All Audio.com "veterans" know that even with the best source material, a mediocre (or worse) narrator can leave a bad taste in listeners' mouths with nary a thing to be done about it. Rest assured, there is no such problem here. It sounds suspiciously hyperbolical, I know, but I have to say it nonetheless: Tyrone Power was born (and died) to play Lord Byron!
Epictetus's (ca. 55 - ca. 135) profoundly influential "Enchiridion" ("Handbook"/"Manual"), which needs to be understood and fully appreciated in the context of his much longer "Discourses" and the Stoic milieu that produced it, is mangled by "co-author" Sharon Lebell into the most superficial, vapid, and anachronistic "self-help" drivel imaginable: just imagine a "Reader's Digest" or even "Highlights for Children" regurgitation of a bad CliffsNotes precis; better yet, peruse the informative negative reviews of the paper book, at Amazon.com.
It hardly helps that narrator Richard Bolles could pass as "Mr. Quaalude"; do NOT listen to this audiobook while driving! Unless you enjoy mediocre, pseudo-spiritual self-help books, I recommend purchasing the Robert Dobbin (2008) or Robin Hand (1995) translation of Epictetus's "Discourses," both of which also include the "Handbook" upon which Lebell's translation is loosely based. If you're interested solely in the original "Art of Living" sourcebook, though, read Keith Seddon's very accessible yet scholarly rigorous "Epictetus' Handbook and the Tablet of Cebes: Guides to Stoic Living" (2008). It's just a shame that neither this Seddon's book nor Dobbin's (2008) "Discourses and Selected Writings" yet exist in Audiobook format.
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