Fastness: A Translation from the English of Edmund Spenser


OCTOBER 15, 2017. 978-1-881163-61-9 
$17.00 Bookshop | Amazon | Pathway

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.

Reviews & Such

  • Richard Danson Brown (Open University) reviewed Fastness in Spenser Review 48.1.14 (Winter 2018): “Joyce’s version has the effect of making you reread the Cantos in the light of an almost wholly different poetic praxis.”
  • posted a review by David Toms, “Why Edmund Spenser Matters In the 21st Century,” on Jan 29, 2018: “Joyce is utterly reshaping the language to present needs. Mutability is emboldened, ennobled, in her new speech. Thanks to Joyce’s efforts, Spenser’s freak speaks once more.”
  • Fastness is a work of shifting registers, one line aping George Herbert, another reminding us that the modern world is dominated by Sky boxes; uncertain diction … and political undertones and overtones”–Andrew Hadfield in PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, Jan-Feb 2018.
  • John McAuliffe’s review of Fastness appeared in The Irish Times, Sept 23, 2017.
  • 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

About the Author

For fifty years, since publication of his first book in 1967, Trevor Joyce has been a unique voice in Irish writing. His books include with the first dream of fire they hunt the cold (New Writers’ Press, 2001), Courts of Air and Earth (Shearsman Books, 2006), What’s in Store (New Writers’ Press & The Gig, 2007), and Selected Poems 1967-2014 (Shearsman Books, 2014). Rome’s Wreck (Cusp Books, 2014) is a translation under constraint from the English of Edmund Spenser’s Ruines of Rome. Joyce co-founded, in Dublin, the New Writers’ Press and its journal The Lace Curtain in the late sixties, and then the annual SoundEye Festival in Cork in the nineties. He has been included in representative anthologies, including The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry and Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry (Oxford University Press). He was a Fulbright Scholar in 2002/3 and served as Visiting Fellow in Poetry to the University of Cambridge in 2009/10. He was elected to Aosdána, the Irish affiliation of artists, in 2004, and has been awarded in Italy the 2016 N.C. Kaser Poetry Prize. 

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