THE DEATH OF VIRGIL by Hermann Broch


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This is a strange work, difficult to classify, comprised of elements of greatness and passages of unbelievable dullness, yet withal an example of contemporary European literature, related in some ways to the work of Joyce, Mann and Rilke. Broch, an Austrian now in this country, is the author of this somnambulistic prose-poem; Jean Starr Untermeyer is its translator. It describes the journey of the dying poet Vergil from the boat that carries from Athena to Brindisim, through mobfilled streets to the palace of Caesar Augustus who has ordered the journey. There in the royal apartment, the poet lies in dream-ridden illness, waited on by a new found slave-friend, visited by his Roman intimates, called on by the emperor. They indulge in discussions of art versus statecraft, Vergil wishes to destroy his own work, he expresses apprehension of the coming of Christianity, he deprecates the coming of the new element of ""perception"". Caesar dissuades him from destroying his manuscript. And Vergil dies, with a final dedication to love and Plotia. It is difficult to convey the levels of experience this reveals, wrapped as they are in words and sentences of deep musical content, a drenched dreamlike quality. The work of a gifted, sensitive man, a recapitulation of a life and an age, but it mournfully lacks any lightness or lucidity or even great originality. Appeal to poets chiefly.

Pub Date: June 20th, 1945
Publisher: Pantheon