Facsimiles of Time: Essays on Poetry and Translation

Publication Year



Eric L. Ormsby, Ph.D. 1981

Eric Ormsby is a poet who writes prose that is both graceful and hard-headed. With an outspoken contempt for cant and literary persiflage, Ormsby ranges over a surprising array of writers and literatures. Each essay involves a new and sometimes startling viewpoint, whether on Hart Crane’s homosexuality and its effect on his poems or the strange and twisted, yet redeeming, place which Shakespeare held in his own family history. From American and Canadian poetry to Classical Arabic literature Ormsby brings a fresh slant and incisive expression to his prose.

What was Franz Kafka doing at a ski resort in the last years of his life and what did he do there besides tobogganing? Everyone knows that Jorge Luis Borges was bookish, but did you know he was bloodthirsty as well? How is Pat Lowther’s posthumous reputation as a poet connected with the brutal circumstances of her murder? These and other mysteries are explored in the 17 elegant essays that make up Eric Ormby’s new book.



Part I: Essays on Poetry

Poetry as Isotope: The Hidden Life of Words
The Last Elizabethan: Hart Crane at 100
Hart and Fangs (on Marianne Moore’s and Hart Crane’s Letters)
Proved upon the Pulse (John Keats)
Posthumous Impresario (William Butler Yeats)
A Sad and Angry Summa (Geoffrey Hill)
The Dark Regime of Paradise (David Solway)
In the Peninsula of Self (Pat Lowther)
The Magic of Happenstance (Roo Borson)

Part II: Essays on Translation

Franz Kafka and the Trip to Spindelmuhle
Flypaper for Ghosts (Robert Musil)
Jorge Luis Borges and the Plural I
Jackals in Parentheses (Eugenio Montale)
A Sideshow of One (Umberto Saba)

Part III: Essays on Classical Arabic Literature

Gardens for the Sleeves
Questions for Stones: On Classical Arabic Poetry

Part IV: A Memoir

The Place of Shakespeare in a House of Pain


“From the heights of a sand dune in the desert to the achievements of Hart Crane and the minutae of a letter by Marianne Moore, Ormsby presents us with a world that is always fresh, and continually fascinating.”—Ian Ferrier, Montreal Review of Books

“Most of these essays are really book reviews, but they are hardly standard newspaper fare: they are long and intellectually robust pieces, most of which originally appeared in The New Criterion. Nevertheless, their primary purpose is evaluative, and as such they often reveal more about a particular edition or translator than they do about the writers who are their ostensible subjects. The finest piece in Facsimiles of Time, though, is more personal than scholarly: ‘‘The Place of Shakespeare in a House of Pain,’’ an unforgettable memoir of Ormsby’s childhood in a dysfunctional Florida matriarchy, in which memorization of Shakespeare’s works was considered a prime social duty. The Bard’s language entered the daily speech of the family, and vitriolic arguments were peppered with cutting tags from the plays. This bizarre marriage of language and family goes a long way toward explaining the remarkable qualities of Ormsby’s poetry, but it also makes for a fantastic conclusion to this fascinating and rigorously intelligent collection.”—Jack Illingworth, amazon.ca

“Always, with Ormsby, things come down to the primacy of the word -- the sounds which shape and give ultimate authority. This is refreshing. It’s sophisticated yet not done in a complex or over-technical way. It helps to eliminate the general and abstract at the same time as it shows the way such things can and do transform the ordinary into something greater, more permanent, able, through the shaping, to encompass and embody experience. It’s admirable criticism and scholarship, certainly, but with the added dimensions of a poet’s working knowledge, of fluent multilingual abilities, and a determined search for the almost sacramental autonomy of word and form. It’s a heady brew.”—Chris Wiseman, Books in Canada

“Ormsby is one of the most talented poets writing in the English language at this time -- that is to say, not one of the hundreds of fine poets writing, or one of the finest Canadian poets -- but one of a handful of the best meditative poets writing in the English language.”—Norma Doidge, Books in Canada

“... his poems afford the rare pleasure of listening to a polished yet deeply humane sensibility respond, in language of exhilarating verve, to whatever it seizes on or despairs of.”—Ben Downing, The New Criterion

“... Ormsby is one of the two or three best English-language poets we [Canada] can fairly lay claim to. A fact that should be recognized someday.”—Alex Good & Steven W. Beattie, The Afterword

“[Ormsby] is a most excellent poet, resonant and delicately exact with words and objects. Ormsby’s reverent attention to things as they are lights up every page with a glow.”—John Updike


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Erin, Ont.