The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 10. His Translations
Like Cowper and Longfellow, and so many others, Bryant turned, in later life, to a long task of translation, in his case Homer, as relief from sorrow. The literary interest was to see if he might not, by closeness to the original and simplicity of straightforward modern English, supersede the looseness and artificial Miltonic pomp of Cowper. His translation, by detailed comparison line for line with the Greek and with the English poet, will be found to be exactly what Bryant intended it. By block comparison of book for book, or version for version, it will be found to be the better translation, from the point of view of limpid and consequent story-telling—perhaps the best in English verse. Of Arnold’s four Homeric characteristics, rapidity of movement, plainness of style, simplicity of ideas, nobility of manner, Bryant’s translation is inadequate mainly in the first and the last, but the Homer is, in any case, a proof of intellectual alertness, scholarship, and technical skill. All his translations, many of them made before Longfellow’s now widely-recognized activities as spokesman in America for European letters, are a witness to Bryant’s knowledge of foreign tongues and literatures, to his part in the culturization of America, to the breadth of his taste and a certain dramatic adaptability (for the originals that attracted him had often not much of the specific qualities of his own verse), and to his all but impeccable artistry.