Contemporary English poet Alice Oswald’s Memorial (2011) is a beautiful, utterly sensitive rewriting of Homer’s Iliad. In her short introduction written to the poem, Oswald calls her work a “translation of the Iliad’s atmosphere, not its story,” openly admitting the poem’s “reckless dismissal of seven-eights of the Iliad.” Oswal
...d’s adaptation is not about the heroes of the Iliad; her protagonists are the unknown soldiers going into battle in the Trojan war, dying on the battle field. It is to these soldiers that Memorial pays homage to, recalling and reciting their names, addressing them in the tradition of Greek mourning laments. The poem thus becomes an “oral cemetery” with an attempt to remember the dead. I am interested in the lyrical similes following the soldiers’ obituaries, similes that function as fissures or “openings” of the narrative, as Oswald herself calls them. I argue that the similes, which liken the dead to natural phenomena and the natural world (plants, animals), carry the function of “saving” the dead bodies of soldiers from final death, transforming them into new forms of life. This way, Oswald’s adaptation understands death as the closure of one form of life and the beginning of another, the dead men’s souls living on in new shapes of the natural world. Her repetitive similes partly take the place of the lost life narratives of the dead soldiers, and at the same time play the role of the work of mourning and carry the function of healing.