Edwin Honig

1919–2011
Edwin Honig is noted for his comprehensive analysis and translations of literary works, primarily plays and poetry, from Spanish and Portuguese into English. A poet himself, his earliest translations were of the poems of Federico García Lorca and of plays by the Spanish writers Pedro Calderón de la Barca and Miguel de Cervantes. In Calderón and the Seizures of Honor, a critical study published in 1972, Honig attempts to make the great seventeenth-century playwright relevant to the modern reader. A critic for the Virginia Quarterly Review described Honig's work as "carefully researched and thought out, with a deep understanding of the Spanish code of honor in history. Honig's work is more than just another defense of a forgotten playwright. It has the quality of insight and richness of expressions needed to reinvest Calderón with the excitement his plays once insured." Honig's translation of Cervantes' Eight Interludes is also considered a first-rate rendition of the fast-moving and realistic plays.

Honig's poetry is respected for the same attention to detail and style evident in his criticism and translation work. Library Journal critic Dabney Stuart explained that Honig is "a master of tone: The sound of the voice is casual, rambling, but the poems are carefully structured. Each has a control enabling Honig to weave disparate stuff into his cloth." In his review of Survivals, W. T. Scott remarked in Saturday Review that Honig's "lean, muscular style, his way of lifting a small thing into significance—these are no mean gifts. 'Fall of a House' perhaps exhibits him at his haunting best.... 'The Island' is a remarkable instance of the way he can sustain a poem with subtle, constant music. And at the close of the book his poems of love and death are moving with an eloquence beyond rhetoric." According to Daniel Hughes in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Honig has been a poet whose sorrow is always coming home.... No poet of our time has more fiercely presented man's tragic mortality even as he finds an impressive variety of means by which that mortality is admitted and sublimed."

Honig's use of humor is another aspect of his writings that has attracted much attention and analysis. Laurence Lieberman pointed out in Poetry that "the jet stream of Honig's loquaciousness is tempered by the fine cutting edge of his wit, and the interplay of these two constitutional leanings of his personality furnishes his long spiraling verse sentences with astonishing permeability to experience."

Honig once told Contemporary Authors that his interest in poetry began suddenly when he was twelve. "In the winter I was reading Tom Swift and the Frank Packard books," he explained. "In the spring I began reading Eliot, Auden, and Crane. Writing poetry became an activity like collecting stamps or marbles." Honig sees the aim of poetry as restoring the awareness of being both human and animal, and capturing historical perspective. Poetry, moreover, should contain an element of shock; "while good poetry should not leave one shaking or in a state of abjection, ... it should shake one to the roots of his being."

Honig died in 2011 at the age of 91.

Career

Educator and poet. WPA Federal Writers Project, Madison, WI, junior writer, 1938-39; Library of Congress, Washington, DC, library assistant, 1941-42; Purdue University, Lafayette, IN, instructor in English, 1942-43; instructor at New York University and Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, 1946-47, and at University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 1947-49; Claremont College, Claremont, CA, instructor in English, summer, 1949; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, instructor, 1949-52, Briggs-Copeland Assistant Professor of English, 1952-57; Brown University, Providence, RI, associate professor, 1957-60, professor of English and comparative literature, 1960-82, Phi Beta Kappa Poet, 1962, chairman of department, 1968-69, professor emeritus, 1982—. Visiting professor, University of California—Davis, 1964-65; Boston University, Mellon Professor, 1977. Artist-in-residence at MacDowell Colony, 1971, 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1980, Yaddo, 1975 and 1979, Ossabaw Island Project, 1975, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, 1976, 1977, 1990, 1991, and 1992, and Mishkenot Sha'ananim, 1977. Director of Rhode Island Poetry-in-the-Schools program, 1968-72.

Bibliography

POETRY
  • The Moral Circus,Contemporary Poetry (Baltimore, MD), 1955.
  • The Gazabos: Forty-one Poems, Clarke & Way (New York, NY), 1959, revised edition published as The Gazabos: Forty-one Poems, and The Widow,1961.
  • Poems for Charlotte,privately printed, 1963.
  • Survivals,October House (New York, NY), 1965.
  • Spring Journal,Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1968.
  • Four Springs,Swallow Press (Chicago, IL), 1972.
  • Shake a Spear with Me, John Berryman: New Poems and a Play (includes play Orpheus Below), Copper Beech Press (Providence, RI), 1974, revised edition published as The Affinities of Orpheus,1976.
  • At Sixes,Burning Deck Press (Providence, RI), 1974.
  • Selected Poems, 1955-1976,Texas Center for Writers (Montrose, AL), 1979.
  • Gifts of Light,Turkey Press (Isla Vista, CA), 1983.
  • Interrupted Praise: New/Selected Poems,Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1983.
  • The Imminence of Love: Poems 1962-1992,Texas Center for Writers (Montrose, AL), 1993.
  • Time and Again: Poems, 1940-1997, Xlibris (Philadelphia, PA), 2000.
Author's poems have been recorded and collections established at Harvard University Library, John Hay Library at Brown University, and Library of Congress.

PLAYS
  • The Widow(verse play), first produced in San Francisco, CA, 1953.
  • Calisto and Melibea(libretto; first produced in Davis, CA, 1979), Hellcoal Press (Providence, RI), 1972.
  • Ends of the World and Other Plays, Copper Beech Press (Providence, RI), 1983.
TRANSLATOR
  • Miguel de Cervantes, The Cave of Salamanca,Crysalis, 1960.
  • (And author of introduction) Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Four Plays,Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1961.
  • Miguel de Cervantes, Eight Interludes,New American Library (New York, NY), 1964.
  • Pedro Calderón de la Barca, The Phantom Lady(play), first produced in Washington, DC, 1965.
  • Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Life Is a Dream(play; broadcast on English radio, 1970; first produced in Providence, RI, 1971), Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1970.
  • Selected Poems of Fernando Pessoa,Swallow Press (Chicago, IL), 1971.
  • Federico García Lorca, Divan and Other Writings,Copper Beech Press (Providence, RI), 1974.
  • (With A. S. Trueblood) Lope de Vega, La Dorotea,Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1985.
  • (With Susan M. Brown) Fernando Pessoa, The Keeper of Sheep,Sheep Meadow Press (Riverdale-on-Hudson, NY), 1986.
  • (And editor, with Susan M. Brown) The Poems of Fernando Pessoa,Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1986.
  • Fernando Pessoa: Always Astonished(selected prose), City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA), 1988.
  • The Unending Lightning: The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernandez,Sheep Meadow Press (Riverdale-on-Hudson, NY), 1990.
  • Federico García Lorca, Four Puppet Plays, Play without a Title, the Divan Poems, and Other Poems, Prose Poems, and Dramatic Pieces,Sheep Meadow Press (Riverdale-on-Hudson, NY), 1990.
  • Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Six Plays, Fordham University Press (New York, NY), 1993.
OTHER
  • García Lorca(criticism), New Directions (Norfolk, CT), 1944, revised edition, 1962.
  • Dark Conceit: The Making of Allegory(criticism), Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1959, New England University Press (Hanover, NH), 1982.
  • (Editor, with Oscar Williams) The Mentor Book of Major American Poets,New American Library (New York, NY), 1961.
  • The Nazi Drawings by Mauricio Lasansky(exhibition catalog), [Philadelphia, PA], c. 1966, revised edition, University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA), 1976.
  • (Editor, with Oscar Williams) The Major Metaphysical Poets of the Seventeenth Century: John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, and Andrew Marvell,Washington Square Press (New York, NY), 1968.
  • (Editor) Spenser,Dell (New York, NY), 1968.
  • Calderón and the Seizures of Honor(criticism), Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1972.
  • The Foibles and Fables of an Abstract Man(fiction), Copper Beech Press (Providence, RI), 1979.
  • The Poet's Other Voice: Conversations on Literary Translation,University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1985.
  • Dadivas de luz (Gifts of Light), bilingual edition translated into Portuguese by Antonio Ramos Rosa, Caminho (Lisbon, Portugal), 1992.
Also created sound recordings of his work, including Edwin Honig Reading His Poems in New York City, June 8, 1959, 1959, The Strangeness of Honor in Calderón: Lecture, 1965, Edwin Honig Reading His Poems with Comment in the Recording Laboratory, March 15, 1965, 1965, and Edwin Honig Reading from His Poetry, February 19, 1986, 1986.

Further Reading

BOOKS
  • Brown, Susan, Thomas Epstein, and Henry Gould, editors, A Glass of Green Tea—with Honig,Alephoe Books (Providence, RI), 1994.
  • Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series,Volume 8, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
  • Contemporary Poets,7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001, pp. 555-557.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
PERIODICALS
  • Harper's,January, 1980.
  • Library Journal,September 15, 1968; February 15, 1973.
  • Michigan Quarterly Review,fall, 1974.
  • Nation,May 19, 1969, L. Alan Goldstein, "Double Exposure."
  • New York Times,April 16, 1989.
  • New York Times Book Review,December 13, 1987, p. 32.
  • Poetry,April, 1969.
  • Publishers Weekly, May 4, 1990, Penny Kaganoff, review of The Unending Lightning: Selected Poems of Miguel Hernandez, p. 65; April 23, 2001, review of Time and Again: Poems 1940-1997,p. 75.
  • Salmagundi,spring-summer, 1981, Barbara L. Estrin, "Through the Aftermath: Mythical Transformations in the Poetry of Edwin Honig."
  • Saturday Review, October 9, 1965, W. T. Scott, review of Survivals.
  • Times(London, England), August 5, 1989.
  • Times Literary Supplement,October 17, 1968; November 21, 1986, p. 1296.
  • Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1969; spring, 1973, review of Calderón and the Seizures of Honor.
  • Voices,January-April, 1961, John Hawkes, "The Voice of Edwin Honig."
  • World Literature Today, winter, 1987, p. 166.
ONLINE
  • Brown University, http://www.brown.edu/ (February 18, 2002)

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Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

LIFE SPAN 1919–2011

Biography

Edwin Honig is noted for his comprehensive analysis and translations of literary works, primarily plays and poetry, from Spanish and Portuguese into English. A poet himself, his earliest translations were of the poems of Federico García Lorca and of plays by the Spanish writers Pedro Calderón de la Barca and Miguel de Cervantes. In Calderón and the Seizures of Honor, a critical study published in 1972, Honig attempts to make . . .

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