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Roy Fuller - "Picra" in poem 'Translation' | 13-May-09

Does anyone know what "Picra" is referring to in Roy Fuller's poem 'Translation'?

"Now that the barbarians have got as far as Picra,
And all the new music is written in the twelve-tone scale,
And I am anyway approaching my fortieth birthday,
I will dissemble no longer."

It has been puzzling an enquirer who has been looking in atlases and encyclopaedias over many years. 

5 comments have been made on this quote. Click here to read them and then add your own!


Do you know this poem? Do you have any clues to help us find it?


Comments:

I used to think it was some classical allusion calculated to expose the ignorance of the common reader, but now I think it is a cod-classical allusion designed to baffle the common reader. I take it the poem is a spoof of one of those translations which seem to show ancients to be astoundlingly modern. Given the references to the twelve-tone scale and quarterly mags, there is obviously a lot of irony in the poem, so much that it completely obscures the poet's real feelings. If he has real feelings. Which may be the point.
Tai Law

See the entry in Lempriere:

Picra, a lake of Africa, which Alexander crossed when he went to consult the oracle of Ammon. _Diod._

That's to say, it's said to be mentioned in the works of the historian Diodorus.
Simon Cauchi

One reference is to a lake near the temple of Amon visited by Alexander regarded by many as a barbarian. The temple was known for the deposits derived from faeces, hence the word ammonia. Picra is also a strong laxative derived from aloes with a cathartic effect. Taking these two, a reasonable deduction is that Fuller, in mimsy translators poesy, is saying 'We are in the shit' which is a thought we all have as we grow out of adolescent enthusiasms.
Terry King

In June 1984 I wrote to RF asking him whether Picra came from ??????,bitter, as in picric acid. His handwritten postcard response (12½ p stamp!),dated 13th June1984,was as follows:
"Many thanks for interesting letter& kind wishes.
I have no Greek,& so never knew (until your letter made me look it up) that 'picric' was derived from 'picros'! You will have to take my word that lighting on Picra in Lemprière was more or less accidental, though possibly the finger of Providence was at work in making the choice so apt. RF"
If anyone is interested ,I'd be happy to send a photocopy of the original postcard (addressed to 'John Cameron Eqre')
John Cameron

Pikra is a Greek word - it means 'bitterness' - I think it fictional place, and that its significance here is etymological, not topographical.
Roderick Blyth


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