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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

Planet of Judgment
Joe Haldeman
Progress: 6/151 pages
Life and Letters of Charles Darwin - Volume 1: By Charles Darwin - Illustrated
Charles Darwin
Progress: 176/346 pages
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs (The Library of America)
Brian Attebery, Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 359/700 pages
Plasma physics
R.A. Cairns
Progress: 166/244 pages
Selected Short Stories - Conrad (Wordsworth Classics)
Keith Carabine, Joseph Conrad
Progress: 180/272 pages
A Student's Guide to Lagrangians and Hamiltonians
Patrick Hamill
Progress: 7/180 pages
Complete Poems, 1904-1962
E.E. Cummings
Progress: 108/1102 pages
The Complete Plays and Poems
E.D. Pendry, J.C. Maxwell, Christopher Marlowe
She Stoops to Conquer and Other Comedies (Oxford World's Classics)
Henry Fielding, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith
Progress: 76/448 pages
Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being
Ted Hughes
Progress: 511/517 pages

Beowulf, Seamus Heaney

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation - Seamus Heaney, Unknown

So this is the "Bi-lingual" edition with original Anglo-Saxon and Heaney's Modern English adaptation on facing pages. And indeed, the original may as well be a foreign language given the extent of my understanding of it, however, two things are notable about it even to my uninitiated view: alliteration and half-lines. Neither of these is prominent in the translation. There is no visual separation into half lines at all. The only effort to acknowledge this aspect of the original is a tendency to place punctuation in the middle of the lines. It's not really frequent or potent enough to recreate the original effect. Nor is the alliteration which seems weak, easily ignored. The resultant effect is literally prosaic; it hardly seems like a poem any more. Weirdly, Tolkien's prose translation seemed more poetic because of the strong rhythmical quality of the sentences.


I wonder how good a poetic translation is now possible? The density of imagery, allusion and reference to unfamiliar social conventions makes it difficult reproduce the story in modern English without taking twice as long over it, which in turn makes it hard to stick to the pithy short lines of the original. It is possible to write good alliterative verse, though, as demonstrated by Tolkien and more loosely by Ted Hughes.


As for the story, it's fabulous (in two senses) of course, but I always wonder what it would have been like before the Christian overtones were put in and Flagon always wonders what would have happened if they'd just given the darn cup back...