I don't know why Heaney chose to abandon alliteration here. The deficiencies
in Heaney's translation may stem from the fact that he has less than
intimate knowledge of the original... too many trots, too much baggage
between him and the bare metal. I've seen only snippets of Heaney's
translation... would prefer to keep my mind free of it till I get further
along with my own... but one snippet I did see contained the phrase
"perpetrated many wrongs" -- which seemed as if a wooden prose translation
based on a glossary had been the grist for his mill.
That said, "flatness" seems to me a very minor flaw when compared to the
comic-book bombast and bluster of some earlier translations. The original is
controlled and measured.
----- Original Message -----
From: R I Caddel <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Monday, March 27, 2000 4:38 AM
Subject: Re: Heaney's Beowulf
> I think the problem with the Heaney Beowulf is similar to that of the
> Hughes Ovid - however much you try to hear it in the local / specific way
> which David describes, it comes across in the centralised koine of the
> times, which is indeed, as Tim said, flat. There was considerable
> discussion of this on the British-Irish poets list about a month ago,
> which became pretty badtempered (how could anyone say anything bad about
> Seamus, he's Such a Nice Guy, a line with which I absolutely agree) during
> which I offered the following example (liberally snipped here):
> One of many great bits [of Beowulf] for me is this, for the way the
> sounds evolve (and I'm sorry I can't do the fancy characters):
> Tha waes sael ond mael
> thaet to healle gang Healfdenes sunu
> - which Heaney gives as:
> Then the due time arrived
> for Halfdane's son to proceed to the hall.
> To be frank, tho this is inoffensive and gentle enough on the ear, it
> doesn't seem any advance on Swanton's [standard academic ed.] prose to me
> [and I can't get the proposed scullion-speak tone to it either]. The
> rhythm is so diluted as to be useless; there's little detectable sound
> structuring. Even the literal meaning has been meddled with by words like
> "proceed" - a word out of policemen's notebooks, I'd've thought, a
> dilution. If something's being added here, to make a bright new meaning
> for our time, I'm certainly missing it.
> What all this is doing - for me, anyway - is sending me back to the
> original poem, which is fun, so good old Seamus for doing that, I guess.
> No-one on the britpo list was able to point out what I'm missing in this
> example, so I'd be grateful if someone here could do so. In general I have
> no taste for Heaney/Hughes bashing, am quite predisposed to admire / enjoy
> their work, do not have more than the usual amounts of envy for their
> success etc. But am genuinely perplexed by the level of applause for what
> is, to my ears, a quite modest achievement, and certainly no advance on
> the work of Poundian Michael Alexander (straight ed. and english version).
> Richard Caddel
> On Sun, 26 Mar 2000, A. David Moody wrote:
> > Heaney's answer to your problem is perhaps in his introduction
> > (pp.xxvi-xxvii in Faber ed.). He wanted the verse 'to be speakable by
> > of those [big-voiced]relatives' of his father, to be in
> > Scullion-speak'. Many of us would need to hear it read in that voice
> > we could hear it for ourselves. I could not hear Lowell's verse until I
> > heard his reading of it. To hear Bunting read was also an ear-opener.
> > On another tack: to so Irish the Anglo-Saxon is, I suppose, an act of
> > conscious cultural appropriation?
> > David Moody
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: Tim Bray <[log in to unmask]>
> > Sent: Saturday, March 25, 2000 3:29 PM
> > Subject: Only slightly off-topic
> > > I just bought & read the much-ballyhooed new Seamus Heany translation
> > > Beowulf. Anybody else, like me, find it kind of flat & uninspiring?
> > > every have anything to say about Beowulf? -T.
> > >