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Sender: Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2000 10:38:11 +0100
Reply-To: Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
From: R I Caddel <[log in to unmask]>
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Comments: To: "A. David Moody" <[log in to unmask]>
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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
Durham
 
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 one
> of those [big-voiced]relatives' of  his father, to be in 'Hiberno-English
> Scullion-speak'.  Many of us would need to hear it read in that voice before
> 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 of
> > Beowulf.  Anybody else, like me, find it kind of flat & uninspiring?  EP
> > every have anything to say about Beowulf? -T.
> >
>