August 25, 2003

and filled the broad lap of the world with branches and leaves ...

I was leafing again today through Seamus Heaney's deeply pleasing translation of Beowulf. I recommend it highly...

Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
to hear the din of the loud banquet
every day in the hall, the harp being struck
and the clear song of a skilled poet
telling with mastery of man's beginnings,
how the Almighty had made the earth
a gleaming plain girdled with waters;
in His splendour He set the sun and the moon
to be earth's lamplight, lanterns for men,
and filled the broad lap of the world
with branches and leaves; and quickened life
in every other thing that moved...
I have little doubt that you already know this, but Old English poetry is Alliterative. Rather than having rhymes, it repeats initial stressed consonants: Hard, harrowed. Almighty, made. Mastery, man's. Lamplight, lanterns.

Heany does a wonderful job of translating this, without following the original poetic form too pedantically. If you emphasize the alliterations slightly as you read, you will fall into the rhythm of the poem.

Posted by John Weidner at August 25, 2003 12:33 PM
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