10 January 2012

Longfellow's Beowulf

Can you believe it? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had a crack at translating Beowulf, taught himself Old English to prepare, and translated the lines quite literally, though not alliteratively. I found this odd fact in the article "Beowulf in the Yard," by Daniel G. Donoghue. It was a more a curiosity at the time than part of the literary canon, so the translation comes across as pretty literal and crude. Longfellow did much better translating the Inferno.

Here are some lines (210-223) from Longfellow's translation:


…And first went forth.
The ship was on the waves,
boat under the cliffs.
The barons ready
To the prow mounted
The streams they whirled
The sea against the sands
The chieftans bore
On the naked breast
Bright ornaments,
War-gear, Goth-like
The men shoved off,
Men on their willing way,
The bounden wood.
Then went over the sea-waves,
Hurried by the wind,
The ship with a foamy neck,
Most like a sea-fowl,
Till about one hour
Of the second day
The curved prow
Had passed onward
So that the sailors
The land saw,
The shore-cliffs shining,
Mountains steep,
And broad sea-noses.

No comments:

Post a Comment