23 October 2013

Fitt 41, Part 1: The Battle of Swedes and Geats, Continued

This will not be (I hope) the final version, but it shows that progress is still being made in the translation. I hope you enjoy it.

“The bloody swathe that Swedes and Geats
“cut as they charged the killing ground
“could not be missed as they clashed together.
“Then Ongentheow, the old fighter,
“sadly retreated, taking his kin        2950
“to a hillfort built on higher ground.
“He had been told of Hygelac’s skill,
“the proud man’s power, and put no faith
“his strength could match the mariners’,
“foreign invaders, and defend the hoard,    2955
“women and children. He chose to withdraw,
“old behind earthworks. The enemy charged
“the Swedish horde. Hygelac’s banners
“swept up and swarmed the Swedes' redoubt
“when Hrethel’s army offered battle.”    2960

“Ongentheow was, by the edges of swords,
“white in his hair, held in his place,
“so the folk-king was forced to submit
“to Eofor’s judgement.”
              “Angrily he,
“Wulf, Wonred’s son, wielded his sword
“so streams of blood sprang from the blow
“beneath the hair. Not at all frightened,
“the wise Scylfing wasted no time,
“but gave as good as he got and better.”

“When the tribe-king turned to face him,
“Wonred’s brave son was not able
“to strike the old man with his arm’s full strength
“whose swing, instead, sliced through his helmet
“so, blood-stained, Wulf was forced to bow.
“He fell on the field, not finished yet;
“he recovered himself, though the cut was deep.”

27 July 2013

Fitt 40: The News Comes to Camp

 Hi, I'm back after working (yet again) on editing my book on poetry. I haven't given up this project...certainly not now when I have only 237 lines left to do!

An earlier version of the first lines appear in a posting below, but here's the whole fitt. 

I should explain the translation choices made in one section:
He beseiged the grove and the swords' leavings,
tired from their wounds. He trumpeted threats
to that wretched band the rest of the night.
That morning, he said, his sword's edges
would give one to the gods on the gallows tree,      2940
I'm following a particular point of view here, expressed in the notes on these lines on Ben Slade's site heorot.dk, which say this:
2937] sinherge is usually rendered 'with a vast army'; Tripp (277-8 & personal communication) recommends 'at the huge (sacred) grove', taking herge as a variant of hearg, hearh 'temple, altar, santuary, idol; grove' (Clark Hall). Compare with The Wife's Lament (in the Exeter Book), l. 15 'het mec hlaford min / herheard niman' ("my lord commanded me be taken to the grove/sanctuary"). See also n. 2941-2 below.

[2941] gétan here could related to agétan 'to waste, destroy'; or a form of géotan 'to pour, shed, gush', here meaning 'to cause to shed blood', or 'to sacrifice', as I translate it; or it could be an otherwise unattested verb with the meaning 'to cut, to pierce', judging from the context (cf. Christ and Satan 508b-9a (in Minor Poems ): 'beornas sticodon, / garum on galdum' ["the warriors pierced, with spears on the gallows(cross)"].

[2941-2: The Sacrifice in the Forest] As North (142), Tripp (277) and others point out, the fact that the Geats are in a forest called 'Raven's Wood', and especially if we take sinherge as 'at the huge sacred grove', then this passage may well allude to sacrifices to Woden.
So these lines could be translated differently. Seamus Heaney writes
His army surrounded the weary remnant
where they nursed their wounds; all through the night
he howled threats at those huddled survivors,
promised to axe their bodies open
when dawn broke, dangle them from gallows
to feed the birds.
Burton Raffel did them like this
With his mass of soldiers, circled around
The Geats who'd survived, who'd escaped him, calling
Threats and boasts at that wretched band
The whole night through. In the morning he'd hang
A few, he promised, to amuse the birds,
Then slaughter the rest.
The reference to "Othere's wise father" means Ongentheow.

He told them to tell the tidings of battle                          2892
at the clifftop camp where the company waited
sad in spirit through the slow morning,
the spearbearers expecting both
their king was killed or would come again,
beloved man. The messenger
left out little that lapsed in the battle
but told them all the honest truth.

Now the one who held the Weders’ hopes,
the lord of the Geats, lies on his death-bed,                      2900
stretched out like the dead by the dragon's strike.
He lies beside his lethal foe,
sick from saxe-wounds. No sword was able
to make a mark on that monstrous being
whatever the way. Wiglaf was sitting,
Weohstan's son, beside Beowulf,
a living lord along by the dead,
weary in mind, watching over
the loved and the loathed. Now our land must expect            2910
a time of war when the truth spreads
to Frisians, Franks, and far-off lands,
the king was killed. The conflict with the Hugas
was worked to hardness when Hygelac went
afloat with his fleet to Frisian land
where Hetwares warred against him.
There courage came with such crushing power
the armoured man was overwhelmed.
He fell in the front. No further treasures
could he offer his men. Ever since then,               2920
no mercy for us from the Meroving.
And I place no trust in peace or truce,
not with the Swedes, for news has spread
that Ongentheow had overthrown
Haethcyn himself, who was Hrethel's son,
at Ravenswood when, in their pride,
the Geats first went against War Scylfings.
Shortly after, Othere's wise father
turned to attack, terrible and old.
He ended the sea-dog, honoured his wife,             2930
his ancient companion, deprived of her gold,
Onela's mother and Otheres',
then was hard on the heels of his hated foes
who could scarcely escape from him,
to Ravenswood, robbed of their lord.
He beseiged the grove and the swords' leavings,
tired from their wounds. He trumpeted threats
to that wretched band the rest of the night.
That morning, he said, his sword's edges
would give one to the gods on the gallows tree,      2940
a ravens' toy. Relief returned
to those downcast men as day began
when they heard Hygelac's horn and trumpet
and knew his war-cry. That worthy came
" with seasoned soldiers swift on the path."               2945

28 June 2013

More Modern Verse in the Old English Style: Robert Skelton

In a book called The Poetry Gymnasium by Tom C. Hunley, I found a quotation from The Love Song by Robin Skelton.
I find I am framing                    My thoughts in a fashion
Long-lost and alien                   Today's language,
Yet somehow the sense of it,    Tense in each sentence,
Registers rhythms,                   Riding rough-shod...

22 February 2013

Better Living Through Beowulf

While checking through Google's Image Search for a good illustration of Beowulf's death, I noticed that one image was on a site called "betterlivingthroughbeowulf.com". This is quirky enough to give me a quick "HAH" of pleasure and a quick check on the site.

The site's tagline is "How Great Literature Can Change Your Life." Beowulf was highlighted in the site name because the author is also promoting his book, "How Beowulf Can Save America: An Epic Hero's Guide to Defeating the Politics of Rage." Here is the list of Beowulf-related postings on the blog. As an example of the category, here is a post called "Obama's Star, Beowulf's Sword" on the subject of President Obama's second Inaugural Speech.

I've also wondered from time to time what aspects of Beowulf's story are relevant these days, so full marks to Robin R. Bates for the titles of his blog and book. Not being American, I am not as deeply immersed in the push and pull of American politics as Bates is.

As for the illustration, there's this: