Seamus Heaney on Beowulf: Old English and Slipping in His Ulster Words

In the introduction to Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf, he talks about his choice of modern words as a matter of creating the tone he desired.

"I came to the task of translating Beowulf with a prejudice in favour of forthright delivery. I remembered the voice of the poem as being attractively direct, even though the diction was ornate and the narrative method at times oblique."

Later he says, "There was one area, however, where a certain strangeness in diction came naturally. In those instances where a local Ulster word seemed either poetically or historically right I felt free to use it." One example is using the word "hoked" for "rooted about" as here:

Forðon sceall gar wesan
monig, morgenceald, mundum bewunden,
hæfen on handa, nalles hearpan sweg
wigend weccean, ac se wonna hrefn
fus ofer fægum fela reordian,
earne secgan hu him æt æte speow,
þenden he wið wulf wæl reafode.

Many a spear
Drawn-cold to the touch will be taken down
And waved on high; the swept harp
Won’t waken warriors, but the raven winging
Darkly over the doomed will have news,
Tidings for the eagle of how he hoked and ate,
How the wolf and he made short work of the dead.

Emory University in Atlanta has the Seamus Heaney Papers and last year presented an exhibition dedicated to his life and work. See the video below for a summary of the show.

John Donne - On Arithmetique, Rhetorique, Poetry et in Aeternum

On Easter Sunday March 27, 1622, John Donne - as Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral - offered this in his sermon:

How barren a thing is Arithmetique! (and yet Arithmetique will tell you how many grains of sand will fill this hollow Vault to the Firmament) How empty a thing is Rhetorique! (and yet Rhetorique will make absent and remote things present to your understanding) How weak a thing is poetry! (and yet Poetry is a counterfait Creation, and makes things that are not, as though they were) How infirme, how impotent are all assistances, if they be put to express this Eternity!

The best help I can assigne you, is, to use well Aeternum vestrum, your owne Eternity; as S. Gregroy calls our whole course of this life, Aeternum nostrum, our Eternity; Aequum est, ut qui in aeterno suo peccaverit, in aeterno Dei puniatur, sayes he; It is but justice that he hath sinned out his owne Eternity, should suffer out Gods Eternity. So, if you suffer out your owne Eternity, in submitting your selves to God, in the whole course of your life, in surrendring your will intirely to his, and gloryfying of him in a constant patience, under all your tribulations, It is a righteous thing with God, (sayes our Apostle, in his other Epistle to these Thessalonians) To recompence tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you that are troubled, rest with us, sayes yee there; with us, who shall be caught up in the Clouds, to meete the Lord in the Ayre, and so shall be with the Lord for ever. Amen.

Speculative Fiction: It’s Really All About Relationships

Lately I’ve been pulled into some speculative fiction of the film variety. It seems I can’t go too long without a fix of science fiction from the psychological, non-alien end of the spectrum. 

First up was Jac Schaeffer’s TiMER. What if we’re destined to be with someone? We just have to get an implant and see how long it’s going to be. But, what if our timer doesn’t count down? Is it time to take matters into our own hands? Oh, and it’s funny, too.


This might fall more in the paranormal camp, but I really liked Joss Whedon’s In Your Eyes.  
Someone else can feel your deepest hurts, both physical and emotional. But if you tap into it, they can also see it.


Hey, but what if extreme opposites changed the brain chemistry that pushed them apart? Could they be together? Then the government spoils things and assumes the technology is for ill. That’s Darren Paul Fisher’s Frequencies (OXV, The Manual).


What all three of these movies have at their core is a relationship. I can imagine one or more of these writers saying, “What I was trying to do most of all is write a story about a guy and a girl.” Sort of like what Joe Weisberg said about his fabulous series The Americans  being about a marriage more than espionage.  

On the literary front these reminded me of Ninni Holmqvist’s book The Unit.  Single people – especially those with jobs that don’t contribute to society – are encouraged to leave their lives and join The Unit. It’s a model community with a great lifestyle that also processes you through organ donation to benefit those outside that society values more. Dorrit goes in willingly, but of course it doesn’t stay that way forever because of relationships.

And, of course, relationships are at the heart of motivation and motivation is the heart of story. 

Historical Fiction and The Perverse Pleasure of Research

With the release in 2010 of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet author David Mitchell wrote an article for The Telegraph on writing and researching historical fiction.

I just revisited his essay as I was in dire need of some Internet empathy. I'm body under in research, barely keeping my nose above the waterline of information. Problem is, I love the swim.

He asks the important questions: Do you stay faithful to the facts or invent credible characters and stories that don’t bore the reader to death? Should you stick with the knowable present or plunge into the maddening research required to evoke a past time and place?

What I love most, though, is the encouragement.

"Why, then, the enduring popularity of historical fiction? One reason is that it delivers a stereo narrative: from one speaker comes the treble of the novel’s own plot while the other speaker plays the bass of history’s plot." - David Mitchell


Happily Enrolled in George Clooney University

In the interest of continuing education I'm enrolled in the Enlightenment through Film Certificate Program at George Clooney University. Not only do you get George, but some of the other profs are pretty awesome too. I'm a little behind on the coursework, but wanted to share some favorite classes with my take on course materials. 

Adjunct Faculty:

Matt Damon - Howard Zinn Chair of Social Justice in International Affairs

Ben Affleck - Henry Fonda Chair of American History

Steven Soderbergh - John Cassavetes Chair of Philosophy 

Richard Linklater - Philip K. Dick Chair of Psychology in Time

Stephen Gaghan - Christiane Amanpour Chair of Journalism


Course Sampling:

ART HIST - Monument's Men - (taught by George, co-taught by Matt Damon) An Ocean's Eleven romp through the art policies of the Nazis. This course offers an introduction to the importance of cultural preservation. Prerequisites: None. Textbook: Saving Italy by Robert M. Edsel. Learn More: The Rape of Europa Film and Book. For the Middle Grade to Young Adult student: Heist Society by Ally Carter

HIST Good Night and Good Luck - In this course you'll explore the history of government agencies suppressing free speech in the name of anti-communism and role of journalism in exposing government tactics through the work of Edward R. Murrow. Prerequisite: For McCarthyism in Hollywood - The Way We Were. Textbook: Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism by Bob Edwards. Were McCarthy's tactics all that different from the Stasi in The Lives of Others? See  more fearless journalism in Absence of Malice, All the President's Men, The China Syndrome and Veronica Guerin.

HIST - Syriana (taught by Stephen Gaghan, co-taught by George and Matt Damon). Oil and World Politics. How the fight for control over one of modern history's most important resources affects the global pulse. Textbook: See No Evil by Robert Baer Learn More: The Oil Trusts and Anglo-American Relations. Co-written by an MI5 spy 90 years ago. For Discussion in Current Events: Khodorkovsky

HIST - Argo - (taught by Ben Affleck) - A highly dramatized version of the Canadian Caper, the escape of six American embassy workers posing as Canadian film makers during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Textbook: Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with Radical Islam by David Farber For Discussion: What can be learned from early 20th century Pan-Islamic radicalism and its source in controlling powers? See Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Plot for Global Revolution by Giles Milton and The Russian Connection of the Indian Muhajirin: 1920-1924 and Pan-Islam in British India by M. Naeem Qureshi Also For Discussion: How closely should film stick to facts in movies based on true stories? See OSCARS: Filmmakers Walk A Fine Line When Dramatizing Real-Life Events

HIST - Leatherheads - Learn how football uses and is effected by the media and current events, circa 1925. Prerequisites: None Textbook: Sports Governance, Development and Corporate Responsibility For Discussion in Current Events: Anna Isaacson - Today's woman in the make or break hot seat of the NFL. and NFL announces four women will help shape league policy.

PHIL - Solaris (taught by Steven Soderbergh) What is life in the mind, in the body? Life on earth and in the universe? Prerequisites: None Textbook: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem Learn More: Summa technologiae by Stanislaw Lem. For discussion: What memory do you save when the body is gone? After Life.

PSYCH - A Scanner Darkly - (taught by Richard Linklater, co-taught by Soderbergh with George as producer) Linklater's deep dive into the well of Philip K. Dick. In this course you'll explore the sacrifices a government and individuals will make to fight the war on drugs. Textbook: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick Prerequisite: Minority Report Learn More: The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings by Philip K. Dick (Author) Lawrence Sutin (Editor) For Discussion: Gaghan's Traffic, of course

Should the Publishing Industry Panic? According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Maybe if it’s 1911

We seem to think the current machinations of the publishing industry are new. But check out the Entry for Publishing in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.   It’s all there:

  • The toil of the educated literary assistant (reader) to the big bad publisher and his internal struggle to recommend good books against what will sell
  • A market flooded with bad books like "crackers at Christmas"
  • The position of authors to sign contracts with less than favorable terms and the representation of an author's guild (Society of Authors)
  • The representation by the literary agent for the poor author who knows nothing about business
  • The introduction of cheap editions (ebooks, anyone?) that undercut the price, profit and royalty of better quality ones
  • The price fixing, net pricing, discount wars and remainders
  • The concern that reading will be supplanted by other pastimes
  • The Book Club Effect and more

If it’s all too much to bear, head over to the Public House (entry to the left).

Strange Fruit on The Hanging Tree

I saw Mockingjay Part 1 over the holidays and it spurred me on to finish reading the awesome Hunger Games series by Suszanne Collins. In an interview Collins said her goal is to write a war story for every age group, so I can't wait for the adult offering.

In the meantime, I noticed set dressing, casting and costumes for the film enforced the slave and racial themes expressed in the book. In particular I was struck by Collins' song The Hanging Tree as performed by Jennifer Lawrence.

Oh, how it reminds me of Billie Holliday's rendition of Strange Fruit.


Things only make sense to me in layers. History in time, richness of place, the polyphony and dissonance of sound, the beauty of sight, and all connected by story.

On a recent trip to St. Simons Island I noticed the Spanish moss turns almost silver in winter. The mighty ancient oaks, almond sand and gentle December days were the perfect antidote to holiday madness.