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.