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.

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).