Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Opening of Heaney's Beowulf (Commonplace Book)

The first word of the original Beowulf poem is "Hwaet," which has variously been translated as "lo," "hark," "behold," "attend" and "listen." Heaney though that "Hwaet" was a word "that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention." Wanting his translation to have a "forthright delivery" he translates "Hwaet" as "So." It works surprisingly well. Here are the first three lines of his Beowulf:

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

2 comments:

James said...

Wow, that's great. I've only read Beowulf once, and not Heaney's translation, but between the movie and this I'm gonna check it out. When you started the blog, did you ever think you'd be talking about Beowulf so much?

Streebo said...

Reading your thoughts on the film has me dying to see it. I'm definitely going to catch the 3-D version as soon as possible. Geoff, have you thought about mailing copies of your blog posts on Beowulf to Neil Gaiman? He has responded to a few letters about the film on his Live Journal.