Pavia University, Italy | Published: 15 March, 2007
ISSUE 2 | Pages: 57-67 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2007-2585
2007 by Silvia Geremia | This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.
Heaney’s controversial translation of Beowulf shows characteristics that make it look like an original work: in particular, the presence of Hiberno-English words and some unexpected structural features such as the use of italics, notes and running titles. Some of Heaney’s artistic choices have been brought into question by the Germanic philologists, who reproached him with his lack of fidelity to the original text. Moreover, the insertion of Hiberno-English words, which cause an effect of estrangement on Standard English speakers, was considered by some critics not only an aesthetic choice but a provocative act, a linguistic and political claim recalling the ancient antagonism between the Irish and the English. Yet, from the point of view of Heaney’s theoretical and cultural background, his innovations in his translation of Beowulf appear consistent with his personal notions of poetry and translation. Therefore, his Beowulf can be considered the result of a necessary interaction between translator and original text and be acclaimed in spite of all the criticism.
La controvertida traducción de Beowulf de Heaney posee características que la hacen parecer una obra original: en particular, la presencia de palabras en hiberno-inglés y algunos elementos estructurales inesperados como el empleo de la letra cursiva, de notas y de títulos en el poema. Algunas de las elecciones artísticas de Heaney han sido puestas en tela de juicio por los filólogos germánicos, que han reprochado falta de fidelidad al texto original. Además, la inserción de palabras en hiberno-inglés, que provocan un efecto de extrañamiento a quienes hablan el inglés estándar, fue considerada por algunos críticos no sólo una elección estética, sino también un acto provocativo, una reivindicación lingüística y política que recuerda el antiguo antagonismo entre los irlandeses y los ingleses. Sin embargo, desde el punto de vista del bagaje cultural y teórico de Heaney, sus innovaciones en la traducción de Beowulf resultan coherentes con su personal concepto de poesía y de traducción. Por lo tanto, su Beowulf puede considerarse el resultado de una interacción necesaria entre traductor y texto original, y es digno de loa a pesar de todas las críticas.
Traducción; El Yo; El Otro; Hiberno-inglés; Otra lengua; Acto/proceso de Apropriación; Habla de los 'Scullions'
1. 1999: Two Translations of Beowulf
The translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, assigned to Heaney by the Norton Anthology editor, took the poet about twenty years to fulfil. Saluted as the «official», par excellence translation ofBeowulf1 , it outshone another translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem that was published in the same year (1999) by Ray Liuzza, a Germanic philologist2 These two translations are completely different, as Liuzza himself pointed out (2002: 23-25). He produced a version of the Old English poem aimed at introducing Beowulf to students already familiar with (Old) English literature. He wanted it to be «as literal as I
- This is the opinion of Howe (2002: 37), Brunetti (2001: 94), O’Brien O’Keeffe (2001:1). [↩]
- » … our two versions arrived on the market simultaneously, but only one of them made the cover of the New York Times Book Review«. Liuzza 2002: 23. [↩]
- Heaney (1999a): xi-xii: » … it is in hope of dispelling some of the puzzlement they are bound to feel that I have added the marginal glosses…». See below section 5. [↩]
- ‘Hiberno-English’ is the variety of English spoken in Ireland. See below section 6. [↩]
- With ‘Scullionspeak’ Heaney refers to the way his father’s relatives talked and pronounced words, with «weightiness, solemnity and precision». Caie 2001: 69. See below section 3. [↩]
- Chickering (2002: 175): «He wants it to be seen as a poem by Seamus Heaney … more than as a translation from the Old English». Milfull–Sauer (2003: 128): » …Heaney obviously combines the endeavour to make Beowulf accessible and even fascinating for a modern audience with the claim to present a poetic re-creation of the Old English text». [↩]
- His complete translations and adaptations into Modern English are Sophocle’s Philoctetes (The Cure at Troy) and Antigone (The burial at Thebes), the Irish poem Buile Suibhne (Sweeney Astray), The Midnight Court by Brian Merryman (The Midnight Verdict), Treny by Jan Kochanowski (Laments), a song cycle by the Czech Leos Janácek (Diary of the One Who Vanished). [↩]
- Among many, extracts from Dante’s Inferno in Field Work (in «Ugolino»), Seeing Things (in «The Crossing») and Station Island (in «Station Island»); passages from Virgil in Seeing Things (an episode from Aeneid VI in «The Golden Bough») and in Electric Light («Virgil: Eclogue IX»); the «Scyld episode» from Beowulf in The Haw Lantern (in «A Ship of Death»). [↩]
- Irish writers in general were concerned with the issue of a literature of their own, independent from English literature: the matter was called «Irish Revival» (see Corcoran 1997: 14). [↩]
- The definition comes from Derrida’s theory of différance (O’Brien 2001-2002: 23), which considers «the process of différance as governed by a logic of ‘this and that’ as opposed to ‘this or that’ «, so that it changes the sense of «opposition» between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. [↩]
- Heaney graduated in Modern English and never became an Anglo-Saxon philologist. Vendler 1998: 13. [↩]
- These themes are visible in the so-called Bog Poems: «The Tollund Man» (in Wintering Out) and «The Grauballe Man», «The Bog Queen», «Punishment», «Strange Fruit», «Kinship» (in North). [↩]
- Vikings appear especially in North (see «North» and «Viking Dublin: Trial Pieces»). [↩]
- Gerard Manley Hopkins’ characteristic metre, the ‘sprung rhythm’, was inspired by the Anglo-Saxon rhythmic structure. [↩]
- For example, in Beowulf l. 832. This term was replaced in Modern English by the Romance loanword «suffer», but it still exists as «to thole» in Northern English and in Scottish dialects. (Milfull-Sauer 2003: 99). [↩]
- Milfull and Sauer (2003: 99) define these philological deductions as «a sentimental and highly subjective philology». [↩]
- Milfull and Sauer (2003: 101) stress that the term ‘to thole’ presently does not belong to the language of the ruling class in Northern Ireland: according to the critics, this fact authorized Heaney to recreate the tone of the Anglo-Saxon poem through the voice of the ‘Scullions’, common people. [↩]
- Liuzza’s Beowulf was published in 1999 (see section 1.), Crawford’s in 1926. [↩]
- Howe (2000: 34) thinks that Heaney’s translation, in the very first lines, tends to «level the diction» of the poem and to «flatten [its] claim on the audience». [↩]
- ‘So’, that in Standard English mostly introduces questions or non-affirmative clauses (Milfull-Sauer 2003: 116), according to Heaney (1999a: xxvii) » … in Hiberno-English Scullionspeak… operates as an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention». [↩]
- Heaney (1997: 10-11, 1999a: 25) talks about a language which is not simply «a badge of ethnicity or a matter of cultural preference or an official imposition, but an entry into further language», and it can be created through the process of translation. [↩]
- Heaney (1997: 10) had already observed an instance of this when, years before, his Professor John Braiwood explained the origin of the English word ‘whisky’, which turned out to be a loanword from Gaelic uisge, ‘water’. On this occasion too, Heaney glimpsed a different linguistic perspective allowing him to surmount the barrier between English and Irish. [↩]
- Among the other editions there are that by Faber & Faber (Heaney 1999a), and that by D. Donoghue (2002). [↩]
- In Old English the subjunctive is used to introduce the possibility that an event may happen in the future, so it represents a grammatical mood completely different from the indicative one. Shippey 1999: 10. [↩]
- Facing the difficulty of reproducing the Anglo-Saxon metrical and alliterative rules in Modern English, Heaney created new alliterative patterns, and in some lines he just eliminated the alliteration (see Heaney 1999a: xxviii-xxix). Storms (2002: 177) considers his use of the alliteration in his Modern English version ‘weak’, while Murphy (2000: 213) considers «amazing how much of the alliterative music of the original he is able to keep alive». [↩]
- Storms (2002: 177) points out that Heaney did not reproduce the different metrical patterns existing in Anglo-Saxon, the clear caesura in the middle of each line and, in general, the balance of the line itself. [↩]
- Milfull and Sauer (2003: 109) point out the use of contracted forms (for example l. 948: » … there’ll be nothing you’ll want for»). [↩]
- All the quotations from Heaney’s translation (if not otherwise stated) are taken from the Faber & Faber edition (Heaney 1999a). [↩]
- On the manuscript Beowulf is written in scriptio continua, but a division in numbered sections (forty-three) also appears, introduced perhaps by the scribe (Milfull-Sauer 2003:103). [↩]
- For example, the paragraph containing ll. 86-188 is introduced by the title «Heorot is attacked». [↩]
- For instance, at l. 86 the running title is «Heorot is threatened»; then, at l. 99, «Grendel, a monster descended from ‘Cain’s clan’, begins to prowl», and so on. [↩]
- For example, at l. 874 the title «The tale of Sigemund, the dragon-slayer. Appropriate for Beowulf, who has defeated Grendel» introduces a digression in the poem, the «Sigemund episode», drawing the reader’s attention on the occasion on which the tale was sung and on the importance attributed by Heaney to this passage (Milfull-Sauer 2003: 104). [↩]
- «Hiberno-English» is generally used to indicate the variety of English spoken in Ireland, which can be further divided in many variants corresponding to the different districts. Filppula (1999: 32) and other scholars distinguish between «northern Hiberno-English», spoken in the historical province of Ulster (where Heaney was brought up), and «southern Hiberno-English», spoken in the provinces of Leinster, Connacht and Munster. However, further distinctions could be made, depending on vocabulary, vowel quantity and lexical distribution of phonemes. [↩]
- The specific words that come from Ulster Hiberno-English are thole (l. 15), graith (ll. 324, 2988),hoked (l. 3026). [↩]
- Dolan (2003: 78) underlines that the use of obsolete, obsolescent and dialectal words is one of the specific characteristics of Hiberno-English. [↩]
- Brunetti defines this choice ‘an entry from the North’, recalling also that Hiberno-English was, in its origin, related to Scottish, because there were extensive Scottish settlements in Ulster (see Filppula 1999: 18). Hiberno-English, then, comes from the Old English spoken in Northumbria – the English of Cædmon. [↩]
- McCarthy (2001: 153-154) notices that, besides the Hiberno-English terms, there are also English expressions linked to Irish medieval history, such as ‘beyond the pale’ (which translates wræc-lastas, literally ‘paths of exile’). ‘Pale’ identifies the fortifications or dividing lines built by the English in Ireland, in particular around Dublin, out of which the Irish lived. [↩]
- He comments on the words graith (l. 324), bawn (l. 523), session (l. 767), brehon (l. 1457), wean (l. 2433), hoked (l. 3026), scaresomly (l. 3041). [↩]
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