Friday, June 13, 2014


I still have not read Tolkien's translation of Beowulf just published. I haven't even ordered it yet. I know I'm going to like it. Lo! I've always liked the hard alliterative translations. The problem with Heaney's is not that he made it too Irish or too anything. The problem with what he did was that he took a poem that is audible and aural, in the sense that its written words have their reason in the prior context of being heard and spoken - even if the poem is going to be read silently, and turned it into the contemporarily visual, replete with the contemporary obsession with enjambment and the contemporary embarrassment over alliteration. In other words, by "contemporarily visual" I don't mean "visionary". I mean the modern regard for a poem as it is looked at on the page. So.

The contemporary obsession with enjambment - its consistent use on par with previous generations' decadent use of alliteration - and the contemporary embarrassment over alliteration is an ironic thing. It is ironic because enjambment, in its large-scale contemporary use, is ten times more artificial and contrived than what moderns think alliteration is supposed to be. Enjambment came as a result of necessity and happily it struck a certain beauty that exists between the aural meter and the visual line (break). Its employment today, by the thousands of poets in Poetry Magazine for instance, is a decadent museum artifact that has changed in being removed from its living context of necessity, and employed after the fact; and people are oblivious to how quaint they're being - far more so than any Victorian.

Some might say, "But Beowulf is nothing but enjambment all the time!"

Not so. Because Beowulf is not written in a line-by-line meter. In other words, it is not syllabic meter. Syllabic meter is line-by-line meter: so many syllables to a line, which becomes line-by-line. Beowulf has lines, but the lines are not decided by syllable count. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Tolkien was correct to translate it as "prose".

The end result of Heaney's is a poem whose hard edges have been softened. Beowulf is a poem in which the words are a sort of combat. The words don't positively make combat, or fight with each other, but they retain that belief in word which leaves a word at face value. And the combat exists in our - the readers - coming to terms with word. Poetry should "purify the dialect of the tribe": a poem should be the tribe speaking in its own language in such a way that it is discovering its own language for the first, within the crucible of the poem. Such that entering into it every time necessitates this rediscovery, this regaining, this remembering.

So maybe Heaney's translation is too Irish. LOL. Though, in Heaney's translation it's not so much like the poem fell into the hands of someone deeply immersed in the music of Ireland, but of Wales. That wasn't an insult. I like Dylan Thomas.

And no, I don't dislike Heaney's translation. My prior excitement over it has fizzled though, and I realize there was always something essential lacking, and this lack comes down to talking about it as a translation. It is an example that language is not just language, and it says something about the assumption that in spite of transitions away from a poem's forms to other forms, the essence of the poem will remain. It won't. The language of poetical form is intrinsic to what is essential in the poem, for the outer forms were the means by which the scops grasped and wrangled with the essential, thus they are the lenses which one must dispose oneself to, which becomes a question not of phonetic pedantry (or innovation), but of disposition.

I don't regard Heaney's as top of the list for Beowulf translations. It is its own kind of artwork. Yes, he "made a masterpiece from a masterpiece", but his masterpiece does not get the reader close to, into, what makes Beowulf a masterpiece.


One of the things I love so much about Pope Francis is the surprise. I don't mean the surprise of him, or of anything he does or says (though there is that too), but the surprise that seems to be ushered in with his pontificate, of seeing, together with his pontificate, aided and headed by his pontificate (not isolated from it), the continuation of the life of the Church and the facets of her truth and beauty and goodness that are ever ancient and ever new.

From that afternoon on March 13 when my boss said to me at work, "Well, we have a new Pope! Pope Francis the First [as was the mistaken wont of folks to say]. From Argentina!"

And as I drove home from work, overwhelmed with joy so that I could hardly get my breath and like my mind was both stunned and drunk with gratitude to God for His Reality, I kept saying, "YES! YES! Of course! Francis! Renewal!" And the sense of freshness as I wasn't fake; it was something like scary new life coming from an ancient well. The newness and sense of renewal were already dawning on me before even laying eyes on this new Pope!

And now we see how the labours of his two predecessors (and three and four and five...) show forth their reality, their depth, their meaning; that their labours were not in vain, that their labours were not isolated. All continuous and always revealing, revealing some new aspect that is ever new and ever ancient.

I think a Pentecost is blowing through the Church revealing new treasures, ever ancient, in the midst of much grief, chaos, misery, and darkness of sin.

But I think these Pentecostal winds have a dual nature. They bring new life, but they simultaneously shake the chaff.


What is taking the Red Pill but deciding that you have sealed yourself from all error and that all error lies exterior to yourself?

Good luck with that.


Here is a strange reality that certain bloggers of the Blogisterium prove over and over again: when a reaction to something is isolated enough and forceful enough, the reaction actually replicates what it is trying to push against.


Over-sized sunglasses: ladies, stop it. Really, just stop it. Getting old. Real fast. You totally make me ROFL.


There's a stupid cat that likes to come into the backyard every once and a while because - as far as I can discern - he thinks I dug up the garden bed nice and crumbly to be his own personal litter box. Though I have no evidence to prove this. I have noticed over the years that simply having a garden is an invitation to creatures; and I've learned not to fear this.

So I say "stupid cat" in the kindest sort of way.

As for pests such as then, I use words that should not be written - or spoken.


God gave Saint John Paul the Great a pontificate for 27 years. God Gave Pope Benedict XVI a pontificate for 8 years - short but intense and concise in fixing (fixing as in affixing, not "repairing"), among other things, the liturgical traditions of the church; one could say he assured the inner liturgical workings of the Church. While John Paul the Great's pontificate was spreading the Divine Mercy and evangelism and ecumenism.

I think the timelines are a good indicator to us about how much time one should focus on certain aspects of the life of the Church.


Terry Nelson said...

I want to comment before you take this down - so I did.

Itinérante said...

Did you eventually get Beowulf?

Paul Stilwell said...

You know, I still haven't. What is wrong with me?