Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

A Contemporary Voice Revisits the Past: Seamus Heaney's Beowulf

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

A Contemporary Voice Revisits the Past: Seamus Heaney's Beowulf

Article excerpt

Abstract. 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.

Key Words. Translation, 'self', 'other', Hiberno-English, 'further language', (act of/process of) 'appropriation', Scullionspeak.

Resumen. La controvertida traduccion de Beowulf de Heaney posee caracteristicas que la hacen parecer una obra original: en particular, la presencia de palabras en hiberno-ingles y algunos elementos estructurales inesperados como el empleo de la letra cursiva, de notas y de titulos en el poema. Algunas de las elecciones artisticas de Heaney han sido puestas en tela de juicio por los filologos germanicos, que han reprochado falta de fidelidad al texto original. Ademas, la insercion de palabras en hiberno-ingles, que provocan un efecto de extranamiento a quienes hablan el ingles estandar, fue considerada por algunos criticos no solo una eleccion estetica, sino tambien un acto provocativo, una reivindicacion linguistica y politica que recuerda el antiguo antagonismo entre los irlandeses y los ingleses. Sin embargo, desde el punto de vista del bagaje cultural y teorico de Heaney, sus innovaciones en la traduccion de Beowulf resultan coherentes con su personal concepto de poesia y de traduccion. Por lo tanto, su Beowulf puede considerarse el resultado de una interaccion necesaria entre traductor y texto original, y es digno de loa a pesar de todas las criticas.

Palabras clave. Traduccion, el 'yo', el 'otro', hiberno-ingles, acto/proceso de 'apropriacion', 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 of Beowulf (1), it outshone another translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem that was published in the same year (1999) by by Ray Liuzza, a Germanic Philologist (2). 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 [i.e., Liuzza] could make it" and to keep it as close as possible to the original: this meant trying to reproduce the syntactical complexity of Anglo-Saxon and, where possible, its metric and stylistic devices (line stresses, caesura, alliteration), respectful of the 'tone' of the poem but, at the same time, fluent. On the other side, Heaney's translation was directed at a larger audience including first-time readers of Beowulf, as his marginal glosses, summing up each episode in a few words, show (3). As soon as it was published, it aroused the interest of the critics for several reasons: first of all because it was much awaited, and secondly because of some particular features that make it an unusual version of Beowulf. Among these, the most striking are the presence of Hiberno-English terms (4) and an unexpected tone ("the note and pitch" of the poem) that Heaney himself defines "Scullionspeak" (1999a: xxvi-xxvii) (5). …

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