Saturday, February 11, 2017

A continuation: Hrothgar's decision to build a palace

Then did Hrothgar war succeeding,
Battle shining, him his friends and kinsmen 
Gladly followed till his band of cohorts 
Grew in size much more and to his mind came 
That a palace he would order, built for greatness, 
men have working more than sons of men had ever heard of 
Yes! and there within he'd all give out to 
Young ones and the old which God him gave as 
His, except the public lands and lives of people.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The first canto of Beowulf sung

I have decided to upload a sung version of my translation of the first canto of Beowulf which deals with the story of Shild Sheeving. The purpose is not to impress people with my talent. I am well aware of my own limitations. It is merely to illustrate the fact that all great poetry contains music and that Beowulf is a great poem and not merely an important historical literary relic of the West Saxon language of Anglo-Saxon England.
17 August 2016

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Beowulf, Canto II: The aftermath, Stanza 1: Shild's descendants

Due to other university related obligations I have recently had to neglect my blogs. The following short continuation of my Beowulf translation was particularly tricky, because the received text as normally published does not match the manuscript, due to the efforts of over-zealous editors. In the manuscript, no name is given for Halfdane's daughter. Neither is her husband's name written as Onela. Rather, it is clearly written as Elan, which I have translated as Alan, which, if read as it would be in English, is a strategy which at least makes the rhythmic structure of the original name clear.
Canto II: The aftermath

Stanza 1: Shild's descendants

In his fortress then, of Danes, 

the Wulf, the well loved ruler,
long among the peoples his fame ran, but
fathering elsewere passed this earthly prince,
until there then was born the high Halfdane,
who ruled long years and fiercely.
Nobly Danish did he live.
His! Four his children had he,
this order being born him:
Heerger, leader of armies,
and Rothgar and Halga good.
Heard I, too, of Alan's queen,
battle Shilving's good bed-fellow.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Reading of Beowulf, Canto 1: Shild Sheeving

This a recitation of the previous post. I uploaded it briefly on my "Amusing the Muses" Blog, before I realized that a Beowulf translation project would interfere with the recently acquired purpose of the blog, which had become the introduction into English of triolets of poets from different ages and different languages. I hope the following recitation will prove to be of interest. Rhythmically, I feel that I can justify my claim to it being more faithful to that of the original West Saxon than any other recording of Beowulf so far produced, whether in West Saxon or in Modern English. I hope, despite my defects as an amateur reader of poetry, that, nevertheless, the beauty of the original Beowulf poem will shine through somehow.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Beowulf: A Translation Based on the Original Manuscript

The translation following this short introduction reflects a decision made to base this translation strictly on the manuscript facsimile which is now available on the British Library website (, though modern editions will continue to be referred to for help in understanding difficult vocabulary items, of which there are many and for which I have found Noboru Sato's edition to be far better than any other (Sato, Noboru (1988). An Interlinear Beowulf. Tokyo: Language Press). Adhering strictly to the British Library's online facsimile is eye-opening, illustrating more than anything else could, the great leaps of faith made by 19th and 20th century editors of the text and the dangers inherent in following the strictures of Eduard Sievers who based his theory of Old West-Saxon versification on the Old Norse versification found in texts written two to three hundred years later than the last estimate for Beowulf's authorship

As the pronunciation of Scyld Scefing would cause trouble for a reader without a knowledge of English dialects or of Old West Saxon orthography, it has been modernized to Shild Sheeving, this probably being the closest pronunciation one would have come across in a dialect speaker of the West Saxon dialect as it evolved from its beginnings in southwest England to what it became to rural inhabitants of that area when dialectologists began studying the dialects of England in the late 19th century. Based on the same principle, Beowulf, probably should be transcribed as Bee Wolf, especially as it would seem that the first syllable of the name is not always necessarilly in a sentence position that would demand it being stressed. However, Beowulf is too far entrenched in English to profitably change. For this reason, it will be written as Beo Wulf, to signify that metrically speaking, the original manuscript would seem to indicate that it is two syllables and not three, no matter what the actual pronunciation at any particular point in time might be. Please note that the translation only used Beo Wulf in reference to the hero of the poem. To avoid possible confusion to someone reading the text for the first time, the name of the grandfather of Hrothgar, also Beowulf, is translated as the Wolf.

Unfortunately, from the perspective of a reader of the original manuscript, the structure of Beowulf has always been interpretated in terms of it being an alliterative text. However, it is written in a Germanic language and the basis of poetry in Germanic languages is the creation of pattern of relatively shorter and weaker syllables alternating with relatively longer and stronger syllables to create a sense of rhythm through a fairly consistent use of repetition. Interpreting Beowulf exclusively in terms of alliteration would be the same as interpreting Keats or Shelley or Browning only in terms of rhyme and ignoring the rhythmic patterns they created. As a result, the bias towards alliterative sensitivity has caused serious damage to most students of Beowulf getting an appreciation of its rhythmic qualities, which, regardless of the pronunciation one uses, is what make the poem stunningly beautiful, not merely decoratively interesting. To partially rectify this, I propose, bit by bit, over the course of the next year or two to translate this beautiful poem, from the pre-Norman Conquest West Saxon dialect in which it was composed into modern English, putting primary emphasis on its rhythmic structure rather than its alliteration. 

As an editorial apparatus, the poem, in its modern translation is devided into cantos and stanzas. This is meant to be a readers' aid only and, in no way reflects the content of the translation, itself, which seeks to retain faithfulness to the rhythmic structure of the original.

Canto I: Shild Sheeving
Stanza 1: Shild Sheeving's deeds

Yes we Danes in yester ages,
of our kings, their glory, hear it,
what their princely courage gave us.
Much, Shild Sheeving, fought the troops of many nations,
dining benches did destroy and warriors shaming.
Though at first a helpless foundling,
he, in deeds of war, waxed under heaven,
honor gained he, till each one of those of him surrounding
overseas, obedience gave him, tribute yielding.
He, our king, was good.

Stanza 2: Shild's son

He a son did then have after.
Youth he sheltered, that God sent the folk for comfort.
Kings not having, stressed. in

pain, God saw that we once suffered.
Worldly honor, many years, the life-lord,
glory-ruler sent to him, the Wulf cub

famed, the offspring.
Wide was his renown with Danish people,
for the father helping, did the young one,
good achieving, give rich gifts, rewards,
that, adult, when facing war, men would serve him,
stay close by forever, good friends being,
that, by deeds, he would, no matter what the nation, prosper.

Stanza 3: Shild's death

Him! Then Shild departed to his maker,
Wished his going in God's keeping.
They then, valued friends, to seashore brought him,
bore him out, as he himself had bade,
while his words still reigned.
Friend of Danes, dear to his land, long did he rule it.
In the harbor a ring-prowed vessel finding,
icy and ready, a princely ship.
Therein they lay their lord still loving,
treasure giver inside a ship famed in construction.
Many riches, jewels were there of far countries loaded.

Stanza 4: A poetic digression

I never heard a ship the better furnished,
weapons there and battle clothing,
daggers and armour on his bosom lay,
Many treasures with him on the ocean waves,
went far departing.

Stanza 5: Shild's body given to the seas

None, the presents by his men provided,
none were more than those, that they gave him,
who, at his beginning, was alone, adrift at sea abandoned still a baby.
They, afixing there a golden banner high upon the vessel,
let the sea him carry on its waters,
Mourning, theirs were sad their spirits' souls.
They, advisers, warriors under heaven,
none then, who that burden carried,
knew for certain what to utter.

9 July 2016