Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Yesterday I began copying out Heaney's translation of Beowulf. It is, of course, glorious but also exceedingly simple, a lesson in beauty and accuracy. For instance, writing of the moment when the Danes buried their king, Shield Sheafson, at sea, the anonymous poet tells us that "they shouldered him out to the sea's flood." The sentence is filled with images of pallbearers, strength, waves, the weight of the corpse, ritual, yet the poet (via Heaney) chose none of those specifics to describe the scene. I would like to think like the Beowulf poet, at least now and again.

Recently I read a poem written by the sixth-grade daughter of a friend. She, too, was eloquent in her simplicity--reaching for the plain verb, the plain noun, but putting them together in ways that were exciting and surprising. "String the stems of the flowers." "Push the clouds higher in the sky." "Sing with all the footsteps." Beowulf is a poem in this tradition--a plain story of men and monsters, yet it also presses us to see violence, terror, and retribution as versions of beauty. It's a very distressing poem, and perhaps, because I am a woman, I am also unable to avoid reading it as a closed door. My story is not in this poem.
[Beouw] was four times a father, this fighter prince:
one by one they entered the world,
Heorogar, Hrothgar, the good Halga
and a daughter, I have heard, who was Onela's queen,
a balm in bed to the battle-scarred Swede.
Has anyone written the tale of this daughter?


Carlene said...

What a beautiful project. And yes...I often wonder about the unnamed women in archetypal literature. John Gardner (in Grendal) says that Wealtheow means "servant of the holy good" and that is a touchstone thing for me: no name of her own, she is called this, after the goods/tribute/cattle transaction is made. She is but part of the deal. Conversely, it is eminently interesting to me when a woman is named in literature (Helen, Mary Magdalen, etc) because she must have really been important, either to the narrative or to the culture (or both). Is it reductive not to be named, and only serve as part of the story, or is it reductive/exploitive to be named? Is anonymity safer, broader, more mythic? Or to be a specific figure in a narrative elevating? Ahhh the things we ponder...

Carlene said...


mea culpa

David (n of 49) said...

maxima ;-D