heaney's beowulf 18-01-2010

i read this when it came out and it was clearly brilliant, but i'm now listening to it for the first time and i'm coming round to thinking it's a masterpiece, wholly authentic without being in the least antique. i'm struggling to think of any translations of long poems which come close. i keep rewinding and listening to passages because they're almost physically pleasureable.

obviously the poem is - and was - meant to be read aloud. and i could listen to seamus heaney reciting the phonebook to be honest. but i've always found that when a poet reads their work well i'm forced to consume the poetry slowly, at their own speed. consequently i appreciate things which slip under the eye when the book is in front of me (i never realised how good a poet paul farley was, for example, until i heard him read; though he'd recite the phonebook pretty well, too).


one bizarre thing. two words seemed out of place when i was listening to the first part of the poem. anathema and catastrophe, both of which are greek in origin. all the latinate words seem entirely at home alongside their germanic cousins. even gumption (an 18th cy scottish word, apparently, but one which has a jeevesian twenties ring to me) seemed appropriate in context. it must be something, i guess, about greek having always been an alien language in the british isles. though why it would take a 20th cy translation of a 10th cy poem set in denmark to throw the distinction into relief i have no idea...