Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Anglo-Saxon Futures 2

Next week I'll be participating in a translation workshop at the Anglo-Saxon Futures 2 conference at King's College, London. This is my second trip to the conference, which promises to great fun again -- there will be papers by my advisor Kathleen Davis, Tricia Dailey, Hal Momma, Eileen Joy (who I'm super-psyched to meet), and Gillian Overing, among others, and the meeting is always very fun.

My panel will be on translating Old English poetry, focusing on "The Ruin" and "Durham," and led by Marijane Osborn. Although, the session will probably focus most on "The Ruin," the pairing is very cool. I've always been interested in how "The Ruin" is over-burdened by critical pieties, that lament for the shattered and scattered condition of OE poetic manuscripts. "Durham" seems like the perfect antidote for the austerity and dead-ends of "The Ruin." It's chatty and open-ended, enthusiastic about the multiplicities it enumerates, and active and vigorous in its language. It's hardly as pyrotechnic as "The Ruin," but it shows OE verse to be quickened and participating in linguistic change in post-1066 England. Past and present have a continuity, a relation of something other than nostalgia or melancholia, in the "Durham" that "The Ruin" does not seem to.

I hope that we can break down some that fusty edifice that contains "The Ruin" and free up its voice so that its formidable poetic innovation and energy can be revealed in a new way. I have always felt that the poem plays perhaps a bit too well into the traditional medievalist pose of focusing on Christian exegetics, where everything is an expression of contemptus mundi, and the use of wyrde twice in the poem forces the entire thing into a tried-and-(therefore-has-to-be)-true Boethian, Ælfredian frame.

I have also been wondering about the relationships that can be made between the ruins of Andreas and those of "The Ruin." It seems to me that the saint's life shows that (esp. in the animated statue episode (ll. 706-801, or in the final flood (esp. 1489b-1523a)) ruins and old buildings have a productive, two-way, relationship with the present. The eald enta geweorc can be spoken to by St. Andrew (He wið anne þæra... mæðel gehede (1495-6)), and he can expect them to give him an answer. Also, at the structural emblem of the old world, the Temple in Jerusalem (a building that described as heah ond horn-geap, just like Heorot) contains an image of a timeless world, the statues of the Seraphim and Cherubim that are "þæs bremestan þe mid þam burg-warum/ in þære ceastre is" [the most illustrious of angel-kind that there is,
among the citizens in that city] (718-9); a representation of an eternal world that will seek out and revivify the past to act on the present time, in the form of the buried corpses of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (edniwinga andweard cuman [to come forth into the present renewed] (783)). In both cases, the past that is decayed and buried is renewable, recyclable and able to be reinscribed with the terms of life now. Ruins in Andreas do not just sit still, mouldering and tottering and fading away: they can explode with life and action at any minute.

This is what I imagine could be part of "The Ruin" -- ruined places are not always waste; they grow up new cities in and around, and on top of, the old stones. The walls of Durham, for instance, stanas ymbutan/ wundrum gewæxen [the stones without/wondrously have waxed] (2-3) -- doubtlessly remnants of Roman times but that are still alive -- are shown in the lyric to be places of multiplicity and abundance, of living things that flourish now (the fishes and forest creatures of lines 5 and 8), and the unarimeda reliquia [countless relics] in the city's churches contain the promise of new life and everlasting life.

I will perhaps post my translations here soon, but they need a bit of time to dry -- it's not like I've ever been bashful to post first drafts here before, but I'm a bit unsure about the voice being right.

1 comment:

Eileen Joy said...

Aaron: I think what you meant to say is that Eileen Joy is super-psyched to meet you, because she is. She's counting on your work on "Andreas" and translation to help her in so many ways. Cheers, Eileen