Sunday, September 28, 2008

Guthlac B is started

The first section of Guthlac B is now complete and available for commentary on the Guthlac page. Line numbering, following the Muir edition of the Exeter Book, has started over at one, so if you're playing at home with your ASPR text, just add 818 to my line numbers to find the matching passage.

I am quite happy to be buried in the new poem: the texture and sound is so much more rich than A. Immediately I'm seeing many more kennings and a completely different vocabulary, and a different type of sound play. My favorite so far is the internal rhyme on "lyre" (loss) in lines 11-2 (see below for translation). Do you think fumbling/tumbling/crumbling is too jangly a translation for these lines? I do enjoy when sound effects can be preserved in translation, but the register might be wrong.

Also, I had the misfortune to read the Wikipedia article on Guthlac A & B. I was wondering about how others felt when they find something like this. How long does the urge to revise and improve the bad article last in you? It's so tempting, but Lord knows I have better things to do with my life. If I were too write anything about Guthlac, it would much more productive to work on the introduction to the poems on my own page.

Or maybe to just stop procrastinating and get those job applications worked out.

Anyways, onto the translation:

It is widely known among the generations of men, heard by the people, that the God
of Beginnings, the Almighty King, created the first man of the kindred of men
from the purest earth. Then was the novel origin of the race of men, a joyous composition,
fair and rejoicing. Adam the Father was first conceived by God’s favor in Paradise-plain,
where there was no want of delightful things nor decay of prosperity, the fumbling of life
nor tumbling of body, the crumbling of delight nor the arrival of death*—instead Adam
was allowed to live in that land free from all frailties, and enjoy these new pleasures at length. (1-15a)

There he had no need to await, through the passing season of men, the end of life
or delight in that radiant home, but after a time was allowed to return to the joys
of the most beautiful heaven-realm— limbs and body and the spirit of life as one,
and there afterwards always in ever-delights would be allowed to dwell for the expanse
of life in the sight of the Lord, without the journey of death, if they had desired to keep
the word of the Holy One bright in their breasts, and execute his decrees and labor in his homeland. (15b-25a)

It wearied them right at first that they should work at the Wielder’s pleasure, but his wife
Eve seized by the serpent’s lore the forbidden fruit and plucked from the tree a blossom
prohibited by the word of God the Glory-King. Then she by the Devil’s guile gave
the mortal-making morsel to her husband so that the couple was constrained to die. (25b-33)

Afterwards that land was estranged to Adam and Eve, the bright country of choice
was carried away, and so with their children and heirs following, they were shoved
into the struggling-world, shamefully shivering in a strange land. They paid the price
for this deed, these profound faults, through the killing blow of death, which
they had brought to pass through their folly. Since their sin-wrack women and men
must be punished for their great sin, a God-guilty grief through soul-parting,
for these profound faults. Death crowded in upon the kindred of men—
our enemy tyrannized us throughout our world. (34-46a)

There was never again any man from that triumphant stock so eager for God’s will
or so wise that he might be able to avoid that bitter drink which Eve gave Adam of old,
that his young bride poured out for him. It injured both of them in their beloved home.
Death reigned over earth-dwellers, although there were many that did God’s will,
spirit-holy in various human habitations, throughout the open fields. Some early,
some late, and some within our own times’ memory, by the date, sought the reward of victory. (46b-60a)

Books tell us how Guthlac became blessed in Anglia through the pleasure of God.
He elected eternal power and protection for himself. Renowned wide and broad
were his miraculous works, famous in the cities throughout the interior of Britain:
how, by the power of God, he often healed many that sought him from the travel-ways;
men of heavy torments, heart-sorrowed and tremble-minded, bound by disease,
discomforted and sorry. Always they found comfort ready there at the side
of that champion of God, help and healing. There is no man that can recount
or reckon the number of all of those miracles that Guthlac here in this world
here performed for the multitudes through the grace of the Lord. (60b-75)

11-2) ne lifes lyre ne lices hryre,/ ne dreames dryre ne deaðes cyme: The rhyming words in these two lines are derived from leosan (to lose), hreosan (to fall to the earth) and dreosan (to crumble or decay), respectively, class II strong verbs that dramatically change their stem in the second preterite and past participle, ending in -uron and -oren. The resulting chiming in sound is often exploited as internal rhyme in AS poetry, most notably in the Ruin lines 3, 5 & 7. It feels appropriate that these verbs of loss and change should involve a radical alteration of ther sound as the tense recedes into the past.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Guthlac A is done

OK, so Guthlac A is finally done, though I'm not so happy with the eighth section. I feel that it came out a bit too close to other translations I consulted (in this case, Bradley and Kennedy), and needs a bit of space to breathe, which will allow me to really get into what's going on there. The sudden movement in the final 20 lines or so that goes from a singular subject (Guthlac) to plural (everyone like him) feels strange. However, I do like the final seven lines that describe the New Jerusalem and return to the feminine subject "heo" that stands out in the opening lines.

On to Guthlac B, but it will be much slower since the job list came out.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Guthlac A nearly completed

Goodness gracious it feels good to get something finished! I have updated the Guthlac page so that all but the very last section of the first poem is complete. Notes on the new lines will be filled in sometime in the next few days.

Is it such a good thing to be utterly enthralled by the qualities of the poem you're translating? I feel like Guthlac A is the greatest poem ever, although I know realistically that this is far from so. At first, I felt a bit embarrassed by the poem's clunky relative clauses, its aggravating habit of modifying a singular noun in the dative by an adjective in plural (see the quote below), its limited and very repetitive vocabulary, and its cyclical structure based on a recurrence of a single scenario of demonic temptation. But as the lines turned into full sections, the sections built up momentum, and the voice became familiar I have a new respect for the poet's work.

Guthlac A is a haunting expression of the banality of evil, of temptations that do not blitzkreig so much as besiege endlessly. Guthlac requires patient endurance against the mind-numbing stagnancy of the demons' world-view. The demons emphasize the perils of conformity by repeating the same attack over and over again, demanding that Guthlac maintain their status quo. The emphasis consistently lies in the fact that because they have suffered for pride Guthlac must necessarily do so as well. Guthlac, on the other hand, embodies a possibility of change, of changing his way of life and demeanor, even as his name ("war-play") as the terms of that battle are transformed as he devotes himself to spiritual labor: "Ac ic minum Criste cweman þence/ leofran lace" [but I think to satisfy my lord Christ with a dearer sort of play] (306-7). By contrast the devils' focus on battle-play can never be materialized, they menace and grab, but cannot harm the saint. For all their intentions their belligerence is not more substantial than the air, and at one point, they are even described as "lyft-lacende" (bouncing like the air or upon the air) (146), a kenning whose assonance chimes with Guthlac's name, relating and dividing them at the same time.

(On second look at this post, I realize that my reading of Guthlac A must be influenced by my own personal tribulations in trying to get my Sir Gowther chapter done the way it should be, to advance the stakes and really get the argument to say something important.)