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 ├żence/ 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.)

No comments: