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Ce n'est pas avec des idées qu'on fait des vers, c'est avec des mots.

— Stéphane Mallarmé


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Sunday, March 6th, 2005

Notes on Listening to Heaney's Beowulf in the Car

  • I bought the CD thinking it would be fun to listen to on long car trips. The dual obstacle turns out to be Ellen and Sylvia, who aren't into it. Hmm... but this morning for the first time (and admittedly on a short trip) I convinced Sylvia at least that it would be good listening because it is a Fairy Tale, which genre she enjoys. Who knows how long this will last.
  • Sylvia noticed midway in to the first book that elves were among the characters, something Beowulf has in common with the Fairy Tales CD she likes to listen to. (They don't, however, "talk in funny voices.")
  • I noticed while listening that the poem was written by a Christian; he calls the Danes "heathenish" and says they did not yet know "the Lord most high, ruler of heaven" (I think is how he phrases it). For some reason I had always thought the poem was from before Christianity was introduced to the British isles, I guess because the events it describes took place before Christianity. Also because I thought writing came along with Christianity* and that the poem was an oral legend, so pre-writing.

    But I can try and make some sense of this -- could be that the oral legend predates British Christianity and it was written down (and maybe expanded on) by somebody afterwards. Kinda like with the legend of Troy and Homer. I want to find out if there is any record of the identity of the person who wrote it down, and what his dates were, and his position in life. Time to read more closely the introduction to Heaney's translation, which I just skimmed at the time I read the book but which I seem to recall being pretty long, it will probably contain the info I'm looking for.

Update: we took a longer trip this afternoon going to a friend's birthday party, and I was actually able to listen to the whole Book I, a bit more than an hour. Sylvia lost interest about 2/3 of the way through (around the point of the story-within-a-story about the war between Hrothgar and Finn the Frisian); but she did not demand different music, just started making up a conversation between two stuffed animals that were on hand.

Another Update: I realized I have been talking about "Book I" when I actually mean "Disc I". The epic is divided into 2 CD's. I thought based on an unclear memory of reading it, that that corresponded to a division in the text; but apparently not.


*Okay so there were runes before that. My whole idea falls apart if Beowulf was written down in runes but I'm pretty sure that is not the case.

posted afternoon of March 6th, 2005: Respond
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Monday, May 12th, 2008

Meter

Reading the Inferno today and I was having a little trouble with figuring out what it should sound like. So I took the obvious path and started reading aloud. And what a revelation! I think I am going to read this whole book aloud -- the sound is lovely and I'm understanding it better. I think I "get" terza rima now, the way it leads you through the canto; Pinsky's introduction was helpful in this regard, but what really made it concrete was to listen to the reading.

My sense of reading poetry aloud has been heavily influenced by Heany's reading (or "declamation"?) of Beowulf, which I've been listening to a lot in the last couple of weeks.

Try reading this aloud:

"My son," said the gentle master, "here are joined
The souls of all who die in the wrath of God,
From every country, all of them eager to find

Their way across the water -- for the goad
Of Divine Justice spurs them so, their fear
Is transmuted to desire. Souls who are good

Never pass this way; therefore, if you hear
Charon complaining at your presence, consider
What that means." Then, the earth of that grim shore

Began to shake: so violently, I shudder
And sweat recalling it now. A wind burst up
From the tear-soaked ground to erupt red light and batter

My senses -- and so I fell, as though seized by sleep.

-- See how the meter leads you on through the passage. I'm finding it impossible to stop reading in the middle of a canto.

posted evening of May 12th, 2008: Respond
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