A Graph Review 60 to (mostly) highpoints of 70
Published by Penned in the Margins 2013
Paper. £9.99. 978 190805814 0 110pp
Winner of The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2011
A PoetryBook Society Recommended Translation
Meghan Purvis is an American poet with an MA from UEA and (as of 2013) working on her PhD. She notes in the Preface that she is the first American and the first woman to produce a translation of Beowulf. I believe she is currently based in New York, USA.
Beowulf, an epic, first in the English language. In its earliest versions, even those relatively more recent, it is as though it is sitting atop a hill and ramparted by design and language.
An oral narrative constructed from the tradition of an heroic figure amidst the memories of blood-lines, blood-feuds and dark monsters. It uses language, even in translation, that echoes and rings through reddened halls and snatches at lives and kin.
Of Beowulf: a foundling, a man of strength and bravery, a friend in a time of dire need. From Grendel and his revengeful mother. Gift-swords and honour. Fast in friendship, a king and finally a slayer of a mighty dragon in mortal combat. A long life and a long and bloody story.
Always read the Acknowledgements and especially the Preface here as they are often so informative. Like Meghan Purvis I have not seen the film. Unlike Meghan Purvis I have not read Seamus Heaney or several of the other translators she lists, no doubt I will. If I should need to, though this version may trump them.
This highly successful translation brings variation of voice and form to the Epic which makes it a fascinating and forceful read. By creating a sequence of poems of differing tone and format we are able to see/hear subtleties that might otherwise be missed. The views of women, watchers and servers, are suddenly visible. The honour, the feuding, the narratives of the past versus the clashing of swords or the filling of cups midst celebration.
The beat throughout is always strong, the words fitting and the images cast brightly. I even felt a sadness for the dragon that kept a pointless enduring watch, later beautifully balanced by Beowulf’s expectation of death and its event. Also learnt of the frailty and strength of men and the dignity of a promise kept. A final scene, a classic description.
It is the same, endless story, beautifully told. This time with a variety of voices, like ghosts insisting to be heard.
As the reader you will find what you know, yet hear and see so much more in this translation, revitalisation, by Meghan Purvis.