Translations

Beowulf: Supplementary Materials:

Morris, May, passage from "Morris as a Writer: The Influence of the North," William Morris: Artist, Writer, Socialist, 492-93.

One of my Father’s last adventures in translation was his attack upon Beowulf. The Story of Beowulf naturally looms in the horizon of any English poet; but the difficulties of its language and the problems of scholarship it presents demand a special preparation which Morris was unable to give it. Accordingly he sought the aid of a competent Anglo-Saxon scholar to do for him what had been so successfully done by Eirikr Magnússon in his first attempts upon the Icelandic sagas, and Mr Wyatt’s aid was enlisted. The critical study of the text of Beowulf is still in a state of flux and as a consequence the value of Morris’s rendering considered as a translation is not on a par with that of his Icelandic translations; but as a sustained effort it still retains its place among his works. A selection from the correspondence which passed between poet and translator will give some idea of the conditions under which the Beowulf was produced. What my Father had long felt about the poem may be seen form the following extract from an unpublished lecture on ‘Early England:’

The epic of Beowulf is worthy of a great people for its sincerity of language and beauty of expression, and nowhere lacks the epic quality of putting clear pictures before the reader’s eyes; nor is there anything in it coarse, ignoble or degrading; on the contrary it breathes the very spirit of courageous freedom: to live is good and to die is good if you are valiant and faithful and if you reckon great deeds and the fair fame that comes of them of more account than a few more short years of a trembler’s life upon the earth. This is the simple ethic of our forefathers, and in these poems it is so set forth that it is clear they really believed it, and in consequence Life amidst all its sufferings and hardships was a continuous poem to them.


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