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Seamus Heaney

Sadly, the poet Seamus Heaney recently passed away; there's a nice tribute to him in the Guardian by Colm Toibin.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
newleaf31
Aug. 31st, 2013 01:44 pm (UTC)
I was so sad when I learned about this. Seamus Heaney taught me so much. When I first began my obsession with all things Irish, I was lucky enough to stumble onto his poetry. At first it made me angry, because unlike a lot of the 1916-era Irish poetry and Yeats, Heaney's poems were gritty accounts of a rather hardscrabble life. They didn't seem like "celebrations" of Ireland to me. It took a few years (and, you know, adulthood) before I realized that they absolutely WERE celebrations of Ireland -- but realistic ones, not idealized.

Then a little over a decade ago -- right around the time I went into Hebrew Bible studies in grad school -- I picked up his translation of Beowulf. I'd read Beowulf at least twice before and didn't like it at all. I thought it was ancient and dry and irrelevant and unbelievably overrated. (C'mon, I was an undergrad.) But Heaney's translation painted the ancient story in colors and brought it to life, and made me recognize the high adventure and moral issues that make the story exciting and relevant even now. It taught me more powerfully than I think anything else has about how important the art of translation is to preserving and passing along ancient literature. If you enslave yourself, as a translator, to rote and wooden translations in an effort to stick as close as possible to the original language, 1) your translation is going to be deader than a prehistoric sheep in an Irish peat bog, and 2) your scholarly colleagues are STILL going to quibble about your translation. On the other hand, it's vitally important that a translator tread the line very, very carefully between translation and interpretation, never compromising academic rigor in service to the richness of language. Seamus Heaney's translation work embodied the best of the art of translation. I am thankful for the lessons he taught me, and sad to see him go.
castallia
Sep. 1st, 2013 02:16 am (UTC)
I have always meant to read his translation of Beowulf; I can't remember who did the translation I read, but I didn't like it. I feel sure that if anyone's translation could make me like the work, it would be Heaney's. He was truly a master of words; it's such a sad loss for literature.
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Irish literature

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