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The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translationby Greg Delanty
Synopses & Reviews
Encompassing a wide range of voices-from weary sailors to forlorn wives, from heroic saints to drunken louts, from farmers hoping to improve their fields to sermonizers looking to save your soul—the 123 poems collected in The Word Exchange complement the portrait of medieval England that emerges from Beowulf, the most famous Anglo-Saxon poem of all. Offered here are tales of battle, travel, and adventure, but also songs of heartache and longing, pearls of lusty innuendo and clear-eyed stoicism, charms and spells for everyday use, and seven "hoards" of delightfully puzzling riddles.
Featuring all-new translations by seventy-four of our most celebrated poets—including Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky, Billy Collins, Eavan Boland, Paul Muldoon, Robert Hass, Gary Soto, Jane Hirshfield, David Ferry, Molly Peacock, Yusef Komunyakaa, Richard Wilbur, and many others—The Word Exchange is a landmark work of translation, as fascinating and multivocal as the original literature it translates.
"Hefty and easy to like, fit at once for the classroom and the kitchen table, this anthology is a rare beast, a commercial opportunity that also fulfills a real literary need. Most of the corpus of surviving Anglo-Saxon poetry--though it has been translated before--has had no recent, high-profile rendering until this capacious book. Most of the short poems and passages from all the long ones are rendered into modern English, sometimes (but only sometimes) in Anglo-Saxon alliterative metrical form, by several dozen British, Irish, and American poets of some repute, and the results are consistently good and sometimes stunning. The editors (one Irish but resident in Vermont, one American) do well to mix famous Americans such as Robert Hass with talented poets known mostly across the Atlantic, such as Paul Farley and David Constantine. Delanty and Matto divide their selections by genre--accounts of historical events (mostly battles), charms and recipes, proverbs and advice, lyrical laments, and the famous riddles, broken up into seven 'hoards' throughout the book. Anglo-Saxon culture was stark and practical, deeply Christian once converted, and with few illusions about life on Earth: 'Holly must be burned,' says a maxim translated by Brigit Kelly, 'and the goods of a dead man divided./ God's judgment will be just.' The riddles are sometimes easy, sometimes hard to solve, and many are double entendres: riddle 45 ('I saw in a corner something swelling,' in Richard Wilbur's version) might be bread dough, or something else. To these light moments--and there are plenty of them--such poems as 'The Damned Soul Address the Body' (in Maurice Riordan's choice words) add force and gravity. The editors have produced a book the many fans of Heaney's Beowulf might take home and dip into, almost at random, for years. (Dec.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Book News Annotation:
This innovative approach to Anglo-Saxon poetry brings together contemporary poets and the "anonywulfen" of early England. Delaney, poet at St. Michael's College, and Matto (English, Adelphi University) invited a number of poets to each interpret one of the Old English poems, riddles, religious passages and maxims. Many of the poets never studied the language and so were helped by scholars. The results are intriguing, varying from literal translations to images. Some of the authors discuss their experiences in an appendix. Another appendix gives possible answers for the riddles. The original of each poem is shown on a page facing the translation and a website is listed which gives audio readings of both. Hopefully readers unfamiliar with Anglo-Saxon will utilize this source as the power of the poetry is based in the sound of the words. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The dazzling variety of Anglo-Saxon poetry brought to life by an all-star cast of contemporary poets in an authoritative bilingual edition.
Starred Review: This brilliant anthology infuses new vigor into Old English poetry and will delight scholars and general readers alike…. The results are stunning. The different translations convey the multivocal variety characterizing the originals, a quality usually absent from selections translated by one hand…. Highly recommended.Starred Review. Hefty and easy to like, fit at once for the classroom and the kitchen table, this anthology is a rare beast, a commercial opportunity that also fulfills a real literary need…. The editors have produced a book the many fans of Heaney’s Beowulf might take home and dip into, almost at random, for years.
About the Author
Seamus Heaneyreceived the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995; he teaches regularly at Harvard University and lives in Dublin.
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Fiction and Poetry » Anthologies » Poetry