Beowulf, or that time I was proven right by Anglo-Saxon poetry

One of the books I read starting with B for February was Beowulf. It was suggested by my boss. It turns out the Toronto Public Library has a bilingual edition: Anglo-Saxon to modern English. The introduction was fascinating. It set out how Seamus Heaney approached the task of translating this ages-old poem. Which lead me to some unexpected support…

One of the things I have always done that apparently drives Toby a little batty is change topics of conversation, either immediately or after a lull, by using the interjection “so.” Toby considers “so” as more a conclusion indicator word as opposed to a new topic indicator. This has bothered him for some time. 😉

What does this have to do with Beowulf? Well, Mr. Heaney writes about the voice of some “relatives of my father’s, people whom I had once described in a poem as “big voiced Scullions.” He explains they were big-voiced as everything they said came out more like a declaration as opposed to a statement. “A simple sentence such as “we cut the cord to-day” took on immense dignity when one of the Scullions spoke it.” and that was how he wanted Beowulf to sound.

The first lines read:

Usually, hwaet is translated in a literary fashion as “lo” or “hark” or “behold.” But in “Scullionspeak, the particle “so” came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom, “so” operates as an expression which obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention. So, “so” it was.”

Two letters. Occasional snarky remarks. All put to rest by a thousand-year-old poem.

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