Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dreams: National Poetry Day 2007

Researching the 2007 National Poetry Day theme of 'Dreams' this week, I came across a rich new verse translation by Mark Leech of the Old English poem The Dream of the Rood, a translation which in 2004 won him First Prize in the The Times Stephen Spender Prize for poetry translation.

I found Leech's translation a very sensuous and enjoyable poem, but regretted the odd dip into what might be considered archaic language, feeling that words like 'wondrous', 'laden' and the repeated 'bliss' and 'blissful', whilst true to the original and perfectly good in their own right, might have been better laid aside for a more contemporary feel to what is, after all, a timeless subject: the dramatic and powerful story of the cross of Christ, in its own words, as narrated to a dreamer.

You can find Mark Leech's prize-winning translation of this ancient Christian poem, with facing text Anglo-Saxon, at the Stephen Spender Memorial Trust website.

It's an excellent poetry competition to think of entering if you go in for translating poetry, by the way. Which I know several of my readers do ...

5 comments:

Bo said...

I loved it! Knowing little AS it was a struggle to pick through the original, but I was impressed. Thanks Jane!

Jane Holland said...

I do love Anglo-Saxon. I'd like to set aside some time in the future to write a new verse translation of less well-known poems like the Wanderer and the Seafarer. I hope it won't be one of those ambitions that just drags on for year after year, like giving up smoking or losing weight ...

Well, I gave up the demon weed in the end, I suppose. So miracles can happen!

Of course, it might be a good idea to start with something a little shorter. Say, the fragments of The Ruins ...?!

Jx

David Weller said...

Wow.. what beautiful language.. sweet among the smooth rows of thought.. crystalline and gemlike our beloved tree.. and Christ's great story.. a timeless poem..for today's soul...

Mark Leech said...

Hi Jane, Thanks for the comments about my translation, I'm blushing with delight.

I agree with you now about the archaisms - but I translated the poem four years ago, and my views have changed since. In those words' defence, though, I was trying to retain some of the orignal's alliterative scheme, which may have blinded me to other issues.

I like the idea of contemporising A/S poetry, and have tried it a few times since - eg setting The Wife's Lament in Shepherd's Bush - anyone else out there taken up the challenge?

Jane Holland said...

I did a version of the Wife's Lament in my last book of poetry but although I WANTED it to be contemporary-sounding, it just didn't happen. So I do appreciate how hard it can be, especially if you can actually read and understand the original language and are not just working from someone else's translation (which is usually easier when striving to be original or contemporary in your treatment of an ancient poem, even though it's cheating, to my mind).

I love the idea of contemporising this stuff though, yes. I did a sequence on Boudicca - obviously all from my own imagination though - and worked grenades and rifles in there along with spears and chariots. It felt like a heady mix. But I wasn't translating something ancient and polished, it has to be said, and I bet it's very hard to move away from well-worn paths under such circumstances.

Let us know if you do manage it. Have you joined the Poets on Fire forums?

Jx