|Franks Casket (7th Century)|
Many of you will know of my long-standing obsession with Anglo-Saxon and that I have already published various translations of Old English poetry.
Yesterday, I decided, quite out of the blue, that I would translate the Old English poem The Dream of the Rood into a modern English poem.
The Dream is one of the oldest poems in Old English in existence, possibly dating from around or before the 7th century.
I say 'out of the blue', but actually I have been considering it for some years. Over a decade, in fact. And lately the idea has been slipping in and out of my head more frequently. But not with any real seriousness until late yesterday evening, when I leapt off the sofa, snatched up a copy of the Anglo-Saxon text from the bookshelf, and started making notes in the margins.
I have often found, throughout my writing life, that spontaneous, bolt-from-the-blue decisions like this are highly propitious and nearly always end in a finished, successful publication.
This translation may take several months. The Dream of the Rood is longer than my previous OE translation, The Wanderer, which took about 6-8 weeks in all.
First, I translate the poem myself.
Then I look at other translations and compare them with my own and each other.
Then I begin to write my own version in poem-form.
(Version, please note, rather than translation, because I believe only a prose version of a poem can be called a translation. Once you attempt poetry in a second language, it can never be considered a straight translation, but only a version; however close you come to the original, the new poem will always try to assert itself over the old one, in one way or another.)
I tend to work very slowly with these versions from the Old English, writing only a few lines of the poem per day, feeling my way through it.
Wish me luck. I'll let you know how it's progressing. At least the initial own-translation shouldn't take too long, as I first translated the poem in 1998. But my OE is a trifle rusty!
For those interested in poetic translations, my rather controversial version of The Wanderer appears in my latest poetry collection, Camper Van Blues, newly available in paperback from Salt.