Meghan Purvis on Beowulf

“I translated Beowulf because I was intrigued by a poem so closely tied to the idea of Englishness (it is, after all, the first epic poem in our language), but so different from what we think of as our English world. The world of Beowulf is violent, feudal, and supernatural, but it is also a world deeply concerned with very modern questions: do we evaluate a person’s actions by words or by deeds? How do we value the ties that connect us? Is it possible to admire a hero while questioning his heroics? Even the act of this translation itself – translating Old English into modern English – echoes that tension between simultaneous closeness and distance. As you can imagine, this tension made for interesting work. I chose to translate Beowulf from Old English poetry to modern English poetry, translating it into a modern poetic idiom, as an attempt to produce an ancient English story told in a modern English manner. I have retained some alliterative aspects of the original – which I would argue is still a popular modern poetic technique – but for the most part have deliberately translated the poetry using modern metres and styles. I have also tried to express the myriad ways of reading and understanding Beowulf – whether reading it as a hero worshipper, or as a modern woman uncomfortable with the extremely limited female presence in the poem – by using many different characters and voices instead of translating with the omnipotent voice of a narrator. The narrative is split up into separate poems that, read together as a collection, tell the story of Beowulf.”

Source: Open, 1st prize: Meghan Purvis

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