Sunday, December 03, 2017

Robert D. Stevick on Sung-il Lee's Beowulf

Robert D. Stevick

I cited Stevick yesterday in words of high praise for Lee's Beowulf, but let me add a few more, these on how perfect Lee's translation choices have been. According to Stevick:
Nothing gets in the way [of the poem]. The commonest impediments to successful translation have been theories of this and that, High Principles to be upheld, or just romantic notions about "olde tyme" English poetry. Sometimes it is a choice to imitate the general sound of the original text -- two half-lines separated by syntax but linked by alliteration. The one successful instance came many, many years ago from Charles W. Kennedy, but even this text [by Kennedy] tends to accelerate unfittingly as the rhythm continues unrelenting. Sometimes it is a decision to imitate the blank verse of the Renaissance. Sometimes it may be choice of a verse-form such as nine-syllable lines defended by reasoning rather than readability. Sung-Il Lee's translation is not trammeled in any ways like these. The syllable-count is unpredictable: it is instead the phrasings that embody the verse rhythms. (Robert D. Stevick, "Foreward," in Sung-il Lee, Beowulf in Parallel Texts, Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon, 2017, p. ix)
Just the other day, I was discussing with Bill Vallicella the virtue of counting syllables vs. the virtue of measuring phrases. We didn't use exactly those terms, but that's what we were getting at. Stevick clearly comes down on the side of phrasings . . .in this instance, anyway.

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