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4 - Edwin Morgan: Speaking to his Own Age

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

Hugh Magennis
Affiliation:
Queen's University Belfast
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Summary

Edwin Morgan had a clear aim in mind when he published his translation of Beowulf in 1952. As he brings out in the manifesto-like ‘Introduction’ to the translation and indicates in its very title, Beowulf: A Verse Translation into Modern English, he wanted to produce a version of Beowulf in the living medium of modern English poetry, a version that, while properly guided by its author's commitment to ‘the care of accuracy’, is written for the reader of poetry and that works as poetry. As he worked on Beowulf, Morgan had already produced or was working on translations into Modern English of the Anglo-Saxon poems The Ruin, The Seafarer and The Wanderer and some Old English riddles; slightly later (1953) he produced a translation of a twenty-two line passage from Beowulf into Scots.

Dating from early in what was to be a long and distinguished literary career (Morgan was thirty-three in 1952), Morgan's version of Beowulf must be seen as being on a different level poetically from any translation of the poem that had been produced up until that time and a very significant piece of work in its own right. Only Morris's version approaches it in the depth of its engagement with the Old English poem and Morris had gone for a distinctly unmodern register. As the analysis below brings out, Morgan's translation did not fully achieve his aim in writing it, but it is a work of great critical interest and taken in the context of its time it represents a key milestone in the history of Beowulf translations.

Type
Chapter
Information
Translating 'Beowulf'
Modern Versions in English Verse
, pp. 81 - 108
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2011

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