30 August 2013

for Seamus Heaney

The poet Seamus Heaney died today in Dublin, Ireland. My books are in even greater disarray than usual so the only thing by him I could find this evening was his famous translation of Beowulf, the earliest surviving great work of English-language poetry. In the excerpt below, for king, prince, lord, read artist, poet, man.

Then the Geat people began to construct
a mound on a headland, high and imposing,
a marker that sailors could see from far away,
and in ten days they had done the work.
It was their hero's memorial; what remained from the fire
they housed inside it, behind a wall
as worthy of him as their workmanship could make it.
And they buried torques in the barrow, and jewels
and a trove of such things as trespassing men
had once dared to drag from the hoard.
They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure,
gold under gravel, gone to earth,
as useless to men now as it ever was.
Then twelve warriors rode around the tomb,
chieftain's sons, champions in battle,
all of them distraught, chanting in dirges,
mourning his loss as a man and a king.
They extolled his heroic nature and exploits
and gave thanks for his greatness; which was the proper thing,
for a man should praise a prince whom he holds dear
and cherish his memory when that moment comes
when he has to be convoyed from his bodily home.
So the Geat people, his hearth companions,
sorrowed for the lord who had been laid low.
They said that of all the kings upon the earth
he was the man most gracious and fair-minded,
kindest to his people and keenest to win fame.

translated by Seamus Heaney
13 April 1939 - 30 August 2013


Sibyl said...

Here's my favorite Heaney poem (predictably), so you don't need to hunt through your books. http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/death-of-a-naturalist/.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Thanks, that's a wonderful poem!