The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation

Overview

"A book the many fans of Heaney's Beowulf might take home and dip into, almost at random, for years." —Publishers Weekly
Featuring 123 all-new translations by seventy-four of our most celebrated poets—including Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky, Billy Collins, Eavan Boland, Richard Wilbur, and many others—“this brilliant anthology infuses new vigor into Old English poetry” (Library Journal). Presented in an authoritative bilingual edition, The Word Exchange is as fascinating and ...

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Overview

"A book the many fans of Heaney's Beowulf might take home and dip into, almost at random, for years." —Publishers Weekly
Featuring 123 all-new translations by seventy-four of our most celebrated poets—including Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky, Billy Collins, Eavan Boland, Richard Wilbur, and many others—“this brilliant anthology infuses new vigor into Old English poetry” (Library Journal). Presented in an authoritative bilingual edition, The Word Exchange is as fascinating and multivocal as the original literature it translates.

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Editorial Reviews

Commonweal
A superb anthology . . . the results are wide-ranging, both in variety of original poems and in the distinctive voices of the translators.— John Wilson
Financial Times
The editors and translators . . . have unlocked the word hoard here, and have made us see this rich legacy with fresh eyes.— Michael Wood
Washington Post
Anyone who has been put off Anglo-Saxon poetry because of the stiffness or academese of older translations will discover much to enjoy in The Word Exchange.— Michael Dirda
John Wilson - Commonweal
“A superb anthology . . . the results are wide-ranging, both in variety of original poems and in the distinctive voices of the translators.”
Michael Wood - Financial Times
“The editors and translators . . . have unlocked the word hoard here, and have made us see this rich legacy with fresh eyes.”
Michael Dirda - Washington Post
“Anyone who has been put off Anglo-Saxon poetry because of the stiffness or academese of older translations will discover much to enjoy in The Word Exchange.”
Michael Dirda
Anyone who has been put off Anglo-Saxon poetry because of the stiffness or academese of older translations will discover much to enjoy in The Word Exchange. Almost everything is here, with the exception of the book-length "Beowulf." Still, bear in mind that the softer passions are seldom mentioned, and this is definitely not a book for a late Valentine's Day present. But there is wonderful stuff here…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Hefty and easy to like, fit at once for the classroom and the kitchen table, this anthology is a rare beast, a commercial opportunity that also fulfills a real literary need. Most of the corpus of surviving Anglo-Saxon poetry--though it has been translated before--has had no recent, high-profile rendering until this capacious book. Most of the short poems and passages from all the long ones are rendered into modern English, sometimes (but only sometimes) in Anglo-Saxon alliterative metrical form, by several dozen British, Irish, and American poets of some repute, and the results are consistently good and sometimes stunning. The editors (one Irish but resident in Vermont, one American) do well to mix famous Americans such as Robert Hass with talented poets known mostly across the Atlantic, such as Paul Farley and David Constantine. Delanty and Matto divide their selections by genre--accounts of historical events (mostly battles), charms and recipes, proverbs and advice, lyrical laments, and the famous riddles, broken up into seven “hoards” throughout the book. Anglo-Saxon culture was stark and practical, deeply Christian once converted, and with few illusions about life on Earth: “Holly must be burned,” says a maxim translated by Brigit Kelly, “and the goods of a dead man divided./ God’s judgment will be just.” The riddles are sometimes easy, sometimes hard to solve, and many are double entendres: riddle 45 (“I saw in a corner something swelling,” in Richard Wilbur’s version) might be bread dough, or something else. To these light moments--and there are plenty of them--such poems as “The Damned Soul Address the Body” (in Maurice Riordan’s choice words) add force and gravity. The editors have produced a book the many fans of Heaney’s Beowulf might take home and dip into, almost at random, for years. (Dec.)
Library Journal
This brilliant anthology infuses new vigor into Old English poetry and will delight scholars and general readers alike. Poet Delanty (artist in residence, St. Michael's Coll.) and Matto (English, Adelphi Univ.) invited over 70 poets, some seasoned, some lesser known (as a group, they range from Seamus Heaney to Yusef Komunyakaa), to translate over 100 extant Anglo-Saxon poems (excluding Beowulf), including riddles, charms, and religious and historical verses. The results are stunning. The different translations convey the multivocal variety characterizing the originals, a quality usually absent from selections translated by one hand. Original texts and translations appear on facing pages, a format that encourages readers to dust off their college Old English or dive headlong into this thorny and muscular language. Organized into thematic sections divided by "riddle-hoards," the volume offers a reading experience that is both structured and visceral. A foreword by Heaney and brief essays from selected translators supplement the superb scholarly apparatus that rounds out this book. Matto's introduction and guides to Anglo-Saxon pronunciation and meter are especially enriching. VERDICT This work affirms the reliable vitality and mystery of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Highly recommended.—J. Greg Matthews, Washington State Univ., Pullman
The Barnes & Noble Review

There's something about winter, with its outer gales and inner fires, that brings us back to the basics -- hearth, home, tradition, song, and poem: even in its darkness, this season's inward turn kindles a warming sense of connection to the past. Greg Delanty and Michael Matto's lovely book of Anglo-Saxon poetry in translation -- released just in time for the solstice -- participates in this return, inviting us anew into the earliest songs of the wandering, sea-faring, warmaking northern tribes whose speech patterns still form the English language's deepest roots. While much Anglo-Saxon poetry has been translated by scholars for scholars, this book lovingly gives each old poem to a contemporary poet, offering present-day readers a chance to hear Anglo-Saxon in a panoply of voices that reflect the original poems' diversity. In turn the ancient poems have fresh space to haunt us -- forging as true an exchange of words as we muddled 21st-century types can hope to have with people who lived over a thousand years ago.

More often than not, the poems bring us into a common space we all yet share. In one poem, Eavan Boland captures the lament of an abandoned and exiled wife. In another, Mary Jo Salter gives voice to a seafarer who watches icy waves and curlews "though elsewhere men were laughing… though elsewhere men drank mead." Although that ancient anonymous bard reminds us that "No kinsman can console/ or protect a sorry soul," it's true that, by hearing these distant voices freshly, we can empathize anew with them, and also with ourselves.

--Tess Taylor

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393342413
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/9/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 623,271
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Greg Delanty is an artist-in-residence at Saint Michael’s College. He lives in Burlington, Vermont.

Michael Matto is an associate professor of English at Adelphi University. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Seamus Heaney (1939—2013) was an Irish poet, playwright, translator, lecturer and recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born at Mossbawn farmhouse between Castledawson and Toomebridge, County Derry, he resided in Dublin until his death.

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