I’ve been wanting to work some reviews of volumes of translations for a while now, as a way to spell out why I think my efforts are important and to elucidate my contribution to the field. It’s probably should be said right up front that I do not feel many of these volumes are as good or useful as they should be, but my reasons for thinking this have come out of my actual experience of engaging with the poetry and its weirdnesses. I do not want these reviews, however, to be nothing more than hate-fests, even where I feel the translation is missing an important point. I intend on making a decent argument for my observations, and creating a conversation, even if it turns out to be a bit more critical than some people are comfortable with. There are editions of translated poems I find objectionably inadequate, and their inadequacy has detracted from our discipline by making some of our most exciting texts boring and obscure. Which editions those are will be amply clear as I proceed.
In consultation with friends, I decided that the reviews would be more effective if they were focused on the translations of a single text, and organized as a response and explanation of my work on that poem, with comparison to the published translations. This way, I can compare approaches, textual assumptions, and basic critical attitudes as a range of responses triangulated to my own.
The first texts I am going to try this approach with are the pair of Guthlac poems in the Exeter Book, comparing the Roberts text I used for the translation (Clarendon, 1979) to translations that appear in Thorpe (London, 1842), Gollancz (EETS, 1895), Kennedy (Smith, 1949), Bradley (Everyman, 1982), Clayton (Dunbarton Oaks, 2013), and Bjork (Dunbarton Oaks, 2013), as well as Williamson (UPenn, 2017) when I get my hands on it. So we’ll see how this goes — who knows how really to do this? I’m feeling it out as I go.