This Plot of Land

This plot of land where plow meets Earth,
and swaying grasses feed the sullen sheep
on gentle hills where hiding giants sleep.

A curve of hip, and here an elbow raised on high.
The barn and cottage there, where cattle and the kids,
both human and of goat now gainly grow.

Whence come these lives into the world,
and wither do they waning go?
Difficult for deific gnome so deep to delve
the mysteries of life beyond this mission-farm,
the only home, this heaven here on Earth.

Be watchful of the night through birth of day.
In doing rounds the rough heart does rejoice
much more than in these mysteries unmapped.

by Tomten © 2019
[alliterative verse [1], translated from the Tomten language, by The Guern]


in response to the poem, Tomten
By Viktor Rydberg, 1881
Presented in Swedish and English, Steven Michelsen


[1] See pages xxviii- xxx of Heaney’s Introduction to BEOWULF A New Verse Translation, Bilingual Edition, Seamus Heaney , W. W. Norton & Company, New York, London, 2000

“In one area, my own labours have been less than thorough-going. I have not followed the strict metrical rules that bound the Anglo-Saxon scop. I have been guided by the fundamental pattern of four stresses to the line, but I allow myself several transgressions. For exampel, I don’t always employ alliteration, and sometimes I alliterate only in one half of the line. when these breaches occur, it is because I prefer to let the natural ‘sound of sense’ prevail over the demands of the convention: I have been reluctant to force an artificial shape or an unusual word choice just for the sake of correctness.
“In general, the alliteration varies from the shadowy tot he substantial, from the properly to the improperly distributed. Substantial and proper are such lines as

The fortunes of war        favored Hrothgar        [line  64]
the highest in the land, would lend advice [line 172]
and find friendship in the Father's embrace [line 188]
  • “Here the caesura is definite,
  • “there are two stress in each half of the line,
  • “and the first stressed syllable of the second half alliterates with the first or second or both of the stressed syllables in the first half.

“The main deviation from this is one which other translators have allowed themselves–the freedom, that is, to alliterate on the fourth stressed syllable, a practice which breaks the rule but which nevertheless does bind the line together:

We have heard of those princes   heroic campaigns        [line  3]
and he crossed over into the Lord's keeping [line 27]

“In the course of the translation, such deviations, distortions, syncopations, and extensions do occur; what I was after first and foremost was a narrative line that sounded as if it meant business, and I was prepared to sacrifice other things in pursuit of this directness of utterance.”

— Seamus Heaney

EXAMPLE:

Meanwhile, a thane
of the king's household, a carrier of tales,
a traditional singer deeply schooled
in the lore of the past, linked a new theme
to a strict metre. The man started
to recite with skill, rehearsing Beowulf's
triumphs and feats in well-fashioned lines,
entwining his words. (866-873)

Beowulf [ibid.]


See also my essay, Beowulf: listening for alliterative verse