I’m delighted to have had two more poems from my Beowulf-inspired poetry collection published over the last week!
Both poems were inspired by the moment when the unnamed Geatish woman mourns at Beowulf’s funeral pyre. This is the passage in RM Liuzza’s translation (which I use with my students as it’s an accurate, verse translation):
In my first poem, ‘A New Woman at Beowulf’s Funeral Pyre’, I give this woman a voice, both as a mourner (and there’s lots of discussion of this ‘traditional’ role for women in criticism of Old English poetry) but also to look forward into a future that might be less bleak. You can find the poem here, published by The Mechanic’s Institute Review online. Thank you to the editors to choosing my poem!
The second poem examines the same scene but from a different perspective. The manuscript is considerably damaged at this point of the poem. This is the version of the Old English in my student edition (edited by George Jack), which includes some ellipses but also fills in lots of things in square brackets and italics.
There’s a brilliant feminist article by Helen Bennett in Exemplaria called ‘The Female Mourner at Beowulf’s Funeral: Filling in the Blanks / Hearing the Spaces’ (issue 4, 1992), in which she begins by declaring that this passage ‘does not actually exist’. So much text has been lost and damaged that what we see in most editions is ‘in one sense… the dream of patriarchal scholars: the holes in the text allow them to insert their own inverted reflection to fulfil the supposed desire of the text while confirming their own ideologies. These reconstructions have yielded another example of the passive female victim in Old English poetry’ (p.35).
I was inspired by Bennett’s article to write an altogether different poem, taking the only Old English words that we can definitely be sure of, and then writing my own words in the gaps! ‘The King is Dead [Watch this Space]’ is published by Osmosis Press here. Thanks so much to the editors for accepting my poem!
The Old English words are in italics with a translation directly below then and then my own words appear in square brackets (with a deliberate refusal to close the final bracket in the last line, leaving the poem open for more interpretations!). You can read the poem in different ways- just the Old English, just my glosses/insertions, or all together! It was a fascinating process to think about the gaps/spaces in the manuscript in a different way (and in a deliberately puzzling way!).
More of my Beowulf poems are available online via the links on my Beowulf page. Thank you for reading!