“Hwæt!” is the cry---usually rendered “lo!”— that opens the Old English epic Beowulf. In Hwæt! A Little Old English Anthology of American Modernist Poetry, Peter Glassgold translates modernist American poems into the English of a thousand years ago. Here you will find Ezra Pound’s “A Girl” and “In a Station of the Metro”; William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow”; Gary Snyder’s “By Frazier Creek Falls”; Marianne Moore’s “O To Be a Dragon”; Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of the Jar”; Robert Lowell’s “Water”; David Antin’s “meditation 4”; and 20 other poems by major modern and contemporary poets collected as Old English translations in this most unusual bilingual volume.
With great humor and skill, Glassgold shares with the reader a world where “petals on a wet, black bough” become “Blostmabladu on watum, blacum boge” and plums in the icebox taste “swa swete and swa ċealde.”
As John Gross in The New York Times wrote upon Hwæt!’s original publication in 1985, “Part of the power of these translations comes from the fact that they are in a foreign language, but a language closer to modern English than any surviving one…and the light of recognition keeps coming and going. Partly they convey a sense of going back to the roots of the language, laying bare buried strata.” Further, “Mr. Glassgold tells us that to start with, his translations were ‘part joke, part mad game,’ and they may sound as though they belong on the same shelf as such exercises in learned ingenuity as the Latin translation of Winnie the Pooh that was published a few years ago. But when you read them, they turn out to be something more than a scholarly diversion; conceived, as Mr. Glassgold says, in a spirit rather like that of Dada, they frequently give off their own strange poetic glow.”
Glassgold’s Hwæt!, revised and expanded, includes a guide to spelling and pronunciation as well as explanatory notes for each of the translations. In all, a little anthology that will charm and delight readers of poetry of all centuries.
Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2012
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