kottke.org posts about beowulf

Seamus Heaney, RIPAug 30 2013

Irish poet Seamus Heaney has died at 74. The Guardian has a brief account of his life; The Telegraph grapples more directly with the work There's also his long, insightful interview with The Paris Review, from 1997.
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"Heaney's volumes make up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in Britain," the BBC wrote in 2007, calling him "arguably, the English language's greatest living bard."

One of his best-known poems, "Digging," compares his trade to that of his father and grandfather, who were farmers and cattle-raisers. These are its last two stanzas:

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I'll dig with it.

One of Heaney's great later achievements was his translation of Beowulf, which I bought and read along with his Selected Poems when I was in college.

Heaney's take on the Anglo-Saxon most reminds me of the first of Ezra Pound's Cantos, a weird mix of old epic and contemporary free-verse imagery and meters, a translation of a translation of Homer that begins "And then" and ends "So that:"

When Swinburne died, W.B. Yeats is said to have told his sister, "Now I am King of the Cats." When Robert Frost died, John Berryman asked, "who's number one?"

I note this not to pose the question "who's number one?" now that Heaney has died, but to observe that just as champion boxers and sprinters often have outsized competitive personalities that seem like caricatures compared to other athletes, even among writers, and even when they resist, as Heaney did, being drawn into literary feuds or political debate, great poets are often magnificent and terrible and troubling and glorious and weird.

David Gallagher dings Beowulf for using digitalNov 15 2007

David Gallagher dings Beowulf for using digital actors, resulting in an uncanny valley problem for the movie.

It's impossible to watch "Beowulf" without sensing that the "actors" are being pushed around by invisible forces, not living and breathing on their own.

I noticed the same thing when I saw the trailer in the theater a few weeks ago. I'm stunned that the filmmakers thought it was OK that the whole thing seems soulless and constantly reminds people that, hey, this is fake, you're watching a movie! It's a real testament to Pixar that they're able to stop short of the uncanny valley (they're still obviously cartoons) and still imbue their characters with life and emotion (see Anton Ego's revelation in Ratatouille).

Update: I forgot that Zemeckis and company did the creepy Polar Express as well.

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