The Translation of Poetry
So I've recently read Beowulf. I hear a lot about the poetry of it. But I was wondering, how exactly does that work, since Beowulf has to be translated from Old English? And for works across the board, wouldn't the poetry of works be at least partly lost lost in translation between languages? Is the poetry of Beowulf in modern English really from the original, or is it a product of the translator?
It's a product of the translator. It's a product of the many renditions of the original. All poems are lost in translation. The translator either makes a literal rendering that sounds flat, or adds English poetry techniques. Either way, it's best to learn the original language; or in the case of Old English, to get the High Gravity 800 with the most alcohol content before you start reading.
I see, thank you. I'll have to give that High Gravity 800 a try.

So is Beowulf in its Old English form a great piece of poetry, or is it mainly known just because of the insight it gives into the past?
Beowulf transcends poetry; although it IS a good example of the poetic epic, it is a vital link to a cultural ancestry that is almost lost to us. The story is rich with allegory and contains many techniques that we use today, not just in poetry but in everyday speech, such as kenning. The braggadoccio of Beowulf may even be said to be the forerunner of hiphop Big Grin
It could be worse
wasn't storytelling a way of keeping archives when we had no pen of paper? that and cave paintings. as for traslation
the rubaiyat is one the most revered poems in the world, translated to many languages. all of who see the poems quality, while while somethings may be lost in translation, i think the essence of the epic Beowulf and the rubaiyat were most likely kept in tact.

part of Omar Khayyám‎'s the rubayiat

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
 Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
 Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

But helpless pieces in the game He plays,
 Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days,
He hither and thither moves, and checks… and slays,
 Then one by one, back in the Closet lays.
The Rubaiyat is a good comparison, although by that time education was a little bit more advanced and more people were reading (at least in the Islamic world, where the best scholars were).

Keeping the essence of a poem intact is the great art of translation.
It could be worse

Talking about translation (it's more common name being 'reading')
provides me with an excuse for trotting out (yet again) a fav quote:

"A poem is written first in its writer's language.
When you read it, you are translating it into your own language.
Which act requires more skill and creativity,
depends on the individual writer or reader."
- Rachael Keller

That said, there are some positively exquisite readers out there
who have taken the time to pass on some of their discoveries.

One of my fav's is Robert Hass. His translations of Japanese haiku,
especially Basho's (the most sublime poetry in the universes),
thumped my tiny little parochial brain: Writing's got NOTHING
to do with words!
. Fucking Texas, that's what I get for choosing
to be born there. Bless you, Mr. Hass, for saving my esthetic soul.
(Well, for a while anyway.)

                                                                                                                i used to know a lotta stuff, but i still have eight cats

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