Festschrift in Honour of Christina Schäffner
Marilyn Gaddis Rose, Binghamton: A Translator's Agenda: Seamus Heaney and Buile Suibhne (“Sweeney Astray”)
Marilyn Gaddis Rose Binghamton A Translator's Agenda: Seamus Heaney and Buile Suibhne (“Sweeney Astray”) 1 Introduction Nobellist Seamus Heaney emerged victorious long ago from the struggle of competing languages. His “Beacons at Bealtaine” delivered for the May Day welcome of an expanded European Community celebrates those who “Come with their gift of tongues past each frontier” (EU Presidency, 2004). As a poet who was reared in English, immersed in Irish, and subsequently translated me- dieval Irish, Classical Greek, and Old English and commented upon his experi- ences, he relives in his own career the pains and joys of translating. His prefer- ence has been for the mythic and legendary. Obviously writers can choose the myths they inhabit, however much they displace the tropes. Joyce, for example chose Telemachus as a mask for Stephen Dedalus, needed to counterpart Leopold Bloom, who wore the Odysseus mask. Yeats had his personae like Red Hanrahan, Owen Aherne, and Michael Robartes as well as Cuchulain; Mann chose Dr. Faustus to adumbrate Adrienne Leverkuhn. Seamus Heaney chose Sweeney, presumed to be an actual seventh- century Irish chieftain-bard. Heaney even claimed—surely disingenuously—in an October 11, 1984 in- terview on BBC’s Kaleidoscope program that he had chosen Sweeney because the name rhymed with Heaney. However intimate the identification or stretched the simile, a myth selected for writerly exploitation has an agenda which the ma- jor writers just listed could adapt for their own script. Yet only Heaney, unlike Joyce, Yeats, or Mann, entered his myth via...
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