Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Beowulf

Poets, eh? Never happy, are they? Having moaned for years about the lack of (serious) poetry programmes on TV, I’m now going to whinge that there’s too many for me to keep up with. The problem with the BBC’s Poetry Season is that it has coincided with the first decent spell of summer weather in about three years, the Cricket 20/20 World Cup, and Springwatch. OK, so I can try to catch up with things using iPlayer, but the download speeds are slow and if I’m not careful I just never get round to watching stuff.

It’s not a serious moan, but it would have been nice if they’d spread the programmes over a much longer period, I think.

But anyway, I’ll make the time to download and watch this week’s Poet’s Guide To Britain, which I was rather surprised to see was about Lynette Roberts. Pleasantly surprised, that is – I thought she was a bit too left-field to have made it on there. Good on Owen Sheers and BBC Wales for spreading the net a bit.

I did stay up, too, to watch Michael Wood’s programme about Beowulf. When I was a kid, Wood’s series and book In Search Of The Dark Ages played a big part in getting me interested in the Anglo-Saxon period. There then seemed to be a bit of a backlash against him (presumably on the grounds that he was making history too accessible), but I think that’s nonsense. His more recent book, In Search Of England, is really excellent, and I much prefer his take on the Anglo-Saxons to that of Simon Schama.

Highlights last night were Julian Glover’s one-man show of the poem (not sure I’d actually want to dress up as an Anglo-Saxon to hear it, mind you), and some of the more obscure byways he went down, such as the suggestion that the Black Shuck of East Anglian legend is none other than Grendel in another guise. Seamus Heaney was a bit underused, but on the whole it was good to see poetry and Anglo-Saxon history both getting a good crack of the whip, and Wood’s comments about the poem’s relevance today were spot-on. I’ll be re-reading Heaney’s translation soon.

2 comments:

Coastcard said...

You raise some pertinent points here, Matt. The Poetry Season has been brilliant, but like you, I would have preferred a little more space between programmes. We go for weeks without (much) poetry on television... and then like buses, it all comes at once. Have just watched Wood's Beowulf programme on iPlayer: he is always highly engaging, energetic and full of fresh ideas. Great to see Jarrow again (I was on the metro to South Shields about 10 days ago...).

I picked up a copy of Glover's Beowulf adaptation at Hay last week. It has an introduction by Magnus Magnusson - and is a welcome complement to Heaney's prize version.

Enjoyed Sheers, too: it's always good to see a new take on one's local landscape (& no easy thing to find a new take on the Laugharne area).

Matt Merritt said...

I didn't realise that there was a book of Glover's adaptation - I'll have to have a look for that. I like Magnus Magnusson's translation of (and introduction to) Njal's Saga a lot, so he's always worth reading.

I've got a Penguin Classics version of Beowulf, a literal translation by John Porter with the original text facing, and then Heaney's translation, which I think is my favourite.

You might enjoy Wood's In Search Of England a lot. There's a good chapter on Jarrow and Bede, one on the location of the Battle of Brunanburh, and a really interesting one about an incident in Peatling Magna, Leicestershire, in 1265 when the villagers attempted to arrest the king's marshal. But it's all good.

I'm looking forward to seeing the Lynette Roberts programme later in the week.