Friday, November 25, 2005

The Red Pen Progresses - 2

Without pause I turned back the page of Old Saxon script and began the translation of words from the axe-age, the sword-age, the storm-age, the wolf-age of long ago.

They possess the unknown land,
the cliff-lairs of wolves, the windy headland;
a treacherous bog-path, a fearful fen-path where
the mountain stream downward goes in darkness,
a flood under the earth.That is not a mile mark from here
where stands the mere.
Over it hangs an icy grove, frost-bound trees, firm-rooted,
overhang the forbidding water.
There each night be seen a baleful wonder, fire on the flood.
Though the heath-stepper, the great-antlered stag,
by the hounds hard-pressed, should seek the forest...
rather he gives up his spirit on the shore
than brave those waters....
Again we depend on you alone for aid.
Yet you do not know the ground, the dangerous place,
where you might find the sinful killer;
seek if you dare!
If you come away alive, I will reward you for your battle
with old precious things, treasure, twisted gold...


A sudden wind went down the long oak table like a sigh, fluttering paper like gull's wings, making the sunlight shiver.
For good or ill, in antique tongue, I knew the challenge had been answered
.

Comments: Makes me want to run with scissors.
It is deadly to hit the reader with an extended passage like this, this early in a book. Lines from Beowulf, too. The only thing to my credit is that I don't think I ripped off some poor sod of a translator. I believe the translation is my own.
Once it was an accepted convention - up to about fifty years ago - to begin precipitously with a letter, a journal, a manuscript, as a trigger point and a mystery set-up. Sometimes those passages were quoted entirely in the appropriate language, (often Latin.) Haggard does it, but he waits a decent period of time before he does.
At least I avoided using the original text, except for a few lines.
Point is, it's passe and probably annoying. Rather than engaging interest, such immediate use likely destroys it.Too much, too soon.

The prophetic wind is another, somewhat gothic, convention, if not a cliche, but I still like the way I handled it.

9 comments:

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, I did the same, sneaked in passages from the Song of Roland (in the original, even) and some verses from the Edda, not to mention my characters spoke all sorts of languages, just not English. :-)

Bernita said...

Gabriele, I think it's not so much that we did it, but how much and where we did it.
Writers sometimes fear the reader will not "get" the plot unless we lay out the foundation stone by stone, forgetting that the first time you come into a house you don't see the basement.

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, my first novel had no plot at all. It had a collection of loosely connected chapters taking place all over Europe. And sometimes, I didn't really separate between my fiction and my PhD. ;-)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Don't run with the scissors! You'll poke yourself in the eye. didn't your mother warn you about that?

Oh, yea, she probably did! So okay, you hate it. :-)

I read the passage for the word picture it created. Yes, some of it was passe and some of it was cliche but it made a picture in my head all the same! Cool!

And I still can't write, no where near, like that!

Bernita said...

Because we find historical stuff, the wars, the tragedies, the triumphs and the people, the legends and the parallels so neat, so cool, so thrilling, we don't always resist the urge to spew it all out - rather than select and tailor it.
Bonnie,I don't believe for a moment that you don't write as well or better.Just different.

The translation of yesterday's bit is the last half of the second last paragraph of the quote, ending "seek if you dare"

Robyn said...

Can I be a complete plebeian and say that I couldn't get past all the hyphens? I barely- glanced at- the words- for looking- for the next- hyphen.

I did go back and read it again, for the content, and I liked the imagery.

Bernita said...

Robyn, I don't pretend it's a good translation of Beowulf.

Robyn said...

I'm totally impressed by the fact that you can.

The imagery pulled me in, it's just that the hyphens got distracting. But that may just be me; I get focused on stuff like that.

When do we get to read more of the time travel story?

Bernita said...

I think you're right. It bothered me when I typed them - but I undertook to post it as it was, in all it's first glory.
A-S is often compound."haethstapa" for heath-stepper, but it would be less annoying if the hyphen had been omitted.
Perhaps at the time I wanted to illustrate that she was only a barely adequate scholar. Forgetting, of course, that general readers would neither know, nor care. Another amateur mistake.
Don't be impressed. A good glossary does most of the work.