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Elder Edda: A Selection Paperback – 18 Jun 1973

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; New edition edition (18 Jun. 1973)
  • ISBN-10: 0571103197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571103195
  • Package Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.7 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,877,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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By Martin Turner HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 11 Feb. 2004
For years this was the only edition of poetry from the Elder (or Poetic) Edda available outside of specialist academic bookshops.
The poetry is sparsely beautiful, and brings something of the feel of the original into the English.
Unfortunately as translation this book leaves a lot to be desired. Old Norse poems - especially the mythological poems - are written like riddles, with layers of meaning built up around double meanings of key words. Not only do the translators fail to bring this across, they take fairly frequent liberties with the text. The worst of these are outlined on page 36, where the translators actually admit 'we have silently rearranged some of the verses and altered, here and there, the order of the strophes - but only when it seemed to us to add to the sense of the poem'.
It should be clear by now that this is not 'translation' in the usual sense of the word, and certainly not in the sense that an undergraduate slaving over Skirnismal in Old Icelandic is going to find useful.
Why should we bother with this book at all, then? Well, it _is_ poetry, although it would be hard to make a case for it as true Eddaic poetry. Rather, this is part of the poetical oeuvre of WH Auden. Published in 1969, it should be seen within the stream of Auden's own remarkable psychological and spiritual journey.
Much in the same way that TS Eliot was trying to reintroduce verse into drama, Auden is here trying to reintroduce Norse alliterative verse. The extensive introduction by Peter H Salus includes an important section on the versification. But, notably, it does not introduce us to the words of the original, but rather gives us examples from the translations of Auden.
There is perhaps something else here.
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Personally, I prefer my poetry to be poetic. I love Auden's translation, philological issues aside. It is a work of art in itself. My only recommendation if you are thinking of buying this book is to try to find a copy of Norse Poems, a later edition of Auden and Taylor's translation that provides a complete version of the elder eddas with all of the Sigurd and Brynhyld material.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient beauty 3 Aug. 2000
By Chris Ashley - Published on Amazon.com
W. H. Auden's co-translation with the scholar Paul B. Taylor of portions of the Icelandic verse saga the "Edda" is dedicated to J. R. R. Tolkien, and with reason. Auden's first encounter with Icelandic was under Tolkien's influence. This is wholly fitting, perhaps; Icelandic and Germanic myth is best known to a general reader through its influence on Tolkien and Wagner. Certainly this book is a convincing argument that the Norse body of myth deserves more attention, as does its verse.
The verse of the Edda is highly alliterative and stanza-based, generally told in the first person or as dialogue. It reads much like "Beowulf" in any good poetic translation, filled with pungent consonants and forthright statements. Auden's rendering anticipates Seamus Heany's acclaimed "Beowulf" in its readability and beauty in English, producing passages like the following:
"Doughty Thor drew boldly The hideous serpent up on board, Struck with his hammer the high hair-mountain Of the writhing Coiler, Kin of the Wolf." (p. 92)
Familiarity with Norse mythic cosmology helps in passages such as that, of course, and the Introduction by Taylor and Peter Salus explains both the meter and the world of the poems. It is somewhat more scholarly in bent than Heany's introduction to "Beowulf", but is nonetheless quite helpful to a non-specialist like myself.
I don't know any Icelandic and thus cannot speak to the truth of the translation in sound or sense. However, its beauty in English is gripping.
Any reader of Tolkien will have a shock of recognition in encountering this book. Several names, including both Thorin and Gandalf, will be instantly familiar, as will a certain ethos of hall, host, mighty deeds, and far-off doom. Anyone wishing to explore Tolkien's literary roots should read the Edda and "Beowulf"; this rendering of the Edda, the work of one of the great poets of the twentieth century (and a Tolkien acolyte to boot) is a superior choice.
It's a real shame that this book is out of print. Given the bestseller status of the Heany "Beowulf", another first-quality rendering of alliterative Northern verse could well have a successful life in today's market. As things stand the book is worth searching for. I recommend it as highly as I may.
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