Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More on Gollancz’s translation of The Pearl

Despite the almost apocalyptic proliferation of spam, identity theft, pornography, and 419 scams, the Internet really is still a wonderful thing. How else would I have come by the information I’m about to share? (Err, I mean, without any effort whatsoever on my part. I suppose I could have, umm, gone to a library, if you want to get technical. But I digress ... :)

A week or so ago, like a bolt from the blue, a complete stranger from Friesland (a Frisian-speaking province in the Netherlands) dropped me a line to offer some information on the Israel Gollancz translation of The Pearl. Those who’ve been paying attention will remember that I didn’t have ready access to it when I blogged about Tolkien’s translation of wryþe in the poem.

So Jan Veltman emailed to tell me that in the 1891 translation, Gollancz renders the line (Þat God wolde wryþe so wrange away) as “that God should work so all amiss.” In Gollancz’s subsequent editions (1918, 1921, 1936), it seems he tweaked the translation slightly: “That He would work so all amiss.” Thank you, Jan!

This is very interesting, actually, because it’s the loosest of the translations I’ve yet seen. The word wryþe does not mean “work”, and even Gollancz himself defines the word as “turn” in his accompanying glossary (in accord with everybody else), and “all amiss” isn’t particularly accurate either (though it’s clearly dictated by the choice of “work”). It appears Gollancz’s rendering was more poetic than accurate, which (if such choices are widespread in the translation) may help to explain why Kenneth Sisam referred to Gollancz’s 1921 Pearl as “a minor edition” [1].

And it may offer another reason for why Gordon and Tolkien planned an edition of Pearl, meant to follow quickly on the heels of their successful edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and to eclipse Gollancz just as quickly, I daresay. In the event, Tolkien was unable to commit the necessary time to the project, and even Gordon failed to complete it before his death in 1938. His wife, Ida, with some help from Tolkien, managed finally to bring it to press in 1953. As attentive readers will remember, I don’t have a copy of that edition either, but Jan happened to have a spare and very generously offered to send it to me for my own collection. Like I said, the Internet really can be a wonderful place!

[1] Sisam makes this statement in the notes to Pearl in Sisam, Kenneth. Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose (with Glossary). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921. Reprinted with corrections, 1964.

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