Re-reading William Morris re-writing the Peculiar Ardors of "Sigurd the Volsung"

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Dokumentart: ConferenceObject
Date: 2002
Language: English
Faculty: 5 Philosophische Fakultät
Department: Sonstige - Neuphilologie
DDC Classifikation: 839 - Other Germanic literatures
Keywords: Völsunga saga , Saga
Other Keywords: Island
Vølsunga Saga , saga translation , translatability , Iceland
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There are a number of peculiarities about the British poet, William Morris's re-working of the Vølsunga Saga, published as a long poem in 1876. Some of these are wonderful, some are problematic, most of them are wonderful and problematic (I call the latter "ardors" for their capacity to raise emotional and/or critical temperatures, and for being linked to Morris' personal enthusiasms/obsessions and to the tempered command of his poetic craft). In my paper I will discuss three of those mixed categories, or ardors, towards a re-evaluation of the achievement of the poem. Morris's work on this poem closed out an intense period of translating Icelandic sagas with the collaboration of his Icelandic colleague, Eirikr Magnusson; but within his huge narrative anthology, *The Earthly Paradise* (1868), he first turned a prose saga into a Morris poem with "The Lovers of Gudrun" (based on the Laxdaela saga). Between that poem and *Sigurd* lay his two trips to Iceland, in 1871 and 1876, and for a variety of reasons the kind of poem he now wrote was considerably different from his first Norse "treatment." The questions I will deal with: (1) What does Morris's treatment show us about the literary and cultural "translatability" of this saga? (2) Why does Morris choose the language and the prosody that he does in "Sigurd" – and on what terms, if any, can they be defended? (3) Why is "Sigurd" the most special (peculiar) of his translations, and is this quality the result of spiritual and intellectual affinities with the Old Norse language and culture, or of his previously established "medievalism" with a politics and a poetics of its own? I will conclude with a re-evaluation of "Sigurd the Volsung," once well received (in England), and now, I think, largely relegated to the "storage" sections of libraries. I am inclined, partly for the fun of overstating a case, to argue that the *Sigurd* deserves to be described as among the true masterpieces of long English Victorian poems on medieval subjects – perhaps for as much as it does understand as fails to understand about the original saga.

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