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Though Seamus Heaney always had an affinity for the Anglo-Saxon classic Beowulf, the idea of writing his own verse translation of Beowulf was a daunting proposition for him. In an interview after his translation was published (see the link below), Heaney says that because this is a story which was originally told in the oral tradition, the first thing he had to do before he could begin writing was find the appropriate voice. He did not have to look far for this inspiration.
He once knew a family, the Scallions, who provided this inspiration. He describes them this way:
[I]n my memory these people always appeared in their own big country kitchen, seated on straight-backed chairs around a deal table. There were three of them, cousins of my father’s, bachelor brothers who lived together and rarely spoke, but when they did open their mouths, their voices seemed to set out the individual words with a weighty distinctness, as if to display them like delph platters on a dresser.
A simple sentence such as ‘Today we cut the corn’ took on immense dignity when a Scullion said it.
Heaney was inspired by the "weighty directness" of the Scullions as they spoke, and he was able to translate that, literally, into the centuries-old narrative story of danger, adventure, loyalty, and heroism.
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