Heaney conveys in a simple image the difficulty of translating poetry. Elsewhere, he refers to his progress as being ‘scriptorium slow’. If you have ever tried to translate anything of substance, you will know the slowness of ‘scriptorium slow’, and the sense of bringing down a megalith with a toy hammer.
I am always humbled by those who manage to translate poetry into poetry, particularly when it’s of epic length.
‘Often, however, the whole attempt to turn it into modern English seemed to me like trying to bring down a megalith with a toy hammer. What had been so attractive in the first place, the hand-built, rock-sure feel of the thing, began to defeat me.’
Source: Beowulf, Seamus Heaney (London: Faber & Faber, 2000 (1999)), p. xxiii