Beowulf : a new verse translation

by Seamus Heaney

Paper Book, 2000

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000.

Description

"Composed toward the end of the first millennium of our era, Beowulf is the elegiac narrative of the adventures of Beowulf, a Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel's mother. He then returns to his own country and dies in old age in a vivid fight against a dragon"--Jacket.

Media reviews

At the beginning of the new millennium, one of the surprise successes of the publishing season is a 1,000-year-old masterpiece. The book is ''Beowulf,'' Seamus Heaney's modern English translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic, which was created sometime between the 7th and the 10th centuries.
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Translation is not mainly the work of preserving the hearth -- a necessary task performed by scholarship -- but of letting a fire burn in it.

User reviews

LibraryThing member missmel58
Few adults approach Beowulf without some knowledge of the story. It is generally read in high school and again in college. Grendel and his mother are the nefarious duo tormenting the Danes in the reign of King Hrothgar. Beowulf comes to the rescue and is, of course, successful. Beowulf returns home to Geatland, where he eventually becomes king. But the story doesn’t end there and there is not a happily ever after. Beowulf is killed by a dragon in his old age. His body is burned and the Geats begin to live in fear that their enemies will now attack.
I read it in high school. I read it in college. It was considered a boy-book, to be avoided if possible. Not to be considered for pleasure reading—ever. I did peruse the Tolkien edition in the seventies – but it was Tolkien and the seventies. I did not read the entire text. So what brings a middle-aged woman back to Beowulf?
Seamus Heaney.
And reading it wasn’t about the story—it was about this particular interpretation of the story. Grendel still dies by Beowulf’s hand. The dragon still kills Beowulf. And it’s still a boy-book, a profoundly eloquent boy-book. Opening the book to any page offers up the power of Heaney’s linguistic faculty. “I adopt you in my heart as a dear son. Nourish and maintain this new connection, you noblest of men; there’ll be nothing you want for, no worldly goods that won’t be yours” (63). The simple addition of a semicolon to a text adds another layer of depth to Heaney’s interpretation of the original language.
In the introduction, Heaney explains his reasons for taking this project, his discontent and finally his revelations about language. It is this last element that is intriguing. It is his labor over each word, his quest for the perfect translation, his examination of etymologies and endemic languages. It is his finding the meaning of ancient words scrawled in musty texts by listening to the old folks chatter in Ireland. The power of the text does not lie in the story, but in Heaney’s ownership of the words that make the story.
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LibraryThing member bjanecarp
So it is with no immoderate disbelief that I heartily commend an anonymous poet to the modern reader. This poet's work is extremely powerful, and Seamus Haney has translated it to excellent effect. Simply put, Haney has breathed life into this remarkable work for me. It is a delight to read (I've read it twice now). Haney's publisher has prepared his text, and on the opposing page, has reproduced the original text itself. The Old English is exhilarating--I enjoy nothing more than conquering a few words in this tongue. I cannot vouch for Haney's accuracy --I am no expert in Old English, but his language has the touch than only a poet could lend to this work. He has also composed an introduction to the text, which I was glad to read, and has produced genealogies that are quite useful for the reader, in order to unravel the snarled lineages of the Scandinavian clans.

The language is very direct, of course: it issues a kind of confrontational fortitude that, in the words of one friend "doesn't use all those Latin-derived words." The overall effect of the poem reminds me of the coronary injection in Quentin Tarantino's film Pulp Fiction. From the beginning of the poem, the reader is overwhelmed by the sense that each of Beowulf's choices will net immediate, life-changing results. We don't know until the end of the work whether his decisions are good ones, or if they will prove fatal.

Still not convinced? You think you'd rather read a contemporary action-packed novel than a 1300-year-old poem? Think again--this poem is populated by a fraternity-house of noisy, mead-filled warriors whose primary goal, it seems, is to exact vengeance on enemies, shatter a few skulls, and destroy evil beasts, (in one case, ripping off a limb or two, just for show). The actual monsters (and the dragon) in Beowulf are truly evil and despotic. When they are not destroying mead-halls or consuming warrior-flesh, they lurk deep in a boggish nightmare-underworld of caverns and tombs of long-forgotten kings. Rest assured that excerpts from Beowulf will never grace a Hallmark card--the poet used ink made from testosterone. In fact, female characters tend to waft into poem, and drift out again, having little, if any effect on the overall direction of the poem. Female readers may find this repulsive; however, the poet considered Beowulf's world a boy's world, and depicts it thus.

Wait! If you're a woman, don't stop reading yet--before you suppose that a cave-dwelling ex-boyfriend wrote this poem, you must not forget the profound thematic insights that the author laid out. He depicts a world where a person may change one's destiny, which indelibly chisels one's fate into the cliff-wall. For the author, destiny-building takes courage, and the results may be temporary gain (Beowulf defeats monsters, and local kings dump mounds of cold, hard treasure into his boats) but, ultimately, human-directed Fate can be painful or even destructive. Doing what is right may exact vengeance:

Suppose a monster is destroying your village. To kill such a monster is good, right? The poet is not so sure: his answer is a definite 'Maybe'. Suppose you kill said monster. Fine--now the creature's whole clan descends upon your city, angrier than ever, seeking bloody vengeance on your family. Despite this, the poet asserts that to remain idle may be more dangerous still. A strong king is revered by his clan, right? What if that king dies in a battle? What would become of the king's clan? The Geats, Beowulf's clan, die in just such a way. Whether you do, or whether you don't, you are still damned. So go right ahead.

The author wrote Beowulf in the Christian era, but pre-Christian sentimentalities still rule the poet's world. How can a "turn-your-cheek" Christian fit in a world where "an eye-for-an-eye" rules the land? Maybe the two tenets are incompatible, or maybe not. The author grapples with precisely this issue. Although the text is not implicit, the thought draws the reader like an overwhelming tide to Beowulf's end.

This poem could gain a particularly strong appeal in times of war. Beowulf is a warrior's Ecclesiastes. The reader comes away with the sentiment that Beowulf did everything he could, yet, all around him was, ultimately, vanity. With his death (I hope I didn't spoil the ending for anybody), Beowulf's land will certainly be invaded and his tribe's cultural identity will evaporate. However, the Geats build him a massive funeral pyre that can be seen from miles away, at sea. As Beowulf's ashes ascend to heaven humankind can be hopeful. Whether Beowulf dies or not, the war-cogs rattle forward. Battles will always be won and lost, although, sometimes, those battles will be great. Strong people will live awhile, and eventually die. Weak people will fade. But, still, the sun will rise in the morning, and as ships sail by Geatland, the crew will see it: the mighty pillar for a mighty warrior. This is for many to see, and for all to remember. Þæt wæs gôd scop.

The poem is that powerful.
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LibraryThing member thorold
The poem

Beowulf is a tough sell. Not only has it traditionally been used by English departments around the world to break the spirit of newly-recruited undergraduates (who thought they had signed up for three years of Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf, only to find themselves out on the parade-ground practicing their Old English sound-shifts for month after month...), but also, when you get down to it, it turns out to be a poem about a macho muscle-man who spends his time - when not quaffing mead - either ripping monsters limb from limb or swimming long distances in full armour. Told completely straight, without any discernible trace of irony. Well, not exactly my cup of tea...

Skimming through the introduction of the Bolton & Wrenn critical text, it turns out that we know surprisingly little about what must be one of the most-studied poems in the canon. It has survived in only one manuscript, the famous "British Museum Cotton Vitellius A XV" (bizarrely, the emperor Vitellius comes into it because it's his bust that stands on top of that particular bookcase). In fact, there are very few Old English texts that survive as multiple copies, so this uniqueness isn't unusual in itself. The manuscript seems to have been written around the year 1000, and textual evidence suggests that it's at least the third generation of copies since the poem was first written down. When and where that was is hotly disputed, but Mercia in the second half of the 8th century is a strong possibility. The action of the poem is set in a pre-Christian past in Denmark and Southern Sweden (with some mention of actual historical figures from the time), whilst the poet is obviously from a Christian background and refers quite freely to the Old Testament.

What I found most surprising was to discover that the poem was not conspicuously a "classic" in its own time: we don't have any other contemporary references to it (apart from the "Finnesburg fragment", a single page of MS that seems to come from a different version of part of the same story), and as far as anyone can tell it fell completely off the radar of English literature between the end of the Old English period and the time around 650 years later when the first modern scholars became interested in Old English manuscripts and discovered this poem, bound in with a prose translation of St Augustine. So Beowulf is only part of the history of English literature with hindsight.

The Heaney translation

Seamus Heaney, of course, saw it as rather more than a philological crossword puzzle or a Boys' Own adventure story, otherwise he wouldn't have bothered with it. He points us in particular at the last part of the poem, where the elderly (70+) hero decides that he owes it to his people to take on one last dragon, even though it will certainly cost him his life. And indeed, the anonymous poet deals with the complex emotions involved here a little less brusquely than he does elsewhere - but this isn't Shakespearean drama, and we shouldn't expect it to be.

What Heaney is really interested in, I think, is the poetical challenge of finding something in modern English that has the same magically seductive sound quality as Old English alliterative verse (which always sounds magnificent, even if you haven't a clue what it means...). And, of course, being Seamus Heaney, he decides to imagine the voices of the poem as if they came from the Northern Ireland farmers of his own sound-world, puts these into a slightly looser form of the Old English two-stress half-lines, and succeeds brilliantly. This translation is a poem that you just have to read aloud, even if there's no way that you can find any sympathy for Beowulf as a character.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
Review of David White translation: While there might be translations that do more in terms of translating both the sense of poetry and all the particular literary forms of the original work, Mr. Wright's translation has the distinction of being very readable while still retaining some of the flavor of the literary style. I also quite enjoyed the introduction where Mr. Wright discusses his reasons for a prose translation and explains some of the background and allusions to be found within the tale. Beowulf himself represents the honorable warrior - the man who seeks for glory for all the right reasons. His exploits are exciting and amazing, yet the author of Beowulf never lets the reader forget that fortunes change, all men die, and glory fades.… (more)
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This was a surprisingly speedy, easy and enjoyable read--for which Heaney, the translator, deserves a lot of credit. Especially given this is a verse translation. I've found that I have preferred prose translations of Homer and Dante because those trying to be true to alliteration, meter and rhyme often feel forced, awkward and occlude the meaning. It probably helped that Heaney is a distinguished poet in his own right; his translation was fluid, with a rhythm and tone somewhere between Homer and Tolkien in feel. And the story is fun, a Pagan tale set mostly in Dark Ages Denmark with Christian interjections by the original poet who probably was a monk writing anywhere between the mid-seventh to the end of the tenth century. There are monsters, notably Grendel and a dragon with his horde. What's not to love?

And a translation is needed. I read a bilingual edition, with the original Old English (Anglo-Saxon) and modern English translation side by side. Knowing Spanish I often can make out the gist of passages in Portuguese, Italian or even French. And though it's not easy, I can get Chaucer, in Middle English, even if I prefer a translation there too. I was surprised really at how indecipherable I found the Anglo-Saxon of Beowulf. All the more reason to appreciate Heaney's achievement.
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LibraryThing member macha
Heaney's done a marvellous job on his own terms: creating a contemporary poem out of the ancient one while remaining as true as possible to the original. and i always love versions that place the original right beside the translation.

but it's interesting that Heaney's version isn't so very far from Michael Alexander's much earlier scholarly translation. and Alexander manages to keep much more of the original wordplay, without losing the form. he's also got a densely illuminating intro. the Alexander sounds a lot more like we expect Beowulf to sound, though, because he isn't trying to update it, and creating brilliant poetry for this era is far from his intention. still, they are both kind of amazing, and i'm glad to have them. the Burton Raffel translation, on the other hand, i threw across the room, then de-accessioned.

an example from each: the line on the death of Grendel's mother.

in Heaney: she fell to the floor. The sword dripped blood; the swordsman was elated.
in Alexander: she fell to the ground: the sword was gory; he was glad at the deed.
in Raffel: her body fell to the floor, lifeless, the sword was wet with her blood, and Beowulf rejoiced at the sight.
the Raffel is terribly prosaic, not even following the poetic line, the Heaney goes for something specific in the poetry, but the Alexander, although sounding a bit archaic next to Heaney, conveys it all.
Alexander is also very alive to the nuances of the treatment of Grendel; Heaney just assumes the monster part, and leaves it at that.
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LibraryThing member mattries37315
The oldest epic poem in English follows the feats of its titular protagonist over the course of days and years that made him a legend among his clan, friends, and even enemies. Beowulf was most likely orally transmitted before finally be written down several centuries later by an unknown Christian hand in Old English that today is readily accessible thanks to the translation by Seamus Heaney.

The epic tale of Beowulf begins in the mead hall of King Hrothgar of the Danes which is attacked by the monster Grendel for years. Beowulf, upon hearing of Hrothgar’s plight, gathers fourteen companions and sails from Geatland to the land of the Danes. Hrothgar welcomes the Geats and feasts them, attracting the attention of Grendel who attacks. One of the Geats is killed before the monster and Beowulf battle hand-to-hand which ends with Beowulf ripping off Grendel’s arm. The monster flees and bleeds out in the swamp-like lair shared with his mother. Grendel’s mother attacks the mead hall looking for revenge and kills one of Hrothgar’s long-time friends. Beowulf, his companions, Hrothgar, and others ride to the lair and Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother with a giant’s sword. After another feast, the Geats return home and fifty years later, Beowulf is King when a dragon guarding a hoard of treasure is awakened by a thief and goes on a rampage. Beowulf and younger chosen companions go to face the fiery serpent, but all but one of his companions flees after the King goes to face the foe. However, the one young warrior who stays is able to help the old King defeat the dragon though he his mortally wounded. It is this young warrior who supervises the dying Beowulf’s last wishes.

This is just a rough summary of a 3000 line poem that not only deals with Beowulf’s deeds but also the warrior culture and surprisingly the political insightfulness that many secondary characters talk about throughout the poem. The poem begins and ends with funerals with warrior kings giving look at pagan worldview even as the unknown Christian poet tried to his best to hide it with references to Christian religiosity. Although some say that any translation deprived the poem of the Old English rhyme and rhythm, the evolution of English in the thousand years since the poem was first put down in words means that unless one reads the original with a dictionary on hand, this poem would not be read. Heaney’s translation gives the poem its original epicness while also allowing present day readers a chance to “hear” the story in their own language thus giving it new life.

Beowulf is one of the many epic poems that have influenced storytelling over the centuries. Yet with its Scandinavian pagan oral roots and Christian authorship it is also a melding of two traditions that seem at odds yet together still create a power tale. Unlike some high school or college course force students to read the Old England or so-so translated excerpts from the poem, Seamus Heaney’s book gives the reader something that will keep their attention and greatly entertain.
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LibraryThing member RogueBelle
I love Heaney's translation, but for me, the real gemlike quality of this text is the matching Old English printed on the opposite pages -- it's just too much fun (at least if you're a lit geek like me)!
LibraryThing member catherinestead
Warrior Beowulf saves the Danes from the monster Grendel and then Grendel's mother and then many years later does battle against a dragon guarding a hoard of gold.

I loved reading this. The poetry of the Heaney translation is very vivid and flowing, and creates a great atmosphere of fighting and carousing and boasting warriors and epic battle against mythical beasts. The story is dark and sometimes gruesome, and it is not at all hard to imagine the poem being recited around the fire by Anglo-Saxon warriors, passing round the cup of mead as the tale unfolds.

I am definitely going to pick up a literal/glossed translation at some point and read it again, and try to make more sense of the original text.
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LibraryThing member Helenliz
Another re-read prompted by the desert island books conversation. this is just fabulous. I know the original derives from a oral tradition, and I feel that this is designed to be read aloud, not to oneself. the meter is unlike the iambic rhythm we're so used to now, but the alliteration works and the lines sort of trip of the tongue. It's never a dull "te tum te tum te tum" thing - the words almost have a life of their own.
Add to that it's a swashbuckling story from the heroic to the unbearably sad and it just sweeps you away. Takes a bit of concentration, but that's no bad thing in a book.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
I'm a bit shamed to rate this below average, perceiving its value as a historical artifact, but as literature in terms of content it doesn't amount to much more than a curiosity piece. Such perfectly crafted heroes are now denigrated so the model doesn't serve, and the story reads like the tale of a hubris bubble that never gets popped. That said, I'm glad to have taken the few minutes required to breeze through a modern translation for discussion purposes. I suspect a less wooden ear than mine for poetry, and wearing more patience, may perceive greater magic in its original form.… (more)
LibraryThing member antao
(Original Review, 2001-02-20)

If you are familiar with the Hindu myth-kitty though, you may also find parallels between “Beowulf” and the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. When Jambavan spends a lot of time telling Hanuman about how great he is, to induce him to jump to Lanka in search of Sita, or Arjun surveys the array of warriors against him, described in some detail, leading to the Bhagavad Gita, or the Pandavas' "advisor" at Draupadi's swayamvar asks the unknown Karna to declare his lineage and rank.

In Beowulf, where the eponymous protagonist has to be introduced by his history in order to be considered worthy of being received in Hrothgar's halls, and able to, perhaps, take his chances against Grendel. Thorsten Verblen's, in his model of conspicuous consumption, suggested that in societies, or social conditions, that were not stable a man could only gain status by his reputation and by what he carried with him: his arms, his abilities and his history. It is a theory that applies to the bling culture of hip-hop, where alas, lives can be dramatically shortened, as much as to the Bronze Age and Iron Age world's of chiefdoms and agriculturists versus nomads. Women were acquired by raids, but there was enough spare, or surplus, labour available for ancillary crafts to develop: goldsmithery, ironmongery and the like. In such conditions, a man meeting a stranger or a putative enemy, would be likely to show off his armour and then show off further by talking about who he was, both his history and his lineage. Like Buffaloes sizing each other up before fighting, it may have been a way of reducing the number of fights that had to occur.

Let us not forget the fate of Patroclus, who deliberately rode around in Achilles' bling and therefore got caught in a drive-by assassination. Had he been in a Prius instead of his black, silver-wheeled, borrowed SUV, he might have lived...

It reminds me of the peaceful moment of the Bhagavad Gita from the Mahabharata just before the great battle of Kurukshetra, though of course Arjuna and Krishna are on the same side.

Celtic kingdoms, Saxon kingdoms, Anglo-Norman kingdoms, were ALL European kingdoms. There was no hard border between mainland Britain and the rest of Europe. Kings ruled territories on both sides of the channel in joint jurisdictions. Laws and customs, language, arts and religion were common, in overlapping webs. The Celtic (that is British, or Welsh) and the Saes/Saxon peoples were not 'barbaric'. They were civilised, literate cultures, with highly organised governments, law codes, religion and arts.

The group which was 'barbaric' was the 'Normans'. These were a rabble of raiders, adventurers, thieves and pirates, drawn together to loot other peoples. They were illiterate, depending on the monks of those they conquered to keep their records. Their law codes were truly barbaric, vastly inferior to the British and the Saxons, who operated on a system of compensation payments (fines). It was the Normans who imposed amputation, tortures, and increased executions. They were supreme in violence only, inheriting the worst of Viking culture without its balancing qualities, as the Normans were the misfits and rejects. What they were also good at was propaganda. Their bards sang wholly fabricated histories claiming an honourable ancestry for a united people that didn't exist. There were no 'Normans' until the bards constructed the myth of them as the raiders conquests grew successful.

This is the 'people' who spawned the British ruling class. The British ruling class keeps books that trace their genealogy proudly 'back to the Conquest'. They were violent thugs, the vermin of Europe, who grabbed and stole, then dressed it all up in myths of propaganda. They haven't changed. Just like the rest of Europe, namely in Portugal...

I wonder what the Britons thought about the invading Anglo-Saxons. Were they any better? The difference is, we have very few records to tell us what they thought. The invaders came in sufficient numbers that over a period of centuries their language replaced the native language, and so over time the Brits ended up with a weird sense that the Anglo-Saxon invaders were "Britons", but later Norman invaders were "them", because there weren't enough of them to replace the language of the Anglo-Saxon invaders (although enough to give us 1/3 of the English vocabulary).

What did the Britons think about the Saxons (who didn't invade, but simply switch roles from mercenaries to usurpers...)? Actually we know exactly what the British thought of the Saes - they loathed them. See “Armes Prydain” and other works of the time. There was no worse insult than to be called a Saes - Saxon. The native British were culturally superior if only because settlers come as younger sons, or people who are unsuccessful at home, less educated, less cultured. You don't invade and crush natives by singing pretty songs. Compare “Beowulf” with the “Mabinogi” and the gulf is huge - like comparing drinking songs with Shakespeare.

It's also inaccurate that the Saes replaced the British. Genetics say otherwise and the story is mixed. In some places it was violent takeover. In others it was trade, marriage, settlement. Coexistence is now the new historical understanding. Brits were mainly herders so held to the high ground and you can still see their place names across 'England' today in higher areas. The Saes were grain farmers who lived on lowland clays so their names survive there. The Saes were not as educated as the Brits. Alfred imported monks from the Cymru (Wales) led by Asser, to teach his people to read and write. Alfred was a visionary, like the later Guillaum le Batard of Normandy. But their peoples were less savoury, especially the Normans who practised genocide to terrify the natives. The whole of Yorkshire was depopulated, half of Pembrokeshire, and a large area of the Scots border. Massacres, or else driven out into destitution. On the second the British ruling class has not changed, still driving people into poverty and homelessness, just like the rest of Europe, namely in Portugal...

The English called themselves English from at least the sixth or seventh century on. It was the Normans and their successors who coined the term Anglo Saxon to describe them. All part of the attempt to legitimise their conquest and pretend that they were the rightful rulers of the kingdom and its confiscated estates; and that English history started with them. That's why they promoted the Arthurian myth and tried to pretend they were its heirs - in order to try to write the English out of the story. And why they immediately knocked down the English Abbeys and cathedrals and rebuilt them in their own style.
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LibraryThing member LovingLit
This translated version has the Olde English verse written on the left page, and the modern English verse on the right page. As Heaney states in the introduction, he has tried with this translation to keep the language simple and as the original intended the meaning to be. He favoured meaning over rhyme, and as a consequence there is little rhyme. But the rhythm is certainly there and it reads very well.

I was surprised at how accessible the story was, and how drawn in I was. There seemed to be some glaringly obvious similarities in storyline to The Hobbit...I am unsure as to whether this has been stated before I came to the conclusion, but is seemed so to me. The parts of the story that did get complicated were the family lineages and connections. But that didn't detract from the legend of Beowulf being as grand and fearsome as ever
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LibraryThing member trinityofone
This epic poem becomes even *more* astonishing if you read it aloud in a valley girl voice. ("So. The Spear-Danes? Like, in days gone by?")

On a more serious note, I love Heaney's theory of the Irish as the cold and rejected Grendel prowling outside the warm fires of England's Herot. Who doesn't sometimes feel like the exiles of the world?… (more)
LibraryThing member MaowangVater
The mighty young hero of the Geats rescues the Danes from two hellish monsters that are slaughtering their warriors as they sleep in the royal banquet hall. Then heaped in glory and treasure he returns home to become, in his old age, king and dragon-slayer: the final glorious deed that ends his life. Raffel's translation into vivid alliterative modern English is vivid and exciting.

The new afterword lauds how well this translation has stood the test of time, and how many recent adaptations of the poem have been published since then (including the icky 2007 movie). Frank also writes that this earliest epic did not enter the canon of English literature until the late nineteenth century.
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LibraryThing member GlebtheDancer
Heaney's translation is lyrical and accessible, treading the fine line between preserving the antiquity of the text and making it understandable to modern readers. Even for the poetically illiterate (like myself) the introduction is a fascinating insight into telling a wonderful story within the limitations of poetic meter. The text itself is classic sword and sorcery a millenium and a half before Tolkien, but drawn from the same rich Anglo-Saxon well. It is not too long and not overly heavy, so if the name 'Boewulf' and the implications of dusty academia have put you off in the past, this would be an excellent place to break your prejudices.… (more)
LibraryThing member BrianDewey
Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, New York, 2000. Seamus Heaney's translation is great. This is a very readable edition, but the poetic weight is not lost. I've read excerpts from other translations, and the clarity of the new Beowulf is amazing in comparison. I'm glad I've finally read this classic, and I'm glad I'll remember it fondly because I read this version.… (more)
LibraryThing member Liz1564
Beowulf translated by Stephen Mitchell was sent to me by Yale University Press via NetGalley. Thank you.

This Beowulf by Stephen Mitchell is an very entertaining translation, The adjective that comes to my mind is "robust." The narrative is straightforward and the flashbacks and foreshadowing are not awkward and do not stop the forward movement of the story. I taught Beowulf for many years to high school students and I wish I had this version. The literature anthology I used had the Kennedy translation which I personally love for it lyric imagery. In Kennedy, the lines about Grendel approaching Heorot (lines 678-680) are "From the stretching moors, from the misty hollows, Grendel came creeping, accursed of God." The Mitchell translation renders the same lines as " Then up from the moor, in a veil of mist, Grendel came slouching. He bore God's wrath." I like the former, but I know my students would have preferred the latter.

In the end, whether it be Mitchell, Seamus Heaney, Charles Kennedy or E. Donaldson, all translations of Beowulf are a good thing. I am sure the scops who entertained their listeners during the black nights in the cold north would each have put his own spin on the story. Make it beautiful or make it bloody. One thing is for sure. Beowulf can never be boring.

Some very nice addition sto the Mitchell translation are the addition of maps, genealogical charts and a list of characters and place names with pronunciations.
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LibraryThing member LizAnnBowen
Having translated the entirety of Beowulf from Old English into modern English, I must say that Heaney takes great leaps and a poetic license to the original text. That being said, Heaney's translation allows any reader to understand the world of Beowulf in a greater capacity and fully engages the audience to hear the world as well through beautifully written verse. However, if using this text to research its setting and time period (which is rather loose and controversial, with scholars claiming the work anywhere between the 8th to the 11th century), you must have the original text and your Oxford to truly appreciate the language's impact on the understanding of its time period.… (more)
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
Kindle.............Glad I read it.
LibraryThing member jasmyn9
6. Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney
Genre:
Pages: 215
Acquired: January 2011
Book of Your Shelf? Nope
Why I have/read it: Group Read
Series: No

The heroic tale of the warrior Beowulf and his fights against three monters. A "modern" translation of the Old English poem, it was very easy to understand. The translation flowed smoothly for the most part, and was easy to follow and really get into the story. The only complaint I have, is that there were times the rhythm seemed a bit off and it pulled me out of the story.

4/5
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LibraryThing member ChiaraBeth
Brilliant. Though don't trust me; trust Mr. Heaney's Nobel. I read this around the same time as I took a course in Old English, which helped me to appreciate the sheer genius of Heaney's translation even more. He manages to recreate so much of the style, technique and structure of the original text, you almost forget you are reading in today's English. Yet, at the same time as you are immersed in that sense of the past (much like the feeling that reading Shakespeare often gives), you are able to understand the story perfectly and appreciate it fully. A must for the bookshelves of anyone who appreciates poetry, the history of the English language, or just simply a good old fantasy.… (more)
LibraryThing member JEOCantoni
A fantastic epic poem that gives a view into a history that is often overlooked by scholars. Certainly the Greeks and Romans receive their due but the Anglo-Saxons have just as rich and captivating an epic and thanks to Seamus Heaney their tale is done justice. Thank you. I highly recommend this work to anyone interested in the British Isles, Anglo-Saxon history or epic poems. Seamus Heaney does fantastic work in his efforts to make this particular work bilingual, but regardless of the translation it is a must read for anyone interested in classics and/or Anglo-Saxon history! (an absolute must!!!!)… (more)
LibraryThing member gbill
It seems a bit petty to rate Beowulf as 3.5 stars, I mean, who am I to say that about a landmark work in English literature, one that’s 10-12 centuries old and of such importance? It is an epic tale, recounting Beowulf’s battles with three monsters – Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a dragon. Beowulf, a warrior from a part of Sweden called Geatland, comes to the aid of the king of the Danes to fight the first two, and then fifty years later as King of the Geats, fights the third. I’m no scholar and cannot compare different translations, but Rebsamen’s translation, done here in verse, with each line composed of two half-lines separated with a pause, is meant to be true to the original, and while reading it I could imagine it being intoned by a deep baritone voice around a fire while quaffing some mead. The names of the Danes, Swedes, and Geats/Waegmundings take some getting used to, though while many are mentioned, only a handful are of importance, and it is a relatively quick read. Perhaps that’s why I have it as 3.5 stars; while historically important, it’s somewhat one-dimensional. Maybe Beowulf should have had a love interest. :P

Quotes:
On Old Age:
“There was song and laughter – the Spear Danes’ king
stretched his memory for stories of childhood.
At times the old one touched his harpstrings
strummed the songwood sang of the past
moments of heartgrief high victories
remnants of his youth from reaches of his mind.
At times he brooded bound by his years
an old sword-warrior sorrowing for friends
worn with winter welling with memories
yearning for dead ones young hearth-fellows.”

On the transience of life:
“The last of splendor slips into darkness
that loaned king-body cracks upon the pyre
swirls away in smoke – soon another one
steps to the gift-throne shares his goldhoard
turns that treachery to trust and reward.
Guard against life-bale beloved Beowulf
best of warriors and win for your soul
eternal counsel – do not care for pride
great shield-champion! The glory of your strength
lasts for a while but not long after
sickness or spear-point will sever you from life...”
… (more)
LibraryThing member JustLance
I have read many translations and this is my favorite. I love the poem/story of Beowulf and read it often. This is not only an excellent translation, but it is such an easy to read version that I must give it 5 stars. Read this version and enjoy a true classic tale that will keep you interested from start to finish.

Original language

Old English

Other editions

Beowulf by Sarah M. Anderson (Paper Book)
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