Beowulf (Folio Society Limited Edition)

by Seamus Heaney (Translator)

Other authorsClive Hicks-Jenkins (Illustrator), Beowulf Poet (Author), Janina Ramirez (Introduction)
Hardcover, 2023



Call number



Folio Society Limited Edition (2023)


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. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on in the exhausted aftermath. In the contours of this story, at once remote and uncannily familiar at the end of the twentieth century, Seamus Heaney finds a resonance that summons power to the poetry from deep beneath its surface. Drawn to what he has called the "four-squareness of the utterance" in Beowulf and its immense emotional credibility, Heaney gives these epic qualities new and convincing reality for the contemporary reader.… (more)

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 amanda4242
This review is for Maria Dahvana Headley's translation.

Publicity materials and professional reviews of Maria Dahvana Headley's new translation of Beowulf have been using words like "radical" and "recontextualize" to describe her work, and making much of her use of modern slang. So great has been
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the effort to cast Headley's version as entirely different that I've been left wondering if it's so divergent that it shouldn't even be combined with other translations. Imagine my surprise when I read it and discovered it's actually a pretty standard translation.

Published reviews I've seen have chosen to quote passages showing Headley's incorporation of modern slang into the ancient poem, but this gives a false impression of most of the text. These lines spoken by Wealhtheow are much more representative of the translation:

"Accept this cup from me, my lord of rings, and lift this golden goblet. Give the Geats their due. Be good to them who've been good to you. Gifts are for granting, and your hands should be open, your heart happy, even as you remember--I know you do--the good men who gave kith-gifts to you."

That's definitely modern English, and it isn't deliberately archaic or full of poetic flourishes like some translations, but it's not earth-shatteringly radical either. Headley does use modern slang in places, but she also drops in old-fashioned terms just as often; readers are as likely to come across a "swan-road" and "warp and weft" as they are a "bling" or "hashtag." Oddly, this sparing use of slang actually works less well than more liberal use would have; the effect here is like a poser trying to sound cool by slipping in words they don't really understand.

The most radical thing about Headley's translation is her clear sympathy for the monsters. Her word choices emphasize Grendel's alienation and his mother's grief-fueled rage at the death of her son. This interpretation isn't unsupported by the text; it's just a different take from most other translations, and it certainly makes for thrilling action scenes. I must say I don't share Headley's enthusiasm for Grendel's mother: I find it hard to stir up much sympathy for someone who goes on a murder spree to avenge a son who was killed while breaking in next door so he could eat the neighbors.

To sum up:

Do I believe this version meets the LT standard for combining with other translations? Yes.

Would I recommend this version to someone looking for an epic poem with some good action in it? Maybe.

Would I recommend this version to someone looking for a good translation of Beowulf, the 1,000+ year old poem? No.
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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
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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
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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 LisCarey
Beowulf is a classic that comes down to us from Anglo-Saxon times, written in what we now call Old English, and so, except for scholars of Old English, today we read it only in translation.

This is a wonderful translation that's fun, exciting, thoroughly enjoyable.

I'm going to assume that, as
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Beowulf is more than a thousand years old, and is a popular choice for teachers to assign to high school students who will never even thing of studying Old English, spoilers are not really an issue.

The basic story, of course, is that a Danish king has built a great mead hall, Heorot, where he and his thanes feast, drink, and generally party every night--until Grendel, a never really described "monster," being greatly annoyed by the noise, starts visiting nightly to kill, carry off, and eat men from the court. The Danes are unable to kill him, and this, obviously, puts quite a damper on the partying.

Word spreads, and Beowulf, a young warrior of the Geats, comes to Heorot with the plan of fighting and killing Grendel. He succeeds in this, and everyone is delighted, until, the following night, Grendel's grieving, angry, warrior mother shows up, seeking vengeance for the death of her son. Grendel's mother, never named, is an even tougher opponent, and Beowulf has to fight her in her undersea lair.

Tolkien said that the use of archaic language in translations of Beowulf is essential because the language used in the original would have been archaic to the listeners of the time. This isn't a universal opinion, but it certainly expresses something about how most translations of it are written. This is one of the things that makes it a challenging read for high school students, and not necessarily a beloved or even interesting one. Yet some of those translations have also been popular and beloved, also.

It's important to understand than no translation is simply a matter of correctly translating the words on the page. Direct, exact translation can lose much of the meaning, even much of the basic sense, because different languages and cultures don't just have different things to say. They also tend to say "the same thing" in different, often very different ways. Then add in the effects of differing grammars and sentence structure, and it becomes clear that translation is always an act of artistic interpretation as well as translation of the words.

What Maria Dahvana Headley has done is translate and interpret Beowulf not as a Great Work of Literature, but as a work that is meant to be performed in a loud mead hall, or bar, or drunken party, a work that needs to grab the attention of people who weren't waiting quietly for the performer to begin.

The first word, in Old English "Hwaet," customarily used in Old English to demand the attention of the audience, becomes "Bro." This epic poem is about young men who have to prove themselves as warriors to be able to establish themselves as adult men. That's not the story; it's the cultural background that poet and audience took completely for granted. Headley doesn't turn the entire poem in to modern dudebro slang, not by any means, not even really very much of it--but that dudebro slang and attitude is lightly salted throughout, to give it for modern ears the tone and attitude the original audiences would have been hearing. This is a loud, engaging poem with a lot of male swagger, because that's what the original was for its original audience. It was not serious, sober, Serious Literature. It was popular entertainment.

What makes it great literature is that, more than a thousand years later, it still has an audience that cares about it and enjoys it--even if that audience tends not to be high school students reading it only because it's been assigned and they'll be tested on it.

Another thing Headley has done is salt in a few references to some of our more modern myths, stories, and bits of culture--not explicitly naming them, but references modern readers or listeners will likely enjoy even if they don't consciously register them. I'm personally sure that similar references were present in the original, and we don't recognize them, because Beowulf is the only significant piece of Old English literature we have. We don't have access to the literary culture it would have been embedded in in its day.

The result is an epic poem that conveys the story and the culture of the day, while making it recognizable and accessible to the modern reader or listener--and, I think, in the process captures the fun and excitement, and something of the atmosphere in which it was intended to be heard.

Highly recommended.

I bought this book.
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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
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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.
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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
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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 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
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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 Terpsichoreus
There are different ways to translate, and it comes down to what you want to get across. Most creative authors have such a strong voice and sense of story that they will overwhelm the original author. As Bentley wrote of Pope's Iliad: "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it
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Sometimes this sort of indirect translation is useful in itself, such as during the transition of the Renaissance from Italy to Britain. Many of the British poets rewrote Italian ...more There are different ways to translate, and it comes down to what you want to get across. Most creative authors have such a strong voice and sense of story that they will overwhelm the original author. As Bentley wrote of Pope's Iliad: "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer".

Sometimes this sort of indirect translation is useful in itself, such as during the transition of the Renaissance from Italy to Britain. Many of the British poets rewrote Italian sonnets into English, and though the line of descent was unquestionable, the progeny was it's own work. Another example might be the digestion of Wuxia and Anime into films such as Tarantino's or The Matrix (though Tarantino's sense of propriety is often suspect).

However, in these cases, we can hardly call the new work a translation of the old. You are not experiencing the old work but the inspiration it has wrought. Beowulf is just this sort of translation, capturing the excitement and passion of the story, but obliterating the details which make the work interesting to students of history or literary theory.

Heaney's translation is a fun, rollicking epic, able to draw in even uninitiated students, which is no doubt why it is now included in Norton. Unfortunately, it is not a particularly useful tool for teaching the importance of the original work. Heaney severs many connections to the unique world of Beowulf.

As the only surviving epic from its time, place, and tradition, Beowulf is a unique vision into a pre-Christian culture outside of the Mediterranean. Though the poem shows Christian revisions, these stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the work, and can usually be easily excised, unlike many pervasive Christian impositions on the 'pagan' cultures.

Heaney is not a philologist nor a historian, but a popular poet. He doesn't have the background for conscientious translation, and the clearest sign that his translation is haphazard is the fact that there are no footnotes explaining the difficult decisions that most translators have to make in every line. Heaney also loses much of the alliteration and appositives that marked the artistry of the original.

A Beowulf that can exist without context is a Beowulf that has well and truly been separated from its past. Perhaps his translation is suitable for an introduction to the work, but a good professor should be able to teach the original without much difficulty.

Then again, perhaps the inclusion of this version in college classes has to do with the fact that college is no longer the path for scholars, but has been given the same equality treatment as art and poetry. College is now meant for your average, half-literate frat boy who only wants a BA so he can be a mid-level retail manager.

Heaney's translation certainly suits for them, since it is the easiest version of the story this side of a digital Angelina. It's fun and exciting, certainly worth a read, but doesn't stand up as a translation.
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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 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
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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
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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 setnahkt
This is my third version of Beowulf; the others are by Seamus Heaney and Burton Raffel. Beowulf is often claimed to be the first English poetry, but the language and poetic style are different enough that it might as well be in Greek. Well, some of the emotion comes through in translation – just
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like some of The Illiad comes through. I liked reading this and it’s pretty glorious, but I’m certainly not enough of a Old English scholar to be able to tell if it’s any more faithful than other versions.
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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
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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 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
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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.
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LibraryThing member millsge
I don't know how to review a masterpiece like Beowulf - it's like writing a review of Sistine Chapel . To say something about this work of art that would be both original and add to our understanding of the poem, the author, the time in which it was written, and its many themes is beyond me. As
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with all great poetry, all one can do is try to hear every note of its music and allow it to go directly to that thing one identifies as one's "I."
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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
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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 eve
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LibraryThing member eldang
This translation is wonderful. I had tried reading a different translation in school, before this was published, and couldn't get through it. Heaney was very open about not being too slavishly literal in his translation and the result is something that's very readable, tautly paced and full of
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evocative turns of phrase.

The actual story recounted is much less interesting than its telling. It's about the most macho character in a very macho world, who takes on other peoples' battles to prove himself, and where everything is valued in strength and/or gold. I found myself sympathising more with the second "monster" (a bereaved mother out to avenge her son) than the "hero". And the narrator seems very confused about whether the characters being described were Christians or not - they're explicitly described as pagans but then they keep referencing a distinctly monotheist God as if that was the only way the narrator knew to render humility. But it's still an interesting window into a period of history we don't exactly have copious written records from.

Unusually for an Important Work Of Literature, the introduction is really worth reading, I suppose because Heaney wrote it himself. I read it after the poem, which I think was the right way round.
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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
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from start to finish.
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LibraryThing member woodsathome
Who knew I would ever enjoy Beowulf. I remember struggling through it in school and not making any sense of it (although the fact that an elementary teacher first assigned it may have added to my confusion).

Heaney's translation was a revelation. I had heard such strong praise, but was still
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reluctant to revisit the epic. My sister finally persuaded me to read it to help her prep to teach a new Brit Lit class.

I was blown away. Not only could I understand what was going on, I was engrossed it the plot. I actually could not put it down.

So if you, like me never "got" Beowulf while in school, don't hesitate to give this translation a try
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LibraryThing member Eat_Read_Knit
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
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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 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.
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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

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...”
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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
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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!!!!)
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LibraryThing member jasmyn9
6. Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney
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.
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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.

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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
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read this classic, and I'm glad I'll remember it fondly because I read this version.
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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
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sometimes feel like the exiles of the world?
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Original publication date

c. 700 - 1000 AD (poem)
10th century
ca. 975 - 1010 (manuscript)
1999 (English: Seamus Heaney)
2020 (English: Maria Dahvana Headley)
1966 (English: E. Talbot Donaldson)
1991 (English: Frederick Rebsamen)

Physical description

304 p.; 14 inches

Local notes

Limited to 750 hand-numbered copies
Bound in goatskin leather blocked in metallic blue and gold foils
Letterpress-printed limitation tip signed by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Janina Ramirez
304 pages set in Bembo Arcadian
Printed in two colours throughout on Arena Natural paper
11 illustrations including 8 double-page spreads
Illustrated title page
Gilded page tops
Ribbon marker
Printed endpapers
Clamshell presentation box covered in blocked Saphir cloth and lined with printed Sirio paper
14˝ x 10˝
Print with presentation folder

Other editions

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