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Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Penguin…

Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Penguin Classics) (edition 2003)

by Anonymous, Michael Alexander (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
17,738238151 (3.82)1 / 754
Title:Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Penguin Classics)
Other authors:Michael Alexander (Translator)
Info:Penguin Classics (2003), Edition: Reissue, Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library, Penguin Classics, Someday

Work details

Beowulf by Beowulf Poet

  1. 193
    Grendel by John Gardner (lyzadanger, sweetandsyko, sturlington)
    lyzadanger: Stunning prose from the point of view of the monster.
  2. 140
    The Iliad by Homer (benmartin79)
  3. 132
    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Gawain Poet (OwenGriffiths, chrisharpe)
    OwenGriffiths: If you like Old/Middle English texts translated by great poets...
  4. 101
    The Nibelungenlied by Anonymous (Weasel524)
    Weasel524: Embodies and champions the same spirit/ideals commonly shared by norse mythology, scandanavian sagas, and northern germanic folklore. Significantly longer and different in structure, should that be of concern
  5. 134
    The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (benmartin79)
  6. 101
    The Icelandic Sagas by Magnus Magnusson (BGP)
  7. 92
    Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (PaulRackleff)
    PaulRackleff: Michael Crichton had written "Eaters of the Dead" as a means to show Beowulf's story value. The character names and plot line are very similar. Though Crichton changed some elements to make it more interesting than just a copy of Beowulf.
  8. 82
    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight / Pearl / Cleanness / Patience by A. C. Cawley (OwenGriffiths)
  9. 71
    The Táin by Táin author (BGP)
  10. 61
    The Sagas of Icelanders by Örnólfur Thorsson (chrisharpe)
  11. 74
    Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman (moonstormer)
    moonstormer: the short story in Fragile Things - Monarch of the Glen - is very related to Beowulf and could be seen as an interesting commentary.
  12. 10
    The Mere Wife: A Novel by Maria Dahvana Headley (Cecrow)
  13. 14
    Opened Ground: Poems 1966–1996 by Seamus Heaney (JessamyJane)

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English (230)  Swedish (2)  French (2)  Tagalog (1)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (237)
Showing 1-5 of 230 (next | show all)
Who amongst us has not a single notion of the poem called [Beowulf]? It is, as Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney wrote (in his introduction to his translation of it), "one of the foundation works of poetry in English." Often classified as "a heroic narrative," the poem tells of carnage wrought on the Danes by a terrifying and seemingly invincible monster called Grendel, and how an epic hero from Geatland volunteers to defend the Danes and how, with his bare hands, he destroys Grendel. The hero, of course, is Beowulf.
And that's just the first of several heroic acts recounted in the poem.

The damper on appreciation of Beowulf is its origin and its structure. Believed to have been composed between 750 AD and 1100 AD, it was a performance piece. Literacy was almost nonexistent, so such tales as Beowulf were memorized, often (usually?) set to music, and presented as entertainment. The oral tradition: think of folk tales collected by the Grimm brothers, American folk tales; every nation and culture has an oral tradition. At some point, someone transcribed the various episodes, weaving them into one long story. A single manuscript exists—just one—and it was nearly lost in a fire in 1731. It's now housed in the British Library. A page of the manuscript is shown below:

I already had a Heritage Press edition of Beowulf when I found a copy of Seamus Heaney's translation. The HP book used a translation published in 1923 by William Ellery Leonard, a respected poet and translator. The translations are obviously different on the printed page, and reading and understanding them differs as well. I chose to read both (the poem is but 3182 lines), but after digesting fewer than 1500 lines of Leonard's version, I turned to Heaney's. So much better.

In his introduction, Leonard explained his intent to recreate as closely as possible the rhythm and rhyme of the original.

  Perhaps the reader would like to see a sample of that old verse. Here are two lines:

    Gewát tha òfer wáeg-hòlm,  wíndè gefýsèd,
    Flótà fami-héals  fúglà gelícòst

  They mean: "Then went over the billowy ocean, driven by the wind, the floater (ship), with foamy neck (prow), very like a (wild-) fowl."
Now, if he'll [the reader] pardon a somewhat twisted translation, I can put these verses into a sort of equivalent English verse. Like this:

    Wént she òver wáve-sèas,  wíndỳ her fárìng,
    Flóatèr fóamy-nécked—  fówl wàs she líkèst.

The observant student will notice: (1) that the lines are divided by a pause in the middle; and (2) that the two halves of each line have words that begin with the same sound (alliteration).
  He will notice, too, the accent-marks over some of the syllables both in the Anglo-Saxon and the English. I just now set them there to help explain the way the verses keep time. In the old days verses were not read to one's self, or even read aloud or recited; they were sung, or half-sung, or chanted, to the accompaniment of the harp, before a group of listeners at festivals, feasts, or parties.

Interesting, but after a thousand lines, not very lively (not to me anyway). Translating the lines into English, and retaining a semblance of the original language's dynamics is difficult. Reading that translation is hardly a pleasure (again, not to me anyway). It's work is what it is! It's an exercise that makes clear the immensity of the challenge that reading Beowulf in the Anglo-Saxon is. Here's a passage in the original Anglo-Saxon (lines 86 through 98). [The passage is shown as an image, but LT's "Your Review" feature doesn't support images.]

Here's Leonard's translation of the passage:

But now that bold Hobgoblin,  who dwelt in fenways dark,
Ill bore the sullen grievance  that he each day must hark
To revel loud at banquet.  The noise of harp was there,
In hall clear song of singer.  He spake who knew full fair
To tell mankind's beginning,  how God Almighty wrought
The earth, that shining lea-land,  which waters fold about;
Quoth how God set, triumphant,  the sun and the moon
As lights to lighten landsfolk;  how he adorned soon
With leaf and limb the fold all;  and eke created birth
For every kind that moveth  on ocean, air, or earth.

And Heaney's Translation of the same passage:

Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
to hear the din of the loud banquet
every day in the hall, the harp being struck
and the clear song of a skilled poet
telling with mastery of man's beginnings,
how the Almighty had made the earth
a gleaming plain girdled with waters;
in His splendour He set the sun and the moon
to be earth's lamplight, lanterns for men,
and filled the broad lap of the world
with branches and leaves; and quickened life
in every other thing that moved.

Heaney's transformed the classic poem—a scholar's trial—into a text that's pleasant to read and easier to understand, a story with emotion and drive. A good read. A delight to anyone.

See my review with the images here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/301936#6777985
2 vote weird_O | Apr 11, 2019 |
- Nov 2015
- Apr 2016 (ENGL 215)
( )
  gturkington | Feb 18, 2019 |
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. ( )
3 vote thorold | Jan 8, 2019 |
(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. ( )
1 vote antao | Nov 29, 2018 |
One does not read Beowulf for pleasure; it is a learning experience. That said, it has plenty of action, sword flinging, corslet-wearing, extraordinarily strong heroes, who slay bloodthirty monsters. One can see how strongly this medieval epic inspired Tolkien (who was a major Beowulf scholar), and through him, generations of fantasy writers, movie makers, and countless sword-monster-hero role playing games. I was picturing the graphics and characters from the Skellige Isles from Witcher 3 the entire time - the mead halls, heroes, the tough talk, bragging, and monster slaying are the direct descendants of this Old English saga.
( )
  Gezemice | Oct 29, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 230 (next | show all)
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.
added by danielx | editNew York Times, Mel Gussow (Mar 29, 2000)
Translation is not mainly the work of preserving the hearth -- a necessary task performed by scholarship -- but of letting a fire burn in it.
added by danielx | editNew York Times, Richard Eder (Feb 2, 2000)

» Add other authors (115 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Beowulf Poetprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alexander, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Anderson, Sarah M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baskin, LeonardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Botkine, L.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brunetti, GiuseppeEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chickering, Howell D.Translation and Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Clark-Hall, John RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Collinder, BjörnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Crossley Holland, KevinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dean, RobertsonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Donaldson, E. T.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Earle, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ettmüller, Ernst Moritz LudwigTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Flynn, BenedictTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gordon, Robert KayTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grein, Christian Wilhelm MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grion, GiustoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grundtvig, Nicolas Frederic SeverinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gummere, Francis BartonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hall, John LesslieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heaney, SeamusTranslator, Introduction, Readersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heaney, SeamusTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heaney, SeamusIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoffmann, P.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hube, Hans-JürgenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kemble, John M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lehmann, Ruth P. M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leonard, William ElleryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lumsden, H. W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magnusson, MagnusIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McNamara, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meyer, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, StephenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morris, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pekonen, OsmoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raffel, BurtonTranslation and Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, SueProducersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schaldemose, FrederikTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Simons, L.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Simrock, KarlTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Steineck, H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Swanton, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorne, BeccaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tinker, Chauncey BrewsterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wackerbarth, A. DiedrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, LyndIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wickberg, RudolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolpe, BertholdCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolzogen, Hans vonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wright, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyatt, A. J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In memory of Ted Hughes

Seamus Heaney (1999)
For Brian and Blake

Burton Raffel (1963)
In memory of Joseph and Winifred Alexander

Michael Alexander (1973)
First words
Hwæt we gardena in geardagum þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Of the strength of the Spear-Danes in days gone by we have heard, and of their hero-kings: the prodigious deeds those princes perfomed!

(translated by Stephen Mitchell, 2017)
So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

(translated by Seamus Heaney, 1999)
Hear me! We've heard of Danish heroes,
Ancient kings and the glory they cut
For themselves, swinging mighty swords!

(translated by Burton Raffel, 1963)
We have heard of the thriving of the throne of Denmark,
how the folk-kings flourished in former days,
how those royal athelings earned that glory.

(translated by Michael Alexander, 1973)
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Disambiguation notice
This work is any complete, unabridged translation of Beowulf. The Seamus Heaney translation is not a separate work from the other complete, unabridged translations. To quote the FAQ on combining - "A work brings together all different copies of a book, regardless of edition, title variation, or language."

Based on currently accepted LibraryThing convention, the Norton Critical Edition is treated as a separate work, ostensibly due to the extensive additional, original material included.
This is an unabridged translation of Beowulf, and should NOT be combined with abridged editions, regardless of translator.
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Book description
AR 10.4, 5 Pts
Haiku summary
Fear falls on the hall:
monster meets match in hero;
mother waits at home.

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393320979, Paperback)

In Beowulf warriors must back up their mead-hall boasts with instant action, monsters abound, and fights are always to the death. The Anglo-Saxon epic, composed between the 7th and 10th centuries, has long been accorded its place in literature, though its hold on our imagination has been less secure. In the introduction to his translation, Seamus Heaney argues that Beowulf's role as a required text for many English students obscured its mysteries and "mythic potency." Now, thanks to the Irish poet's marvelous recreation (in both senses of the word) under Alfred David's watch, this dark, doom-ridden work gets its day in the sun.

There are endless pleasures in Heaney's analysis, but readers should head straight for the poem and then to the prose. (Some will also take advantage of the dual-language edition and do some linguistic teasing out of their own.) The epic's outlines seem simple, depicting Beowulf's three key battles with the scaliest brutes in all of art: Grendel, Grendel's mother (who's in a suitably monstrous snit after her son's dismemberment and death), and then, 50 years later, a gold-hoarding dragon "threatening the night sky / with streamers of fire." Along the way, however, we are treated to flashes back and forward and to a world view in which a thane's allegiance to his lord and to God is absolute. In the first fight, the man from Geatland must travel to Denmark to take on the "shadow-stalker" terrorizing Heorot Hall. Here Beowulf and company set sail:

Men climbed eagerly up the gangplank,
sand churned in the surf, warriors loaded
a cargo of weapons, shining war-gear
in the vessel's hold, then heaved out,
away with a will in their wood-wreathed ship.
Over the waves, with the wind behind her
and foam at her neck, she flew like a bird...
After a fearsome night victory over march-haunting and heath-marauding Grendel, our high-born hero is suitably strewn with gold and praise, the queen declaring: "Your sway is wide as the wind's home, / as the sea around cliffs." Few will disagree. And remember, Beowulf has two more trials to undergo.

Heaney claims that when he began his translation it all too often seemed "like trying to bring down a megalith with a toy hammer." The poem's challenges are many: its strong four-stress line, heavy alliteration, and profusion of kennings could have been daunting. (The sea is, among other things, "the whale-road," the sun is "the world's candle," and Beowulf's third opponent is a "vile sky-winger." When it came to over-the-top compound phrases, the temptations must have been endless, but for the most part, Heaney smiles, he "called a sword a sword.") Yet there are few signs of effort in the poet's Englishing. Heaney varies his lines with ease, offering up stirring dialogue, action, and description while not stinting on the epic's mix of fate and fear. After Grendel's misbegotten mother comes to call, the king's evocation of her haunted home may strike dread into the hearts of men and beasts, but it's a gift to the reader:

A few miles from here
a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch
above a mere; the overhanging bank
is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface.
At night there, something uncanny happens:
the water burns. And the mere bottom
has never been sounded by the sons of men.
On its bank, the heather-stepper halts:
the hart in flight from pursuing hounds
will turn to face them with firm-set horns
and die in the wood rather than dive
beneath its surface. That is no good place.
In Heaney's hands, the poem's apparent archaisms and Anglo-Saxon attitudes--its formality, blood-feuds, and insane courage--turn the art of an ancient island nation into world literature. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:38 -0400)

(see all 11 descriptions)

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)

(summary from another edition)

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