Beowulf: A New Verse Translation

BeowfulfMany people who have read Beowulf are rather turned off by its old style, slow story, and almost complete lack of characterization among other things. I never studied this in school, but I think I would have liked it more if a passionate English teacher had done so especially with this translation of the story. I am not going to lie; I found the story rather long and ardurous. My mind wandered quite a bit while reading this text. It was not the most enjoyable thing I’ve read in awhile. On the other hand, I really appreciated the translation by Irish poet Seamus Heaney. There were some margin notes and the original text on the left page to guide you through the book. There is something in the prose of the translation and the arrangement of the text that makes me aware that Heaney is a poet, and this work has been well thought out.

I love a good translation; it really can make or break the story. When I was 13, I read a very old translation of The Iliad and The Odyssey, but in my last year of high school, I found the best translation in Robert Fagles’s version. I highly recommend his translations if you are undertaking the two Greek texts.

Even with a good translation, this is still Beowulf. I think part of the problem is that these stories are so different from present conventions and not created originally for a literary text form or modern prose. I would have much rather listened to this story as it is meant to be. These stories are meant to be recounted by a talented storyteller with a booming bard voice. I’m pleased to say that Seamus Heaney has recorded an audiobook, and exerpts from it can be heard at Northon Anthology.

In the end, I’m still glad I read this classic as it does give me more ideas of the Dark Ages and the literary traditions that have derived from this era. I doubt I’ll read

Read for the Book Awards Challenge. Text won the Costa/Whitbread award and Seamus Heaney received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

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