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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,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.
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...
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 hereIn 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
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.
Seamus Heaney is one of my favorite poets, and Beowulf one of my favorite epics - the combination is perfect. Love this translation. Read morePublished 8 days ago by M. Sullivan
Beowulf is brilliant in its simplicity and tells us so much about Early Medieval life. Read more
Beowulf is one of the essential works of English (O.K., Middle English) literature.
Over the years, I've read several translations of this classic saga and this... Read more
This is my favorite translation of Beowulf. The book has the translated verse side by side with the original Old English text, which makes you realize that modern English looks and... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Joseph Finley
Book was as expected. On time. No problems.
I love this side by side translation with summary points in the margin.
Good read. But never by used if you want it In a good condition because used is almost all to fifty percent of the time horriblePublished 3 months ago by shawn135077
Clear translation, and love having Old English on one side and modern English on the other. Everyone should read this!Published 3 months ago by Earthspark
Out of many versions I've read or used, this one gets right to the gist of the story with the translation on the opposite page.Published 3 months ago by Emma K.
After seeing two versions of the story in recent movies, I was interested to see what the book was like. I found it to be much better than either of the movies. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Carol Reed