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Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) 1st ed Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393975802
ISBN-10: 0393975800
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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)

About the Author

Daniel Donoghue is Professor of English at Harvard University. He is the author of Style in Old English Poetry: The Test of the Auxiliary and Lady Godiva: A Literary History of a Legend.

Seamus Heaney (1939―2013) was an Irish poet, playwright, translator, lecturer and recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born at Mossbawn farmhouse between Castledawson and Toomebridge, County Derry, he resided in Dublin until his death.

Product Details

  • Series: Norton Critical Editions
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st ed edition (December 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393975800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393975802
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I have reviewed over 60 different translations of Beowulf, . . . Although the Seamus Heaney translation is one of the best available, it is not, despite what all of the marketing people would have us believe, far superior to every other translation ever written. There are at least 10 other translations which rank with Seamus Heaney's translation. I would still rank Frederick Rebsamen's translation as superior to Heaney's.
Daniel Donoghue's choice of essays to include in this volume is interesting, in that he includes the 1934 essay by J. R. R. Tolkien "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics", an essay which has already been made available in many other volumes, and the popularity of which, in my view, is now based mostly on nostalgia. Professor Donoghue has neglected to include any of the writings of Professor Kevin S. Kiernan, who has been described by the British Library as "the world's leading authority on the history of the Beowulf manuscript," and who is the world's leading proponent of the theory that the Beowulf manuscript may have been initially composed after 1016.
This book will undoubtedly be very popular, in that it contains the Beowulf translation which most people believe is the best one available, as well as several essays which related directly to the most popular topics for Beowulf essays: women in Beowulf, and Christian themes in Beowulf.
It is a good book, . . . but don't believe the marketing hype that tells you that you shouldn't bother with any other translation. Try Bertha Rogers, or Ruth Lehmann, or Frederick Rebsamen, or John Porter as well.
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Format: Paperback
Most people probably think Beowulf is still read merely because it's old. Well, it is old. Wow it's old. Hoary and whiskery old. Best estimates place the composition somewhere between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. One can speak in terms of millenia when speaking of Beowulf. Though it's old - have I mentioned that it's old - age is definitely not the sole, or even the best, reason for reading the poem. Flinging oneself into Beowulf is almost like flinging oneself into another language (if one wants to argue that Old English may as well be another language, then there you go). Simply speaking, Beowulf is still read because it is a poetic masterpiece. It's not read because the monsters go "boo" or because it's considered the prequel to "The Lord of The Rings"; it's read for the impact of its language and the themes that it explores. Of course the poem can be read for enjoyment on the level of an adventure tale. There are monsters, and they're scary, gruesome, and mean; there are also swords, gore, carnage, death, heroes, more swords, myth, partying, a vengeful mother monster, a fire-breathing dragon, and more swords. The Beowulf poet wove a good tale. Some parts spew drama. When Beowulf seeks out Grendel's mother to kill her in vengeance for terrorizing the town, he must submerge himself in a pool of horrid things, holding his breath for the best part of a day. When he finds her his ancient sword fails him. A claustrophobic scene ensues that hydrophobes should skip. Nonetheless, a cursory surface reading obscures the rich interwoven text and meanings that peek just under the surface of what seems to be - to a modern reader, at least - a heroic adventure tale.

Just what the poem is about remains somewhat controversial.
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Format: Paperback
I am a dissenter from the hype surrounding Seamus Heaney's new translation. I prefer Donaldson for two important reasons: the transparency of the translation and the translator's humble willingness to let stand archaic implications that may seem absurb or offensive to most people today.

On a technical level, Donaldson--much more consistently than Heaney--reproduces Old English compounded words and phrases with Modern equivalents. He does this with accuracy and freshness--if not with seamless grace as some readers would prefer. The great advantage of Donaldson's approach is that the reader who does not read OE can at least imagine that she can second-guess the translator, and can feel the raw, rugged texture of the original. Even my 12th grade (inner city high school) students who have bought Heaney's version have become irate at a number of crucial points where the complexity preserved by Donaldson has been eliminated by Heaney.

A second point--or a second way of looking at the same point--concerns interpretation. With all due respect to Heaney, he has an agenda related to the future of the European Union, and I suspect that this motivated or influenced his approach to the translation of Beowulf. Heaney is presenting, via the seminal text of Beowulf, a vision of the origins of European politcs that he believes will ultimately lay a foundation for its future viability and humanity.

Heaney's version is this a much more creative endeavor than was Donaldson's. Where Donaldson allows seeming incoherencies to emerge for the modern reader, Heaney makes things make sense. The main difference here lies in the treatment of the hero. For Heaney, Beowulf is an unambiguous ideal figure.
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