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70 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heaney is good, but not far superior to everyone else
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...
Published on January 28, 2002 by Syd Allan (www.jagular.com/beo...

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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars They're Right; Heaney's Only Okay
I agree with other member reviewers: Heaney's translation is better than some, but not particularly great. It loses the tone of the original Old English BEOWULF, which is harsh and deliberately choppy and repetitive. Along the same line, Heaney follows the fairly contemptible modern practice of coming up with his own informal verse form -- kind of four-beat lines, but not...
Published on September 2, 2005 by James M. Rawley


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69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heaney is good, but not far superior to everyone else, January 28, 2002
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This review is from: Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) (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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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much more than an old parchment..., July 23, 2004
This review is from: Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) (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. The incredible essays included in this Norton Critical Edition bring the poem, its history, and its controversies to life. J.R.R. Tolkien's famous and groundbreaking critique of Beowulf heads up the critical section. Also included are analyses of the structure of the poem(is it analogous to interwoven tapestries and designs of the Anglo-Saxons?), its religious tone (is it Pagan or Christian or both?), is it critical of the heroic life (does heroism lead to ruin), is it a statement on the impermanence of greatness? Was Beowulf deified? There's so much to munch on that a list of questions, controversies, and potential resolutions would be exhausting and inevitably incomplete. Leave it to say that the section of criticism allows one to read Beowulf at a higher level and discover just why this old thing is still around.

The translation by 1995 Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney reads wonderfully. No parallel Old English text is included. Heaney's introducton is amazing. It points out salient sections of the poem where the impact of the text is greatest. Heaney directs the reader to Beowulf's funeral where a Geat woman wails and mourns not only the passing of Beowulf but the impending destruction of her culture by foreign invaders now that their defending hero is gone. Heaney's introduction should be read by all Beowulf readers.

Also included are discussions about the archeology of Beowulf. Photos of artifacts and sites provide imagery for the setting of the poem. The boar-crested helmets are worth the price alone.

Beowulf is worth reading. It can be read on many levels: on the level of poetic analysis, historical analysis, philological analysys, as a monster tale, as one of the oldest poems in the english language, or for enjoyment. Big imposing degrees are not required (though admittedly some of the criticism can get heady and academic; this is not a beginner's guide or "Beowulf for Morons"). Open up. Grendel, Mamma, and Dragon await...
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49 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but stay with Donaldson, July 29, 2005
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Ira Abrams (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) (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. Donaldson, on the other hand, preserves the original ambiguity of a hero who is physically similar to the monsters he fights in his superiority to ordinary men.

There's no translation without interpretation, but there's also a question of degree of control to consider. Heaney's translation falls in line with the unfortunate tradition of Raffel, whose Procrustean approach privileged modern sensibility above everything else. Heaney is much better than Raffel, but Donaldson is one of those rare translations that has and will continue to stand the test of time because he didn't try too hard to be a person of his time.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes it's good to be critical, February 4, 2007
This review is from: Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
I had already bought Heaney's "A New Verse Translation" before I needed to buy this edition for a university class. That said, if you're only looking for a translation of the poem with no frills, buy the "New Verse Translation" because it's got the text in parallel with the original Anglo-Saxon. But if you're interested in Beowulf criticism and related anthropology then pick up this edition, because half the book is critical essays, including Tolkein's seminal work.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent edition, August 30, 2006
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Nouche "Nouche!" (Winthrop, MA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
This is a beautiful translation that captures the tone and tenor of Old English. Although it eschews the alliterative line essential to Old English poetry, Heaney's rendering is magically evocative of the somber stoicism and occasionally wry understatement of this seminal poem. The critical commentary provides a nice general scholarly apparatus that helps one contextualize and better appreciate the poem and the achievement of Heaney as a modern day "scop" through whom the original - alas anonymous - poet speaks.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The supplements helped me appreciate this classic even more, March 5, 2009
This review is from: Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
I am a Beowulf "newbie". I purchased Chickering's translation two and a half weeks ago. I liked the poem so much that I wanted a different translation. I picked Beowulf: A Verse Translation because it was affordable and contained literary crticisms.

This edition is well -worth its money. I read through the supplements, including passages from contemporary Anglo-Saxon works and literary criticisms. (Including Tolkien's famous lecture on the three monsters.) I learned so much about Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and Celtic culture. (Well, enough to whet my appetite!)

I value Heaney's use of Ulster dialect. Footnotes include the modern English equivalents. The use of the Ulster dialect gives this ancient poem a bit more "ancient" flavor.

Bonus is the wonderful photographs complementing the criticism on Beowulf and archaeology.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars They're Right; Heaney's Only Okay, September 2, 2005
This review is from: Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
I agree with other member reviewers: Heaney's translation is better than some, but not particularly great. It loses the tone of the original Old English BEOWULF, which is harsh and deliberately choppy and repetitive. Along the same line, Heaney follows the fairly contemptible modern practice of coming up with his own informal verse form -- kind of four-beat lines, but not always, often alliterating and often not. This is about the worst choice possible to give the feel of a poem in which alliteration is absolutely mandatory, and heavy syntactical constraints are put on the poet as well. As a result, Heaney ends up way too easygoing and distant, reproducing, but exaggerating, the cool academic intellectualism that mars his own original poetry. The hype around his translation is annoying. Pope, a genuinely great poet, was torn to pieces by critics for not reproducing Homer's tone and manner; the critics are letting Heaney off scott free.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The penultimate Anglo-Saxon epic, August 29, 2011
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This review is from: Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
[note: this is a review of the poem generally, not this particular translation]

Beowulf is one of those Medieval works of literature that many have heard about but few have read. However, it's worth reading, if only to experience a story so different from modern sensibilities. The poem extols Beowulf's physical courage and bravery against monsters and dragons. It's an odd mix of early Christian and warrior ethos. Beowulf is not a modern hero. There's not much to recommend him to modern readers - he's boastful, relies on brawn not brains, and his search for glory ends up putting his kingdom at risk. Still, it's fascinating to read this type of story and realize how far away it is from our own times.

Because this is a translation of an Anglo-Saxon poem, it's worth saying a word about the text itself. It's readable, but isn't smooth reading for the uninitiated. I'd say this - if you don't like reading English-language poetry, you probably won't enjoy reading this poem. If you do make the effort, I'd recommend really making the effort. Go slow and make sure you understand the story. Don't skip over a few lines thinking they're not as relevant.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mournful elegy..., May 8, 2014
This review is from: Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
Beowulf is a medieval epic poem about a hero who comes from the land of the Geats (modern Sweden) to a Danish hall in order to kill the monster Grendel who has been wreaking havoc there. The poem follows Beowulf's exploits in killing Grendel and his mother, the celebrations in the halls of the Danes, a few old stories as digressions that give some of the history of the Danes, and Beowulf's death at the hands of a dragon.

The poem is an heroic epic that celebrates the exploits of Beowulf, similar to the stories told about Achilles and the Greek heroes that eventually became The Iliad, but there is a melancholy atmosphere in Beowulf that, to me, contrasts sharply with the Greek heroic stories. There is always a sense of ultimate destruction looming in the future. For example, when the poet is describing the Danes hall in the very beginning of the poem his admiration is mixed with a forecast of the future, "The hall towered/its gables wide and high and awaiting/a barbarous burning" (lines 81-83).

The sense of tragedy does not only lie in the future but the past as well. There is lengthy interlude regarding Hildeburh and a fight between the Danes and Jutes (I believe, correct me if I'm wrong) in which Hildeburh is tragically caught in the middle of a fight that claims the lives of her son and brother. The sense of melancholy in the poem is so strong that Tolkien categorizes the poem as an elegy rather than an epic poem.

There has been a lot of argument over whether Beowulf is a Christian or pagan poem. There is no doubt that the poem takes place in pagan times. The characters in the poem are not Christian though they seem to be monotheists and the poet presents them as virtuous pagans to be admired. Thomas D. Hill argues, in his essay in this volume, that the poem is a "radical synthesis of pagan and Christian history" and that the poet imagines his pagan heroes as saved. When Beowulf's grandfather Hrethel dies the poet writes "Heartsore, wearied he turned away/from life's joys, chose God's light/and departed" (2468-69)

The poet definitely seems to be suggesting that Hrethel has joined God in heaven. However, what I find most interesting about this passage, and the poem in its entirety, is that, even though there is definitely a strong Christian strain in it, the mood of the poem is not one of Christian hope, or the celebration of Christ's victory over death. Death is a melancholy absolute in the poem. Even in the line about Hrethel "choosing God's light" we feel more melancholy about his "turning away from life's joys" than we feel glad over the prospect of his blissful afterlife.

It is possible I am projecting a purely subjective interpretation on the poem but, what I find interesting in the poem, is the dual sense that earthly life is a veil of tears - where the earthly powers of greed and avarice and violence and death hold sway (which is certainly Christian) - combined with this deep sense of sadness over having to leave the world and "life's joys"- even with a heavenly home awaiting. I think this is one reason the poem is still moving today. To sum it up in a very trite formula: life is difficult and painful from beginning to end but we very much hate to leave.

Now just a brief word on the essays in this volume (I cannot really comment on Heaney's translation much since it is the only translation I have read and I cannot read Old English to compare it to the original). The essays are certainly interesting and many of them are quite helpful in providing insights into the themes of the poem, its meaning, its historical context, etc. However, many of the essays are really (I think) geared more towards scholars. Many of the essays, instead of explicating the poem for the new reader, pick a scholarly position and spend their time defending it, often without referencing the actual poem much at all.

I realize that is what scholars do, especially with an historical poem like Beowulf, but for non-scholars like myself, who are really just looking for an increased appreciation of the poem, I would have preferred more essays that analyzed the poem and its themes rather than arguing a very specific thesis that I am too uninformed to form much of an opinion about. The stand out essays for me were Tolkien's essay "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics", John Leyerle's essay "The Interlace Structure of Beowulf", Jane Chance's essay "The Structural Unity of Beowulf: The Problem of Grendel's Mother", and "The Tomb of Beowulf" by Fred C. Robinson.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poetic translation, just not the original poetry, February 20, 2011
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This review is from: Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
Heaney succeeds in turning Beowulf into poetry again, and so then makes it an excellent read... only it's his poetry, not the text's. For instance, take his famous (or infamous) translation of the opening word. "Hw[a]t" (I'd type an ash if my keyboard had one) is the Old English way of saying a combination of "Everyone in the mead hall, shut up and listen!" and "Once upon a time" and "Here's what happened," among other things. Heaney translates this as "So," because that's how his father would preface his stories. Interesting, but it's his word, not the poem's.

If you're looking for a translation that'll keep you awake and enjoying the poem and you can't read Old English (I'd highly recommend this to high school English teachers seeking to teach the poem, since maintaining attention here is probably more important than anything) this is a great choice. If you're looking for something that gets more at the text, look elsewhere.
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Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions)
Beowulf: A Verse Translation (Norton Critical Editions) by Daniel Donoghue (Paperback - Dec. 2002)
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