- Paperback: 152 pages
- Publisher: Canon Press (October 15, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 159128130X
- ISBN-13: 978-1591281306
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #323,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Beowulf Paperback – October 15, 2013
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"I've long been waiting for a rendering of Beowulf by someone sensitive to its muscular verse, its palette of irony that ranges from grim understatement to barely suppressed hilarity, its profound humanity and Christian faith. I'm waiting no longer -- Douglas Wilson's is the one, far more faithful to the original than Heaney's or Raffel's, and conceding absolutely nothing to theirs in sheer dramatic force. I will be ordering it for my students forthwith." -Anthony Esolen, translator of Dante's Divine Comedy, author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, and professor of English at Providence College
Douglas Wilson's Beowulf coveys with admirable clarity the poem's narrative and general character, and his commentary helps the studious reader to see how the poem reflects a time of cultural conflict and change." -Richard Wilbur, United States Poet Laureate (1987), two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets
"It is obvious that Douglas Wilson enjoyed himself immensely in rendering this Old English epic into the alliterative verse form of the original, and as a reader I found that this enjoyment energized the text. Beowulf is a story par excellence, and the most salient trait of Wilson's version is that it flows beautifully." -Leland Ryken, professor of English at Wheaton College and author of The Christian Imagination and the Christian Guides to the Classics series. ---Leland Ryken, professor of English at Wheaton College and author of The Christian Imagination and the Christian Guides to the Classics series
Douglas Wilson's Beowulf coveys with admirable clarity the poem's narrative and general character, and his commentary helps the studious reader to see how the poem reflects a time of cultural conflict and change. ---Richard Wilbur, United States Poet Laureate (1987), two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets
It is obvious that Douglas Wilson enjoyed himself immensely in rendering this Old English epic into the alliterative verse form of the original, and as a reader I found that this enjoyment energized the text. Beowulf is a story par excellence, and the most salient trait of Wilson's version is that it flows beautifully. ---Leland Ryken, professor of English at Wheaton College and author of The Christian Imagination and the Christian Guides to the Classics series
About the Author
Douglas Wilson is a Senior Fellow at New Saint Andrews College and pastor of Christ Church, Moscow, ID. He is the author of Rudiments of Anglo-Saxon and the award-winning satirical novel Evangellyfish. He can be found online at dougwils.com.
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Beowulf is a classic and a standby of English classes everywhere, and its story should need little introduction. The poem tells the story of Beowulf’s voyage to Denmark, where he confronts and kills a pair of monsters assaulting the people of King Hrothgar. After successfully and heroically doing so, he returns home to Geatland. The story skips over his fifty-year reign as king and concludes with his final, tragic battle against a dragon.
Without getting too technical, the original was composed in four-stress alliterative verse. Anglo-Saxon poetry did not (for the most part) rhyme; instead, the first three stressed words of each line alliterated. The result was a strong, strident poetry. The word “muscular” appears often in descriptions of its style.
Wilson’s aim in “rendering” the poem was to reflect this muscularity. In the introduction he further explains why “rendering” is more accurate a term than “translation,” as he primarily worked from preexisting translations (among them Howell Chickering’s and my long-time favorite, that of the late Seamus Heaney), comparing and distilling their versions of the poem, consulting the original for guidance, and turning each line in his own modern English version with an eye to making it sound the way the original might have to its audience (literally an audience, as the poem was meant for recitation; more on that below). On the face of it, I thought this approach would result in a derivative mishmash of styles. I’m glad to say I was wrong.
Wilson’s approach works especially well for the speeches in the poem, especially those near the end. The soliloquy of the long-forgotten lord who buried the treasure in the dragon’s barrow, Beowulf’s speech before attacking the dragon, and Wiglaf’s speech—in which he describes the inevitable doom of their leaderless people—are all rendered in very beautiful and moving form.
There was only one false note in the whole project, and that was rhyme. There were three or four instances of rhyming couplets, all falling in the first half of the poem. While rhyme was not totally unknown in Anglo-Saxon poetry (there is at least one extant rhyming poem titled, tellingly, “The Rhyming Poem”), it is so unusual and inimical to alliterative verse that the three or four random couplets in Wilson’s version seemed out of place, and distractingly so. But that’s a quibble.
The book includes two essays from Wilson on the poem. The first is an expanded version of an article published in Touchstone Magazine titled “Beowulf: The UnChrist.” Wilson argues that the world evoked by the Beowulf poet represents “nobility at the end of its tether,” a hopeless world meant to convey that world’s need for Christianity. The second, much shorter essay, outlines the “chiastic structure” of the poem and argues that the structure is an intentional design meant to underline the themes of the poem. The second essay is interesting; the first is excellent.
Wilson notes that Beowulf was meant to be heard, and his effort to make the poem sound good pays off. As I read through the poem, I would read passages aloud to my wife, and we were both impressed with the beauty and strength in the sound of the lines. Even if this is not the most literal version, justice has been rendered to Anglo-Saxon verse.
Wilson makes clear that his is not a translation of Beowulf, but a rendering. Wilson took several translations of this epic work and then put it in his “own modern form of an Anglo-Saxon-style of alliterative poetry.”
This is my first reading of Beowulf so I can hardly compare Wilson’s rendering with the many translations out there. I can say that the style was clear and compelling.
The essay Wilson offers in the back of the book is extremely helpful.
The essays, map, and family trees were extremely helpful in understanding the story and Wilson's alliteration and lyrical cadence made this rendering of Beowulf easy and enjoyable to read.