Winner of the Whitbread Award.
Over a thousand years after the story of Beowulf was first composed, some
sixty-five English translations have been published. Whether this number should
be preceded by a parenthetical "only" or "as many as" is irrelevant;
Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney has produced the masterwork that scholars and smatterers
alike will long revere as the authoritative re-creation. In the Anglo-Saxon
epic, a Scandanavian hero slays monsters, rescues the Danes, and eventually perishes
while saving his own people from an attacking dragon. Heaney's poetic familiarity
with the theme (protecting a threatened hearth and enduring in the weary, bloodied
aftermath) led the editors of the Norton Anthology of English Literature
to commission his translation. (Norton later shared publication with Farrar, Straus
and Giroux.) Though Norton paired Heaney with Old English Scholar Alfred Davis
to ensure that the poet wouldn't stray too far from the original, Heaney's Irish
colloquialisms provided an unforseen connection to the Anglo-Saxon language that
allowed him to render a Beowulf that is widely accessible and true-to-form.
Even Heaney's earliest poems adhered more to Anglo-Saxon structure than to traditional
English pentameter. It's as if the bard crossed the Irish Sea to lift British
literature's oldest surviving epic from the academic bog. Heaney is heroic; Beowulf
is alive and thriving in modern English. Malia, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Composed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf is the elegiac narrative of the Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel's mother. Drawn to its immense emotional credibility, Seamus Heaney gives the great epic convincing reality for the reader.But how to visualize the poet's story has always been a challenge for modern-day readers. In Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition, John D. Niles, a scholar of old English, brings Heaney's remarkable, best-selling translation to life. More than one hundred full-page illustrations Viking warships, chain mail, lyres, spearheads, even a reconstruction of the Great Hall make visible Beowulf's world and the elemental themes of his story: death, divine power, horror, heroism, disgrace, devotion, and fame. Now this mysterious world is transformed into one that only becomes more amazing after viewing its elegant goblets, dragon images, finely crafted gold jewelry, and the Danish landscape of its origins.
"[Heaney is] the one living poet who can rightfully claim to be the Beowulf poets heir." Edward Mendelson, New York Times Book Review
"The Irish Nobel laureate has at least made this canonical text...readable. Even compulsively readable. This is a feat roughly comparable to any of Beowulf's own encounters with demon or dragon." Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"Seamus Heaney's stunning new translation gives the epic a much-needed dusting-off, so much so that this version is certain to beome a standard classroom text. But that sells it short: The translation makes this northern Gilgamesh gripping and racy, startingly contemporary." The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
"A faithful rendering that is simultaneously an original and gripping poem in its own right....Generations of readers will be grateful." New York Times Book Review
"For the modern reader, these are improvements over earlier translations. Mr. Heaney does a most creditable job of stripping off the layers of venerable varnish and letting the classic tale resound in the 'big voiced' style of its mortal heroes." Kirkus Reviews
"Heaney has turned to Beowulf, and the result is magnificent, breathtaking....Heaney has created something imperishable and great that is stainless stainless, because its force as poetry makes it untouchable by the claw of literalism: it lives singly, as an English language poem." James Wood, The Guardian
"Heaney's introduction does everything it should to dust down and exhibit the poem, exploring its origins, investigating its form and establishing its structure....Heaney has caught the balance of these things brilliantly; he has made a masterpiece out of a masterpiece." Andrew Motion, Financial Times
"The translation itself rides boldly through the reefs of scholarship....Beowulf, an elegy for heroism and a critique of feud and fratricide, is alive and well." Michael Alexander, The Observer
"Anglo-Saxon verse is celebrated for its alliterative riffs, its ringing and singing, and...Heaney does it full justice....Beneath the battledress, Beowulf is a peacemaker, a man who eases trouble. This fine translation is worth our trouble too." Blake Morrison, The Independent
"Heaney's excellent translation has the virtue of being both direct and sophisticated, making previous versions look slightly flowery and antique by comparison. His intelligence, fine ear and obvious love of the poem bring Beowulf alive as melancholy masterpiece, a complex Christian-pagan lament about duty, glory, loss and transience....Heaney has done it (and us) a great service." Claire Harman, Evening Standard
Composed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf
is the classic Northern epic of a heros triumphs as a young warrior and his fated death as a defender of his people.
The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on, physically and psychically exposed in the exhausted aftermath. It is not hard to draw parallels in this story to the historical curve of consciousness in the twentieth century, but the poem also transcends such considerations, telling us psychological and spiritual truths that are permanent and liberating.
In his new translation, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney has produced a work that is both true, line by line, to the original poem and a fundamental expression of his own creative gift.
Composed towards the end of the first millennium of our era, the Anglo-Saxon poem "Beowulf" is a Northern epic and a classic of European literature. In this new translation, Seamus Heaney has produced a work that is true, line by line, to the original poem.
About the Author
Seamus Heaney lives in Dublin and teaches at Harvard University. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1995.