Beowulf (Bilingual Edition)

Beowulf (Bilingual Edition)

4.1 99
by Seamus Heaney

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"A faithful rendering that is simultaneously an original and gripping poem in its own right." —New York Times Book ReviewSee more details below


"A faithful rendering that is simultaneously an original and gripping poem in its own right." —New York Times Book Review

Editorial Reviews

Keith Phipps
It's strange and unexpected, but also appropriate and heartening, that Beowulf ground zero for literature in English--would become a bestseller at the dawn of the 21st century. Why becomes less of a mystery after even a quick glance at this extraordinary translation by Seamus Heaney. A work of great grace, Heaney's translation captures the sense of Old English poetry without adhering slavishly to its rules; when possible, he retains the alliteration and caesuras but never bends his voice to suit them. The result is a Beowulf of rough elegance and emotional directness rendered in a voice both ancient and familiar. Heaney needs these qualities: Anyone who takes up the task of translating Beowulf inherits not just Grendel and the dragon, but also long, occasionally cryptic passages of more mundane activities. James Joyce once said of Ulysses that if Dublin were ever destroyed, he hoped it could be rebuilt from his descriptions. So it is with Beowulf, not in a physical sense but a cultural one. Heaney understands and is consistently capable of conveying the subtle ideals and ethical codes embedded in the poem alongside its famous blood and gore. But, aside from Heaney's skill as a translator, why is Beowulf striking a chord now? The threat of a demon at the door may no longer have the immediacy it did for Beowulf's original audience, but if the past century proved anything, it's that the fabric of civilization, however tightly bound by honor and blood, can be torn asunder at any moment. As a slathering beast of flesh and blood, Grendel may seem a relic of centuries past, but as a symbol, he hasn't lost a bit of power. Heaney writes in his introduction that part of what allowed him, as an Irishman, to overcome the inherent Englishness of the poem was its overwhelming, universal melancholy, which also can't be factored out when calculating Beowulf's continued appeal: The inescapability of death and the transience of all things permeates it from its first lines to its conclusion. The work of a culture deeply concerned with these issues, rewritten by a poet working within a culture caught up in immediate pleasures and uncomfortable reflecting on final things, Heaney's Beowulf has an added resonance. In his hands, the past becomes immediate, and what it knew reads as inherited wisdom. From a famous early passage detailing the funeral of a king set adrift at sea: "No man can tell / no wise man in hall or weathered veteran / knows for certain who salvaged that load".
The Onion A.V. Club
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When the great monster Grendel comes to Denmark and dashes its warriors' hopes, installing himself in their great hall and eating alive the valiant lords, the hero Beowulf arrives from over the ocean to wrestle the beast. He saves the Danes, who sing of his triumphs, but soon the monster's mother turns up to take him hostage: having killed her, our hero goes home to the land of the Geats, acquires the kingship, and fights to the death an enormous dragon. That's the plot of this narrative poem, composed more than a millennium ago in the Germanic language that gave birth (eventually) to our version of English. Long a thing for professors to gloss, the poem includes battles, aggressive boasts, glorious funerals, frightening creatures and a much-studied alliterative meter; earlier versions in current vernacular have pleased lay readers and helped hard-pressed students. Nobel laureate Heaney has brought forth a finely wrought, controversial (for having won a prize over a children's book) modern English version, one which retains, even recommends, the archaic strengths of its warrior world, where "The Spear-Danes in days gone by/ and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness." Well-known digressions--a detailed dirge, the tale-within-a-tale of Hengest, "homesick and helpless" in ancient Friesland--find their ways into Heaney's English, which holds to the spirit (not always the letter) of the en face Anglo-Saxon, fusing swift story and seamless description, numinous adjectives and earthy nouns: in one swift scene of difficult swimming, "Shoulder to shoulder, we struggled on/ for five nights, until the long flow/ and pitch of the waves, the perishing cold drove us apart. The deep boiled up/ and its wallowing sent the sea-brutes wild." Heaney's evocative introduction voices his long-felt attraction to the poem's "melancholy fortitude," describing the decades his rendering took and the use he discovered for dialect terms. It extends in dramatic fashion Heaney's long-term archeological delvings, his dig into the origins of his beloved, conflicted--by politics and place--English language. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
There are over 20 translations of this Old English epic into modern English, from the prose version of E. Talbot Donaldson to the verse renditions of Burton Raffel and Stanley Greenfield. The appearance of this new translation by Nobel Laureate Heaney, and especially its replacement of the Donaldson Beowulf in the Norton Anthology, instantly elevates it in the canon. Recognizing that ordinary native English dialects still contain much of the vocabulary found in Old English, Heaney tries to evoke the diction and syntax of a living language. He captures the alliterative rhythm without monotony (although he loses some of the subtle shifts of mood, making the world of Beowulf seem more primitive than it was). Heaney is especially good at creating the elegiac tone of the work. In all, this is good poetry, if not always true to the original. This bilingual edition contains a valuable introduction by Heaney and a note on names by Alfred David. For public and academic libraries.--Thomas L. Cooksey, Armstrong State Coll., Savannah, GA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Tom Shippey
[Heaney's] translation of the poem was commisssioned for and is going straight into The Norton Anthology of English Literature; set for virtually every introductory course in English on the North American continent...and he is a Northern Irish Catholic, one of the excluded, a poet in internal exile....Like it or not, Heaney's Beowulf Is the poem now, for probably two generations.
The Times Literary Supplement.
[A] translation that manages to accomplish what before now had seemed impossible: a faithful rendering that is simultaneously an original and gripping poem in its own right. . . . Generations of readers will be grateful.
The New York Times Book Review
A. Haven
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

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Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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What People are saying about this

David Lehman
Beowulf's popularity is just another sign....along with poetry slams and readings at cofee bars...that "poetry is thriving".

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