Beowulf: A New Verse Translation

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation

by Seamus Heaney (Editor)

Paperback(Bilingual Edition)

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New York Times bestseller and winner of the Costa Book Award.

Composed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf is the elegiac narrative of the adventures of Beowulf, a Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel's mother. He then returns to his own country and dies in old age in a vivid fight against a dragon. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on in the exhausted aftermath. In the contours of this story, at once remote and uncannily familiar at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney finds a resonance that summons power to the poetry from deep beneath its surface. Drawn to what he has called the "four-squareness of the utterance" in Beowulf and its immense emotional credibility, Heaney gives these epic qualities new and convincing reality for the contemporary reader.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393320978
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 02/28/2001
Edition description: Bilingual Edition
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 10,524
Product dimensions: 6.25(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.60(d)
Lexile: 1090L (what's this?)

About the Author

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.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.

Afterwards a boy-child was born to Shield,
a cub in the yard, a comfort sent
by God to that nation. He knew what they had tholed,
the long times and troubles they'd come through
without a leader; so the Lord of Life,
the glorious Almighty, made this man renowned.
Shield had fathered a famous son:
Beow's name was known through the north.
And a young prince must be prudent like that,
giving freely while his father lives
so that afterwards in age when fighting starts
steadfast companions will stand by him
and hold the line. Behaviour that's admired
is the path to power among people everywhere.

Shield was still thriving when his time came
and he crossed over into the Lord's keeping.
His warrior band did what he bade them
when he laid down the law among the Danes:
they shouldered him out to the sea's flood,
the chief they revered who had long ruled them.
A ring-whorled prow rode in theharbour,
ice-clad, outbound, a craft for a prince.
They stretched their beloved lord in his boat,
laid out by the mast, amidships,
the great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures
were piled upon him, and precious gear
I never heard before of a ship so well furbished
with battle tackle, bladed weapons
and coats of mail. The massed treasure
was loaded on top of him: it would travel far
on out into the ocean's sway.
They decked his body no less bountifully
with offerings than those first ones did
who cast him away when he was a child
and launched him alone out over the waves.
And they set a gold standard up
high above his head and let him drift
to wind and tide, bewailing him
and mourning their loss. No man can tell,
no wise man in hall or weathered veteran
knows for certain who salvaged that load.

Then it fell to Beow to keep the forts.
He was well regarded and ruled the Danes
for a long time after his father took leave
of his life on earth. And then his heir,
the great Halfdane, held sway
for as long as he lived, their elder and warlord.
He was four times a father, this fighter prince:
one by one they entered the world,
Heorogar, Hrothgar, the good Halga
and a daughter, I have heard, who was Onela's queen,
a balm in bed to the battle-scarred Swede.

The fortunes of war favoured Hrothgar.
Friends and kinsmen flocked to his ranks,
young followers, a force that grew
to be a mighty army. So his mind turned
to hall-building: he handed down orders
for men to work on a great mead-hall
meant to be a wonder of the world forever;
it would be his throne-room and there he would dispense
his God-given goods to young and old—but
not the common land or people's lives.
Far and wide through the world, I have heard,
orders for work to adorn that wallstead
were sent to many peoples. And soon it stood there,
finished and ready, in full view,
the hall of halls. Heorot was the name
he had settled on it, whose utterance was law.
Nor did he renege, but doled out rings
and torques at the table. The hall towered,
its gables wide and high and awaiting
a barbarous burning. That doom abided,
but in time it would come: the killer instinct
unleashed among in-laws, the blood-lust rampant.


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Beowulf 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 143 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From a town living in fear to a hero saving the day in less than a week, Beowulf was a novel of much action and excitement. This is a wonderful read and something that people will be reading for years to come and it will never lose its popularity because of the writing style and literature to remember. Beowulf is a story in which the town of Heorot is threatened by this horrible creature Grendel who wreaks havoc on innocent people when the sun goes down. Then this hero Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, hears about the cries for help from Heorot and decides to rake up his men and drive their boat over there to defeat this malevolent villain. When they get to the town and spend a night there they hear Grendel in the castle. Through a battle between two opposing forces Beowulf defeats the hated monster so the town can live in peace. During this part of the book the author, Seamus Heaney, does a wonderful job of giving imagery of the fight so the reader can actually feel apart of what is going on and how Beowulf is feeling throughout all this. Heaney also does a good job of getting into the character's minds to show how they are feeling. Then when everyone thinks his or her hometown will be happy once again the mother of Grendel comes to avenge her son. Beowulf and the angered mother face an even more difficult battle when Beowulf emerges his powers and wins for Heorot once again, but this time beheading the hated Grendel as a trophy for the town to praise. I think this was the most important part of the book because it gave great peace to the town living in torture once and for all and everyone was granted the serenity of feeling safe. When Beowulf returns to his home of Geatland the people hear of his leadership and victory that they make him king when the old king Hygelac passes away. Beowulf made the land full of prosper and safety until he is old and faced with another challenge. A thief has come to his home of Geatland and hordes treasure protected by a frightening dragon. The rest of the book is just as amazing as the first parts and anyone would be wrong to not read this. In my opinion this book was highly entertaining. I also thought that for this being such an old book that it is impeccable to be so popular and liked that people are even wanting to read it in today's day and age of technology taking over.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ok, as an English Lit. major in school, I've had my share of Beowulf, most of which are horridly translated drivel. The fine line with Anglo-Saxon poetry (and any translated poetry for that matter) is there requires a balance between fidelity to the text, and fidelity to the ideas of the text; that is to say, where literal translation may be more 'accurate' in a completely logical and scientific sense, the poetic beauty and proper notions behind the text must also be upheld. Heaney finds the middle ground so commonly lost in modern translations. The Anglo-Saxon poetry of Beowulf is so beautiful and easy on the ears when read in the original Anglo-Saxon--a sense of bold and strong verse, but with the grace and beauty--reflected in Beowulf and especially in the Wurm. This is frequently translated into modern english as grossly (what I would call) 'harsh' and 'grating' verse, with all the punch that it requires, but without the languid fluiditiy required to fully appreciate the epic. Seamus Heaney finds the perfect balance between the two, not addressing the 'bone-crunching Beowulf' as a solely heartless character, but finding the section of the modern english language (that lost area right in the middle of form and function) and giving us this gift. A MUST have for anyone wishing to appreicate the beauty of Germanic poetry. My recomendation: have someone read it aloud to you; it adds SO much to the experience!
Oneira More than 1 year ago
In my class on Anglo-Saxon (the language), we basically translated this the whole semester. It wais such a hard class! I was one of two undergraduates, the rest were grad students. My biggest problem with the language is that it was never standardized. So even with a big Anglo-Saxon dictionary there's no telling if you'll find what you're looking for due to all the spelling variations.

Anyway, I've read Beowulf (in Modern English) many times, starting in 8th grade advanced english. It is a great epic, originally pagan though there are interpolations from Christian editors. It gives one a really great glimpse at the society it depicts, and if you compare it to the archaeological evidence you a nearly complete picture. Highly reccomended for anyone who likes epic poetry, modern fantasy genre, and of course, pre-literate germanic and scandinavian peoples.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'I was asked to read this book in 7th grade and it didn't sound at all interesting to me but when I started reading the book I loved it so much, I couldn't put the book down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for school, and it sounded really uninteresting to me. But as I began to read it, I could not put it down. It is so captivating. This is by far the best epic I've ever read. It has such a good story line.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I like the way this book was produced. It maded the story move faster since all you have to do is read the right pages. The pages on the right side, of course. All joking aside, this is the Epic Beowulf in it's entire form.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was outstanding and brilliant. i loved it. the choice of words that Hearney used are just beautiful and so insiteful. i have read many versions of Beowulf but this one was the best!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this and im in 5th grade. Also, no, i am not joking. Beowulf is a difficult book, but its worth the time and effort. Beowulf fights 3 monsters. Grendel, Grendel's mom, and a dragon. This is the best translation (my teacher has the paper version).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beowulf is a story that will never be forgotten and will last forever. Not one person could read it and not be in awe of the power of one man. The author of this book is unknown still to this day but it is known that it was written by an Anglo-Saxon in medieval English times. This book is an epic poem and Beowulf himself is the epic hero in that poem. The main theme of Beowulf is good vs. evil. Beowulf battles many powerful enemies whom are all evil. The main point of the story is Beowulf battling many powerful foes with his awesome strength. The book starts with Grendel, the spawn of Cain, killing people in the hall of Herot. Beowulf, wanting glory, hears this and travels to the land of the Danes to battle Grendel. He two battle and Beowulf is victorious. The Danes applaud and praise Beowulf for his strength and bravery. After Beowulf leaves back to the land of the Geats, Grendel's mother begins to terrorize Herot once again. Beowulf returns to defeat her and once again emerges victorious. Herot is now safe once again. Beowulf returns to his homeland and rules as its king for 50 years. A dragon appears and begins to wreak havoc among Beowulf's people and he fights for glory one last time. The dragon is slain with the help of Wyglaf, one of Beowulf's men. Beowulf, however, was mortally wounded and passes. The story ends with Beowulf's funeral pyre. This was one of the best books I have ever read. The detail and action in this book is astounding. Reading it puts you right in the middle of all the action and keeps you reading to see what will happen next. I recommend this book to anyone who likes stories of great heroes.
Jasmyn9 More than 1 year ago
The heroic tale of the warrior Beowulf and his fights against three monters. A "modern" translation of the Old English poem, it was very easy to understand. The translation flowed smoothly for the most part, and was easy to follow and really get into the story. The only complaint I have, is that there were times the rhythm seemed a bit off and it pulled me out of the story. 4/5
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seamus Heaney's new verse translation is excellent, and by far my favorite for casual reading and sharing with others. Seamus Heaney's reading is also excellent, with measured tone and respect for the structure without becoming robotic, as many poetic readers do.

Sadly this abridgment is absolutely criminal. Huge sections are completely missing from the text, and these missing passages are critical to properly understanding the text.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I do like Heaney's translation of Beowulf, though I still prefer Talbot Donaldson's. But this review is to warn potential buyers of the misleading advertising for the recorded version. Although it claims to be unabridged, it actually omits quite a few lines and even some sizable chunks. For example, he has entirely skipped the very important confrontation between Beowful and Unferth. I don't like abridged versions of anything because I'd rather decide for myself what is most important, but I find it especially troubling when an abridged version is advertised as unabridged. What he does read he reads well, making it a useful tool in the classroom. But with so much missing it would be a poor substitute for the written text. I give it one star, not for its poor quality, but for the deceitful packaging.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy for my students to follow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Monster Slayer (Spoiler alert!) I gave Beowulf three out of five stars because if you like reading about monsters and the greatest warrior who is the strongest to ever live, then this is the next book you should read. It would be a four, but Beowulf dies in the end. I didn’t like that Beowulf’s funeral ends with him being pushed to the sea never to be seen again. The author’s purpose for Beowulf is being courageous, having respect, fidelity to defeat evil, and that good will always defeat evil. Beowulf is the Danes’ best hope for killing monsters and is praised for his achievements and sacrifice. This is special because an orphaned child becomes a well-known legend to the Danes and becomes a feared human being. The characters in the story are Beowulf, King of the Danes Hrothgar, Grendel, Grendal’s Mother, Wiglaf, Unferth, and Wealhpeow. I suggest that this book be taught in schools because people like action, fantasy, and a hero who starts as a nobody and turns into a warrior and later a king. This book is also good to know about the beliefs of the ancient Anglo-Saxons.
TomSlee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm sure it's brilliant, but it's not for everyone. I'm glad I read it, but for me it was work.
dirkjohnson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beowulf is somewhat over rated-simply for its position in the history of English literature and its antiquity, though its versification does guarantee it a permanent place in world literature. This is a good translation by Seamus Heaney, the best translation of Beowulf available.This part of the review refers to the audiobook: it's unfortunate that one can only get "unabridged selections," which, at least, is a better choice than an abridgment, especially when the choices are made by Seamus Heaney.
liamfoley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Translated and read by Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, cant do better than that!
Naugahyde on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hard to follow. Each CD only contains one track. Makes it difficult to resume listening if the CD is accidentally ejected.
poetontheone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Most anybody who is even minimally versed in literature is familiar to some extent with the Beowulf poem. It is a great heroic epic, but it has very little flare, or fluff, or fanciful rhapsodizing. The qualities of the narrative clearly demonstrate that this poem rests in the tradition of great oral folklore. Being such it is very direct and at the same time engaging to the point of easy immersion on part of the reader. This is in no doubt helped by Heaney's modern translation of the text, which is very readable, but in no way does that seem to cheapen the work. This is a fine epic, Beowulf being a valiant stock example of the utmost testicular fortitude, and I wish I had read it in younger years.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kindle.............Glad I read it.
missmel58 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Few adults approach Beowulf without some knowledge of the story. It is generally read in high school and again in college. Grendel and his mother are the nefarious duo tormenting the Danes in the reign of King Hrothgar. Beowulf comes to the rescue and is, of course, successful. Beowulf returns home to Geatland, where he eventually becomes king. But the story doesn¿t end there and there is not a happily ever after. Beowulf is killed by a dragon in his old age. His body is burned and the Geats begin to live in fear that their enemies will now attack.I read it in high school. I read it in college. It was considered a boy-book, to be avoided if possible. Not to be considered for pleasure reading¿ever. I did peruse the Tolkien edition in the seventies ¿ but it was Tolkien and the seventies. I did not read the entire text. So what brings a middle-aged woman back to Beowulf? Seamus Heaney.And reading it wasn¿t about the story¿it was about this particular interpretation of the story. Grendel still dies by Beowulf¿s hand. The dragon still kills Beowulf. And it¿s still a boy-book, a profoundly eloquent boy-book. Opening the book to any page offers up the power of Heaney¿s linguistic faculty. ¿I adopt you in my heart as a dear son. Nourish and maintain this new connection, you noblest of men; there¿ll be nothing you want for, no worldly goods that won¿t be yours¿ (63). The simple addition of a semicolon to a text adds another layer of depth to Heaney¿s interpretation of the original language.In the introduction, Heaney explains his reasons for taking this project, his discontent and finally his revelations about language. It is this last element that is intriguing. It is his labor over each word, his quest for the perfect translation, his examination of etymologies and endemic languages. It is his finding the meaning of ancient words scrawled in musty texts by listening to the old folks chatter in Ireland. The power of the text does not lie in the story, but in Heaney¿s ownership of the words that make the story.
bjanecarp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So it is with no immoderate disbelief that I heartily commend an anonymous poet to the modern reader. This poet's work is extremely powerful, and Seamus Haney has translated it to excellent effect. Simply put, Haney has breathed life into this remarkable work for me. It is a delight to read (I've read it twice now). Haney's publisher has prepared his text, and on the opposing page, has reproduced the original text itself. The Old English is exhilarating--I enjoy nothing more than conquering a few words in this tongue. I cannot vouch for Haney's accuracy --I am no expert in Old English, but his language has the touch than only a poet could lend to this work. He has also composed an introduction to the text, which I was glad to read, and has produced genealogies that are quite useful for the reader, in order to unravel the snarled lineages of the Scandinavian clans.The language is very direct, of course: it issues a kind of confrontational fortitude that, in the words of one friend "doesn't use all those Latin-derived words." The overall effect of the poem reminds me of the coronary injection in Quentin Tarantino's film Pulp Fiction. From the beginning of the poem, the reader is overwhelmed by the sense that each of Beowulf's choices will net immediate, life-changing results. We don't know until the end of the work whether his decisions are good ones, or if they will prove fatal.Still not convinced? You think you'd rather read a contemporary action-packed novel than a 1300-year-old poem? Think again--this poem is populated by a fraternity-house of noisy, mead-filled warriors whose primary goal, it seems, is to exact vengeance on enemies, shatter a few skulls, and destroy evil beasts, (in one case, ripping off a limb or two, just for show). The actual monsters (and the dragon) in Beowulf are truly evil and despotic. When they are not destroying mead-halls or consuming warrior-flesh, they lurk deep in a boggish nightmare-underworld of caverns and tombs of long-forgotten kings. Rest assured that excerpts from Beowulf will never grace a Hallmark card--the poet used ink made from testosterone. In fact, female characters tend to waft into poem, and drift out again, having little, if any effect on the overall direction of the poem. Female readers may find this repulsive; however, the poet considered Beowulf's world a boy's world, and depicts it thus.Wait! If you're a woman, don't stop reading yet--before you suppose that a cave-dwelling ex-boyfriend wrote this poem, you must not forget the profound thematic insights that the author laid out. He depicts a world where a person may change one's destiny, which indelibly chisels one's fate into the cliff-wall. For the author, destiny-building takes courage, and the results may be temporary gain (Beowulf defeats monsters, and local kings dump mounds of cold, hard treasure into his boats) but, ultimately, human-directed Fate can be painful or even destructive. Doing what is right may exact vengeance:Suppose a monster is destroying your village. To kill such a monster is good, right? The poet is not so sure: his answer is a definite 'Maybe'. Suppose you kill said monster. Fine--now the creature's whole clan descends upon your city, angrier than ever, seeking bloody vengeance on your family. Despite this, the poet asserts that to remain idle may be more dangerous still. A strong king is revered by his clan, right? What if that king dies in a battle? What would become of the king's clan? The Geats, Beowulf's clan, die in just such a way. Whether you do, or whether you don't, you are still damned. So go right ahead.The author wrote Beowulf in the Christian era, but pre-Christian sentimentalities still rule the poet's world. How can a "turn-your-cheek" Christian fit in a world where "an eye-for-an-eye" rules the land? Maybe the two tenets are incompatible, or maybe not. The author grapples with precisely this issue. Although the text is not implicit, the thought draws the reader like an overwhelmi
RogueBelle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Heaney's translation, but for me, the real gemlike quality of this text is the matching Old English printed on the opposite pages -- it's just too much fun (at least if you're a lit geek like me)!
DrT on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beowulfby Unknown author Seamus Heaney's translationWhy I picked this book up: I saw the book a lot and had never read it so I thought I¿d pick it up.Why I finished this book: I thought the book was ok and wasn¿t really drawn into the whole thing but was interested (at times) about the fanciful and powerful way things were addressed. The whole ¿machoness¿ and power made me want to see how things were handled. Rating: I¿d give this book a 2 star rating out of 5 stars. It was not my favorite but at least I read it.
keristars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For me, most of the appeal of Beowulf is its historical value, as well as comparison to other cultures' epic tales. I'm not actually very much interested in stories about heroes and battles otherwise.Thus, I think it is definitely worthwhile to read the poem at least once, even if you aren't much of a fan of the genre. The Seamus Heaney translation is the one I would recommend. I found it to be very accessible and engaging, and had no trouble at all following the story. I rather appreciated when he changed the rhythm and other patterns to indicate someone reciting a story within the story - it's a sort of meta stylistic choice and not terribly necessary, but I liked it.The WW Norton edition of Heaney's translation is also nice to have because of the margin notes that indicate the actions of a particular set of lines. I'm not sure if other editions from other translators/editors do the same thing, but it was very useful when I got caught up in the words and lost track of exactly what was happening, or when the story returned from a tangent.