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Beowulf: A New Translation [Paperback]

Seamus Heaney
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
RRP: 9.99
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Book Description

8 April 2000

Composed towards the end of the first millennium, the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf is one of the great Northern epics and a classic of European literature. In his new translation, Seamus Heaney has produced a work which is both true, line by line, to the original poem, and an expression, in its language and music, of something fundamental to his own creative gift.

The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on, physically and psychically exposed, in that exhausted aftermath. It is not hard to draw parallels between this story and the history of the twentieth century, nor can Heaney's Beowulf fail to be read partly in the light of his Northern Irish upbringing. But it also transcends such considerations, telling us psychological and spiritual truths that are permanent and liberating.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (8 April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571203760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571203765
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

What could be a more promising poetic project than the greatest of early English poems, Beowulf, newly translated by arguably the greatest of living poets writing in English, Seamus Heaney? The literary pedigree of this great fabular epic in the hands of Nobel Laureate Heaney matches Ted Hughes' award-winning rewrite of Ovid's Metamorphosis, Tales from Ovid. Heaney has chosen the plain, prosaic yet subtly cadenced vernacular of his Northern Irish roots as the poetic voice into which he renders this famous Anglo-Saxon fabular epic of a dragon-slaying Danish warrior. The result is an engaging evocation of the highly alliterative, densely metaphorical texture of Anglo-Saxon verse, which is famously hard to capture in modern English poetic forms.

"It's narrative elements may belong to a previous age but as a work of art it lives in the present," writes Heaney of this tale of monstrous, murderous Grendel, heroic, kingly Beowulf, blood-feuds, dragon-slaying and spiritual grace. The very plain-spokenness of Heaney's translation makes it admirably easy to read and understand, whilst rendering an often true translation at a galloping narrative pace. Heaney's Beowulf opens up one of the most famous founding epics of European literature to a modern world of new readers. --James Barry


"'The whole performance is wonderfully intermediate - poised between the Bible and folk wisdom, between the Light Ages and the Dark Ages - and at the same time pulverisingly actual in its language. He has made a masterpiece out of a masterpiece.' Andrew Motion, Financial Times" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
This is an absolutely beautiful translation of Beowulf and Seamus Heaney has done a wonderful job of conveying the rhythm and spirit of the original in a way that manages to be both faithful and inventive.

However I can't give my review 5 stars since I was disappointed to find that this is NOT the bilingual edition used in the "look inside" preview.

The Amazon preview pages relate to a different edition which has the Old English throughout - which is what I thought I was purchasing. This edition (the one with the red and blue jacket) has only one page of Old English and the rest is solely the translation.

Amazon - please change the preview or flag the difference in the blurb. At present this listing is misleading.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By Marian
Format:Audio Cassette|Verified Purchase
I cannot recommend too highly the experience of listening to Seamus Heaney reading - or should it be reciting? - his own translation of Beowulf. The original poem was not intended to be read on the page, but to be heard, and Seamus Heaney has carried over this intention into his own words, and his manner of delivering them. He held me fascinated. The sound of Heaney's voice adds also to the sense that the poem has a contemporary resonance in the troubles of Northern Ireland. The poem deals with the longing of a community to be rid of a malevolent bringer of violence which has killed many men over many years, and it sets out as admirable those who deal fairly with those from a different community, who honour commitments and hold no grudges. There is a passage in which the poet describes how old men goad young men to break up a peaceful wedding celebration by dragging up old resentments and humiliations to be avenged. You feel that Heaney recognises in the ancient poem a terrible truth that goes on and on spurring men to murder and hatred through century after century, even to present day Ireland and Kosovo and Rwanda. If you think you know Beowulf, perhaps because you had to study it at university, listen to Heaney's poem and be amazed at how it springs to life.
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable book 26 Dec 2003
I'm the average reader: not a student or scholar studying the book, but a person who has just read the story for the first time. Also, I have no ear for poetry, which could well be perceived as a profound disadvantage when reading an epic poem. So I'm pleased to announce that the book is readable and enjoyable. Seamus Heaney's introduction is helpful, moving and filled me with anticipation so I could hardly wait to start reading his translation. As expected, the poetry element was almost entirely lost to me but I could, at least, tell that it's beautifully written. The story itself is a gripping yarn and disbelief needs to be suspended, especially for aquatic sections where Beowulf appears to be able to function under water for hours and swim for weeks dressed in mail. He could have been an early model for Superman. I've never read anything like this book before and enjoyed it despite the fact that it seemed very odd to me. My only criticism is that I thought a glossary would have been useful.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A translation that fits the story 1 Nov 2006
By abush3
Beowulf is an exciting tale and this fast-paced and wonderful translation allows modern readers to explore the story in all of its glory. I first had to read Beowulf as an assignment and was skeptical about reading a story written so long ago. Fortunately, I picked up this translation by Seamus Heaney. As a result I have discovered the wonderful world of medieval literature and it's all thanks to this book. Buy it and read it. Who knows, maybe you'll discover that you've been missing out on a really great thing.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beowulf 14 Mar 2006
By A Customer
I'd been promising myself to read this book for years. Now I finally have. Wow! I was not disappointed.

Heaney's translation makes it easy to read this thoroughly enjoyable tale. I was afraid I'd find it rather dry and dull since it is often studied in schools and places of higher education. I needn't have worried!

If you like heros and tales of honour and daring-dos then this is for you. A stonkingly good yarn, imo! This book has made me want to explore other translations of Beowulf.

I hadn't realised that the film 'The 13th Warrior' was based on this book until I started reading.

Loved it!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truely Great Book. 20 Mar 2003
Having already read a translation of this fantastic story from the fifties, and being a poor student, I was not really looking for another version to bite into my limited 'book fund'. However, when I saw that Seamus Heaney had written a new translation that had also won the coveted 'Whitbread Book of the Year', I couldn't resist.
I am so glad I bought this book. I always felt that the early version was somewhat slow and difficult to read, but Heaneys text flows off the page and ignites the imagination the way I'm sure the original author intended.
The prose is elegant in its simplicity, "I shall... prove myself with a proud deed, or meet my death here in the mead-hall". A true poet of Heaney's stature is needed to do justice to a work such as Beowulf.
The story itself is certainly the most imaginative and inspirational I have ever read. It also gives a remarkable insight into dark age warriors lives and beliefs.
In summary I cannot recomend this book enough. This version is accessible to anyone not just students of literature. With one click of your mouse you could read one of the greatest and most important works of literature ever written!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Translation
Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf is brilliant. He captures the story and poetic language to convey the famous and great epic.
Published 8 days ago by Gabriel
5.0 out of 5 stars The Warrior’s duty
A story well told of a warriors’ world, when duty came before individual, even community, pleasure. One of Herculean strength turns up to rid a people of a monster, a creature... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Vinyamar777
5.0 out of 5 stars re-book
I found this acceptable but would have liked to seen more of the original text to compare the translation to
Published 1 month ago by David
5.0 out of 5 stars Beowulf - a late discovery
Of course I had heard of Beowulf from childhood but had never read it. However, as my first encounter in a course on the Classics of British Literature, I read it avidly over two... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Kevin J
5.0 out of 5 stars Briiliant!
The story flows unending without pause or interruption- a masterpiece of translation. Withot being a poet, I could feel the rhythm and metre shaping this account- and it's a GREAT... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Donald Hughes
2.0 out of 5 stars perseverance required
Unless you are fully aware of the dedication needed to follow a book in ancient english style then this is not for the faint hearted. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Lisa Drage
5.0 out of 5 stars A true sceop
In ancient Anglo-Saxon culture, a "sceop" was a storyteller. A sceop might not be telling a story of his own, but he tells it with grace, elegance and power. Read more
Published 4 months ago by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars A Salute of one Poet to Another
It bears the stamp of an outstanding poet. The first few lines are in the original Old English, for those readers not familiar with the language. Good introduction.
Published 4 months ago by David
4.0 out of 5 stars brings it back to life again...
Why does having another translator bring Beowulf back to life again?

If you go compare Heaney with Michael Alexander (Penguin) line by line for a page or two, you... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Ali Waterson
4.0 out of 5 stars Homage to Heaney
It was my turn to choose a book for the book group. We tend to stick to prose narrative with the occasional foray into non-fiction and once, a selection of poems (mine! Read more
Published 6 months ago by Ms S M Fennelly
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