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Beowulf: A New Translation [Paperback]

Seamus Heaney
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
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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: 13.1 x 1.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,787 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
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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36 of 37 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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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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like it or not, this is our heritage. 15 April 2000
By A Customer
Beowulf could be an essential part of the culture of the Klingon Empire. Instead, it is part of our own. A bizarre tale of Beowulf's three battles against varying monsters, it is set amongst a background of blood feuds, ancient nationalism, and the honour of the battlefield. The origin of the tale is not English, but is Scandinavian in origin and must have been part of the culture of the Scandinavian or Danish invaders who settled here somewhere between 700-900 AD.
Somewhat strangely, the story was probably originally conceived in pagan Scandinavia, but at the time of the original poem, England had been converted to Christianity. The writer has felt bound to place the poem in the framework of Christianity, and the tale sits unhappily in this structure. These are the mead-hall denizens of Thor and Odin, yet they thank God for his Almighty Grace. If you've ever wondered how Christianity ever gained predominance in this country, this book surely hints at what a weak foundation it was built on.
This is not a book to read and put aside. This is a book to read and re-read, because it exists on different planes. The first time you read the book you are engrossed in an absolutely gripping yarn. Seamus Heaney's translation (apart from the infliction of occasional Ulster dialect) is absolutely commendable, and is key to the relentless pace of the book.
It is in re-reading it that you can indulge yourself. Find your favourite passages and re-live the compelling tension of the battle scenes, or get to grips with the politics of who killed who in ancient and fragile kingdoms. But whatever you do revisit The Father's Lament (commencing Line 2444). This is hundreds of years ahead of its time in terms of poetic tragedy.
In short, this is not only a most readable book, but one which provides us with a time warp of our values and culture more than a millennium ago. Nothing else like it exists.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "A Somewhere Being Remembered" Unheroicly 8 Feb 2013
By Nicholas Casley TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Heaney's translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem `Beowulf' was the Whitbread Book of the Year for 1999. I came to the book recently and belatedly, having never read any other version.

I came to `Beowulf' more with the eye of an historian than a literary critic, for any study of Anglo-Saxon history or archaeology is imbued at some point with the aura of `Beowulf', the Anglo-Saxon author writing, as Heaney says, "from his perspective as an Englishman looking back at places and legends that his ancestors knew before they made their migration from continental Europe to their new home."

Yet, like `The Iliad' or `Macbeth' (both of which I love), on the page `Beowulf' is not actually great literature relative to, say, the contemporary novels of John Banville or Julian Barnes. But, then, not one of these three works was meant to be read; rather, they were meant to be told.

So, as with Homer and Shakespeare, `Beowulf' did indeed come alive when I imagined the story being told to me aloud (in this instance by someone sounding very similar to Anglo-Saxon historian Michael Wood). `Beowulf' is an oral epic rather than a literary classic. (And this may also be why watching the recent film version directed by Robert Zemeckis was an even better experience than reading it.) Only when imagining the story being told to me aloud, could I conceive of `Beowulf' as - in Heaney's words - "not just metrical narrative full of anthropological interest and typical heroic-age motifs ... [but also] ... poetry of a high order."

Although written as a poem, Heaney's interpretation was read by me as a nicely-balanced prose interpretation but one devoid on many pages, I'm afraid to say, of poetic inspiration.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great poetry
Wonderful translation and very interesting introduction.I risked ordering a second-hand copy and it is in excellent condition.Highly recommend on all counts.
Published 23 days ago by Laura P.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good But Not Perfect
Unfortunately whoever owned the book previously had written in it and underlined passages. I am so into the world of Beowulf and the Anglo Saxons that I am just glad to have a copy... Read more
Published 26 days ago by Mrs. Z. A. Hughes
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
read it three times and really love it
Published 1 month ago by Thomas A. Mercer
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent service.
It's all that I expected, excellent service.
Published 2 months ago by Thomas Walsh
5.0 out of 5 stars The language used in the translation is beautiful.
I bought this after being transfixed on hearing the story serialised on radio 4, and read by the author himself shortly before his death . Read more
Published 2 months ago by gantry
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Nicely presented for a modern reader.
Published 3 months ago by tero mikkonen
5.0 out of 5 stars A modern translation of a medieval Scandinavian epic
Beowulf, trans. by Seamus Heaney, Faber & Faber, 2000, 142 ff

This is a story of a Scandinavian prince. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Dr. H. A. Jones
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 3 months 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 5 months 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 5 months ago by David
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