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Beowulf: A Verse Translation

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3.38 of 5 stars 3.38  ·  rating details  ·  139,399 ratings  ·  3,634 reviews
Beowulf stands at the head of English literature; a poem of historical interest and epic scope. Although the first manuscript of Beowulf dates from around the year 1000 CE, it is thought that the poem existed in its present form from the year 850. Beowulf's adventures themselves stand in front of the wide historical canvas of 5th and 6th century Scandinavia. Against this h ...more
Paperback, 137 pages
Published April 29th 2003 by Penguin Classics (first published 800)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Michael
*bum bum* IN A WORLD . . . *bum bum* . . . FULL OF NASTY MONSTERS . . . *bum bum* . . . WHO EAT PEOPLE AND BREAK INTO CASTLES . . . *bum bum* . . . THE BEASTLY GRENDEL LURKED LONG OVER THE MOORES . . . *bum bum* . . . BUT NOW . . . *Cut to scene of monster ripping someone's face off with his teeth*

(silence. black screen.)

*Unknown warriors approaching*

"Who are ye, then, ye armed men,
mailed folk, that yon mighty vessel
have urged thus over the ocean ways,
here o'er the waters?"


*bum bum* . . . ONE M
...more
Seth Hahne
I've just finished reading Beowulf for the third time! But lo, this reading was in the bold and exciting Beowulf: a New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney! And what a difference a day makes - Heaney is unstoppable! Rather, he makes Beowulf unstoppable. Unstoppable in his ability to pound you in the face with his manliness and leave you bleeding-but-strangely-desiring-more.

As I said, I've read the epic Anglo-Saxon poem several times now, but usually, I'm trudging through to get to the "good parts
...more
AJ Griffin
Jul 03, 2007 AJ Griffin rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: assholes, dickless pieces of shit, dumbfucks, douchebags
If I wrote a list of things I don't give a shit about, I'm pretty sure "some big fucking monster whose name sounds like a word for the area between my balls and my ass that attacks alcoholics and is eventually slain by some asshole, told entirely in some ancient form of English that I don't understand" would be near the top (for the record, run-on sentences would not. Judge not).

This was one of the first books I was ever assigned to read in high school, and I'm pretty sure it was the catalyst to
...more
Michael
I teach Beowulf in my honors class, and it's a tale I've always loved. There's something about the raw power, the direct yet engaging storyline, the rhythm and tone of the story that draws the reader (or, ideally, the listener) into another world. The social conventions, alien in many ways to our modern mindset, show a world both brutal and honorable, where death and heroism go side-by-side, where every act has consequence and there is no expectation of joy and happiness—these things have to be ...more
Keely
There are different ways to translate, and it comes down to what you want to get across. Most creative authors have such a strong voice and sense of story that they will overwhelm the original author. As Bentley wrote of Pope's Iliad: "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer".

Sometimes this sort of indirect translation is useful in itself, such as during the transition of the Renaissance from Italy to Britain. Many of the British poets rewrote Italian sonnets into English,
...more
Riku Sayuj

Could not consider the experience complete without reading Heaney's acclaimed translation. The acclaim was well deserved. This version was much easier to read, less choked by stylistic anachronisms and more alive in every sense. Gummere's translation has an elegance and presence that intimidates and exalts the reading but Heaney brings it home, makes it as familiar as Homer's epics and somehow makes us at ease with the strange manes and the stranger tides.
Barry Pierce (*ON HIATUS*)
Well this is great. Really great in fact. It's such a fantastic story that is just drowned in historical significance. I feel that Beowulf is something that everybody should read at least once in their life because without it we probably wouldn't have a lot of modern fiction.
Stephanie
Mar 22, 2014 Stephanie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I'M SO EXCITED

I JUST CAN'T HIDE IT

*frolics through a meadow of tiny pine trees and dragon scales*
Steve
I've read this multiple times. One of the true, original bad asses. 6 stars.

OK. Very briefly (in part because I've been very busy), the Heaney version is THE version to read if you're looking for accessibility. Who would of ever thought that such a rough and tumble read would come out so smooth? And from a poet who is all knots, rough rhythms, and peat moss. But it is. What I particularly liked were the various important speeches. Clarity is key with this version, but with lots of nice poetic p
...more
Nikki
I'm full of wonder right now. Not so much at the translation of Beowulf -- Tolkien was well-versed in the language and knew what he was doing, and the tone is often reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, which emphasises his attempts to weave his own stories with the old stories of England -- but at all the commentary published together here. Pretty much every issue I considered in my undergraduate class/es on Beowulf is touched on here -- the pagan aspects, the episodes, potential interpolations ...more
Ryan
On page 109:

So. In the midst of this fiendish fun-book.
Monsters flit to and fro, the hungry blokes.
Heaney's translation exhales and breathes.
It brooks no comparison mayhaps,
Old English’s boon is drinking in its words,
Delivering blow by blow as swords clash
Bilingually, the movie grays beyond
Compare to the verses that believe
In the breast where the chain-mail protects
Our hero’s blood, and flesh, the chain-mail cloth
Is everything to the brave wolf’s safety net,
The adventuring prince Beowu
...more
Skyler Myers
"Men-at-arms, remain here on the barrow, safe in your armor, to see which one of us is better in the end at bearing wounds in a deadly fray. This fight is not yours, nor is it up to any man except me to measure his strength against the monster or to prove his worth. I shall win the gold by my courage, or else mortal combat, doom of battle, will bear your lord away"

PROs:

* Good story

* Likeable characters

* Perfect length

* Amazing language

* Influential

CONs:

* Names of all the tribes and people can ge
...more
Trin
This epic poem becomes even more astonishing if you read it aloud in a valley girl voice. ("So. The Spear-Danes? Like, in days gone by?")

On a more serious note, I love Heaney's theory of the Irish as the cold and rejected Grendel prowling outside the warm fires of England's Herot. Who doesn't sometimes feel like the exiles of the world?
Robert
Tolkien made this translation of the most famous extant Anglo Saxon poem early in his career. It's prose which disappointed me when I found out - after purchase! - it is very rhythmical, but I don't suppose it approximates the experience of reading the original very well. Still, I've always liked the story. Flagon thinks the Dragon is hard done by and that everybody (including the Dragon) should have calmed down and discussed the situation properly - that's what he'd have done! Then Beowulf coul ...more
Greg
Yeah, yeah it's a 'classic' of literature and all that but what would make this better is if a movie was made of it with some big name talented actors reduced to playing second string to some crappy CGI, now that would be entertaining!!

Alex Telander
BEOWULF: A NEW VERSE TRANSLATION BY SEAMUS HEANEY: Earlier this year a new version of Beowulf was published, translated by the Irish Nobel Prize Winner (for 1995) Seamus Heaney. Heaney has spent many years trying to get this translation just right, and I believe he hit the nail on the head in this case. This book presents a different insight into reading Beowulf, adopting a more archaic viewpoint in both language and imagery. Henry does not bother much with fancy words to make the poem seem more ...more
Riku Sayuj
We want Tolkien! We want Tolkien!

I demand that this be made a top priority, instead of spending millions trashing good books by making movies of them.

The coolest thing about Beowulf was the tracing of Tolkien's imaginative journey as I read it. Maybe someday I would like to write a short review story on the morphing of Beowulf into a hobbit...
Michael
Beowulf is one of the oldest, complete surviving epic poems in existent. There are a few others from the same era that have survived in fragments, so the significance of Beowulf remains in regards to English literature. Written in Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) the manuscript of Beowulf is believed to date back to the 10th century (1,000AD). This is an example of a heroic poem, which can be defined as a text that deals with heroic actions in battle. Beowulf focuses on three great battles, with Gre ...more
Neil
Review for Klaeber's Beowulf fourth edition.

This new fourth edition of Klaeber's Beowulf is one of the most important contributions to Old English scholarship in years. Robert Dennis Fulk, Robert E. Bjork and John D. Niles bring Frederick Klaeber's legendary edition of Beowulf thoroughly up to date for the 21st century. Every section of the original edition is revised and expanded to incorporate research on Beowulf since Klaeber's last revision in 1950.

The book now begins with a three page biog
...more
Wealhtheow
Aug 30, 2013 Wealhtheow rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Tolkein
Shelves: historical
By far my favorite translation, although the least faithful to the original text. Heaney was particularly good at preserving the alliteration, rhythm, and feeling of a fast-paced oral poem. It's not a perfect translation. Sometimes he added more archaic words to the mix (like his translation "tarn-hag" for mere-wif, when water-witch would do just as well; or "keshes" for fen-gelad, when I think just saying fen paths gives all the meaning one needs), which on the one hand, adds to the feel of the ...more
Lisa Tonge
I always find it interesting to read Tolkien's ventures outside of Middle Earth but really, reading his most recently released works such as The Fall of Arthur and this, his own translation of the original old english epic, Beowulf, it doesn't feel a world apart from the world Hobbits inhabit. The reason for this is that Tolkien, once a professor of Ango-saxon at Oxford University, was obviously influenced by the literary works he delivered lectures on.
His interest in old languages lead him to
...more
Iris
Jul 30, 2009 Iris rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adventure-seekers, storytellers, chainmail-and-longsword fans from the Renaissance Faire
Shelves: poetry
Seamus Heaney translated Beowulf with his "large-voiced" relatives in mind: he wanted it to be simple and clear and a natural candidate for reading aloud. As a result, Heaney's Beowulf seems timeless: it's not sassy and modern, nor fetishistic of the past. Avoiding the Renaissance Faire-style catchphrases of previous translators, Heaney takes your hand and guides you through the past on a deep level. Reading this book, you connect to centuries of storytellers and listeners.

As a result, I've neve
...more
Meredith
Beowulf, "the earliest extant heroic poem in any modern European language," has survived since its composition in the early 900s. (To be honest, some scholars do date it as late as the 11th century.)

As a function of its age--but also, I think, of its literary genius--the poem has delightfully weird language, even in translation. (I enjoyed the Donaldson prose translation in my Norton, although I'd be interested in comparing it with Heaney's celebrated verse version.) Some examples of its fantas
...more
Noah
An amazing addition to Beowulf scholarship. In his commentary on the poem, Tolkien demonstrates the argument of his seminal Beowulf essay: that the poem is best read as a poem, not either as a purely historic document (as it was in his day) nor as a New-historical document (as it too often is in our day). Tolkien's readings keep the poem from fragmenting into a mass of confusion but instead shows it as a work of a variety of interconnected parts: it pulls from historical knowledge and fable/tale ...more
Evan
In translating this, Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney makes the work his own as well. A comparison to his own poetry bears this out; there's a beautiful clash of hard consonants and rhythmic musical cadence, making the lines fun to read aloud. As a youngster confronting this story in middle school, I was not enamored of the dreary prose treatment. Heaney gets back to the piece as a poem, and thus to the spirit of things, while keeping it all clear and lively for contemporary readers. No, I ...more
Bryan
One of the greatest tales of loss ever written.

The way the author tells the story powerfully expresses what it must have felt like when, during those same times, they watched their mighty pagan traditions of honor and bravery set out to sea forever, then to be replaced by the new culture of Christianity.

If you read it, make sure you also read J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Monsters and The Critics." The whole essay brings new insights to the story; my particular favorite part was his metaphorical stateme
...more
Nikki
This edition is really good, with lots of critical material, including Tolkien's seminal essay. It includes some explanations of traditions in Old English poetry and the translator's introduction, as well, before the text.

Seamus Heaney's translation itself is a true translation/appropriation. It's interesting to see where he used Ulster dialect. I haven't read any other translation of Beowulf, except in short extracts, but this version is both a translation of the poem and a new work in itself.
...more
Althea Ann
It's strange that Tolkien is credited with kickstarting modern scholarship on 'Beowulf,' yet, until now, his translation was unpublished.
I've read other translations before, but I don't recall which ones specifically. I followed this reading up directly with the Heaney translation, which is apparently the standard in today's college classes. (It wasn't yet published either, last time I read 'Beowulf.') The Tolkien direct translation is more 'difficult,' but both (I cannot verify, but I got the
...more
Keith Davis
There is a famous quote about poetry translations that says if a translation is faithful then it is not beautiful and if it is beautiful then it is not faithful. Tolkien's translation of Beowulf is extremely faithful.

Tolkien was a scholar of Old English and wrote a paper titled "Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics" which is considered one of the most significant works in Beowulf scholarship. He was of course also the grandfather of all modern Fantasy fiction. These two factors taken together m
...more
Peycho Kanev
Beowulf is one of those Medieval works of literature that many have heard about but few have read. However, it's worth reading, if only to experience a story so different from modern sensibilities. There is only one surviving original copy of this poem which the experts say was written in England between the seventh and tenth centuries. And the questions of when it was written and by what kind of man wrote it are more interesting to me than parsing the poem itself. The Beowulf poem, perhaps comp ...more
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“It is always better
to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.
For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark.”
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