Beowulf: A Verse Translation
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Beowulf: A Verse Translation

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3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  130,992 ratings  ·  3,395 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.
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
Rise
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
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?
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
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
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...
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
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
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
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
Jonathan
Beowulf is one of those tough classics in that it has that archaic language known to some as 'ye old' prose. But like The Odyssey and The Iliad, it is almost a necessary classic to read. Or at the least it is necessary to understand the story in order to grasp modern novels and poems influenced by it.

The beauty of Beowulf is in the prose, which rolls and flows beautifully. Unlike some classics there is no real 'moral' to the tale of Beowulf, simply a riveting story, made strong by the descriptiv...more
Neil
The new Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library is published and designed by the same people that brought us the Loeb Classical Library and follows the same format by giving an introduction, text and translation of the text that each particular volume contains.

The first volume in the Old English series covers the Beowulf Manuscript, meaning it includes The Passion of Saint Christopher, The Wonders of the East, The Letter of Alexander the Great to Aristotle, and Judith, but also adds The Finnsburg Fragm...more
Courtney
At the start of this thousand-year-old Old English epic poem, Beowulf is a young unproven warrior, physically strong and determined to prove his merits. He crosses the sea, defeats ungodly beasts in bloody combat, wins a foreign ally for his king and earns respect from his native people. Eventually he becomes king himself, rules in relative peace and wisdom, and then is killed in a fight with a dragon, but not until after he slays the beast.

It's a strange story, about a world with foreign names,...more
Scott
Beowulf is a dense poem, a thousand years old and over 3,000 lines long, written in a barbed version of English that looks like it might catch in your craw. It begins, "Hwæt wé Gár-Dena in geár-dagum þéod-cyninga þrym grefrúnon hú þá æþelingas ellen fremedon." Not only do the words look foreign, the letters themselves seem strange, like something you might find scrawled on a mossy rock in Middle Earth. This is fine stuff for elves, trolls, or orcs, but as generations of English students can sorr...more
Valerie Kyriosity
I made it to age 45 without ever reading Beowulf, and I fully expected to die in that benighted state, but a paycheck called, and I faithfully answered the call of duty.

I'm not sure if I should be mad at everybody who heretofore failed to make me read it or if I should thank them for not assigning it so I could read this edition. I've always loved reading, but I never met a literature class that didn't ruin every book. I know that such critters exist, but, sadly, they did not populate the educa...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Beowulf is one of those classics that we've all heard about, but about which we know little. Unlike Greek and Italian classics, or some other legends, it hasn't entered into our common lexicon or our everyday phrases. We know a lot more about the fall of Troy and "beware of Greeks bearing gifts" (ouch) without having read The Iliad or The Aeneid - but Beowulf? Not so much. Stop reading right now and ask yourself: what's it about? Who is Beowulf? Where and when is it set? What lessons in life doe...more
Nikki
Had to reread Beowulf for my Tolkien class, so I thought I might as well go for a new translation. Liuzza's is very readable. I didn't want to read it aloud as much as I did Heaney's translation; on the other hand, I think I took more of it in because I wasn't focused on the poetry of it. My Anglo-Saxon is rusty, alas, so though I pulled up an online version to compare this translation with, most often I couldn't tell if I really agreed with Liuzza's choice of words. When I could tell, though, I...more
Ben Loory
i was feeling kinda down so i read beowulf again. still about the best thing of all time. heaney's translation is so fucking awesome, it's like screaming in an electrical storm or something.

(when i was in college, seamus heaney came and taught some poetry workshops. of course i was a moron and didn't sign up, took some stupid creative non-fiction thing instead. still punching myself in the face over this twenty years later... it's almost as bad as the time my mom offered to get tickets to go see...more
John Yelverton
I know that this is a classic, but is it a classic because it's good, or is it a classic because it's one of the only pieces of literature from that era to survive to the present day? I choose option B.
Grack21
Some of the reviews for this on here make me want to either

1. Kill myself.

2. Build a death star and destroy earth. Then kill myself.
Karen
I confess, the audible.com version of Gerald J. Davis' translation of Don Quixote narrated by John Hanks is among my favorite audiobooks... an entertaining and poetic story voiced by a talented narrator. So, when Gerald J. Davis offered Goodreads.com members an opportunity to listen to his translation of Beowulf (also narrated by John Hanks) for free in return for an honest review, I had a pretty good idea I'd enjoy what I'd be hearing.

I read Beowulf in high school and enjoyed it, but would have...more
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"They sang and played to please the hero, words and music for their warrior prince."(1062-1063) p.71 1 24 Sep 27, 2013 06:11AM  
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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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“Behaviour that's admired
is the path to power among people everywhere.”
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