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Beowulf: An Updated Verse Translation

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A verse translation of the first great narrative poem in the English language that captures the feeling and tone of the original.

144 pages, ebook

First published January 1, 1000

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5 stars
1,043 (37%)
4 stars
762 (27%)
3 stars
653 (23%)
2 stars
199 (7%)
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115 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews
Profile Image for Neil.
293 reviews42 followers
October 28, 2012
Although Tolkien fans will no doubt disagree, Klaeber's Beowulf is undoubtably the most important work on the poem ever produced and after ninety years is still the most authoritative edition of the text.

First published in 1922, one of the most exciting periods in Beowulfian studies and dominated by scholars such as Chambers and Lawrence. Chambers, who had by chance published his own Beowulf text and now legendary study of the poem, heaped instant praise on klaeber for his revolutionary new edition. Klaeber went on to update the book at regular periods, resulting in the third edition of 1950, during a difficult period in Eastern Germany under Russian occupation.

Any student approaching Beowulf at an academic level can look forward to many happy or unhappy hours studying the intricacies of this text and browsing the huge introduction, commentaries, glossary and extra material.

This third edition is now superseded by the new fourth edition that was edited and updated by John Niles and company a few years ago, but anyone with any knowledge of Old English studies will know the value of the third edition and will probably own both.
Profile Image for MK.
279 reviews61 followers
Want to read
March 2, 2019
not read yet, just picked up from the library ...


This edition, and credits, here on Goodreads are as follows:

Beowulf, and The Fight at Finnsburg
by Unknown

Basically, no info at all. This is the 1950 3rd edition of the Klaeber translation. It is very dense with lots of information, on some pages the typeset is quite small. I'll fill in what all the extras and appendices are, as I read it.

For now, this is how the edition is detailed in my library's catalog (it also has no description filled in):

Full Record

Uniform Title: Beowulf
Title: Beowulf, and The fight at Finnsburg
Publisher: Lexington,Mass., D. C. Heath and company [c1950]
Edition: 3d ed.,
Characteristics: clxxxvii, [2], 471, [1] p. front. (facsims.) illus. 20 1/2 cm
Additional Contributors: Klaeber, Fr (Friedrich), 1863-1954
Alternative Title: Finnesburh
Bibliography: Includes bibliographies
LCCN: 42008932
Profile Image for Douglas Summers-Stay.
Author 1 book39 followers
April 1, 2016
I've read at least four versions of Beowulf in my life (not counting John Gardner's Grendel, which is more like fanfiction) but I think that Rebsamen's translation is my favorite (I'm not sure if this "updated" verse translation is the same as the one I read. The cover is different.) He keeps both the alliterative kennings and the breaks in the middle of each line, which gives it the flavor of something recited in an ancient hall.
I just finished reading it aloud as a bedtime story to my son Daniel (who is 13 now.) I read him the good parts version-- starting with Beowulf's arrival in Heorot, the story of how he fought sea monsters, the arrival of Grendel in the night, the fight with Grendel and Grendel's mother, and then the final battle with the dragon. I left out any politics and geneology.
I was struck by how dragonlike the dragon was. You get a lot of dragons in various cultures, but they're all partly how we tend to imagine a dragon, and partly strange. It's probably mostly the influence of Smaug and The Faerie Queen, but my idea of a dragon breathes fire, flies, has a coiling tail and nearly impenetrable armor, jealously guards a hoard of gold in a hollow hill, and is a creature of pure fury. All of that is true about this dragon. Beowulf as an old man fights it, using an iron shield because wood would burn away. He breaks his sword Naegling with his incredible strength on the bones of its neck and is wounded, and then the beast is slain by his young right-hand man. Beowulf perishes from his wounds, but not before holding the treasure which will sustain his people. It's the perfect dragonslaying tale. It's just powerful to read, especially aloud.
I also noticed this time a brief reference to the parable of life being like a sparrow flying through a warm hall-- what comes before or after we can only guess.
15 reviews
October 21, 2007
So I'll preface this by saying, "Yes, I'm a dork," but this book was fantastic. I loved the Beowulf story in high school, and took Old English during college, so was able to read and translate the poem from its original version. Amazing.
Profile Image for Gary.
128 reviews4 followers
January 18, 2010
Woody Allen said that you should never take a class that requires you to read Beowulf. But I spent an entire semester in graduate school learning Old English, so it made sense to spend another semester translating Beowulf.
Profile Image for saïd.
6,194 reviews724 followers
January 3, 2022
This is the third edition. As dense and academic as a scholarly text can possibly be, Klaeber's doubles it. An essential resource for any serious early mediaeval scholar, and well worth the trouble.
Profile Image for Tim Koh (on hiatus).
138 reviews81 followers
July 19, 2019
Fair warning, this is the third translation of Beowulf I have read. The first was of course Seamus Heaney's awesome 1999 translation which all turn-of-the-millenium English majors have cut their teeth on by way of the Norton, and, weirdly enough, J. R. R. Tolkien's somewhat cluttered prose translation when he was in his early thirties and locked away for almost a hundred years before excavated and edited by his son, repackaged for general readership in 2014. Of course, to my mind, the Heaney translation reigns supreme, and still remains, I think, the gateway drug to anyone curious about this Old English poem.

I do appreciate the attention Rebsamen pays to prosody, versification, and structure. He also makes far more use of alliteration than, say, Heaney does. However, I do feel that in his project to better mimic Old English verse, we have lost some of the poetry in the process. Thus seems to be continual pains of translating poetry whose verse forms cannot be easily (or healthily) replicated in English: something's gotta give.

In some says, I think this is an important translation because I felt the verse move me in some new ways, and I genuinely gleaned new insights from this translation. For example, Rebsamen makes two references to Hrothgar as a "hoard-guardian" through one of his translated kennings, which I think very neatly anticipates the arrival of the dragon in the poem's third act; that Hrothgar might be seen as a guardian of treasure is new to me, since I had always interpreted him as a giver of treasure.

These thoughts aside, I failed to be fully swept away by the story since I was entranced by the singsong nature of the verse: many a time I felt like my eyes were glazing over the immense use of alliteration and assonance, and became almost hypnotic. This might not be a bad thing, since it probably better figures into how the original poetry read. Even so, I wonder if this is a difficult translation to pick up if one lacks the proper context of plot ahead of time. Rebsamen tries his best, giving us random paragraphs spliced before difficult sections of the poem (minstrel songs of Sigemund, the Frisian slaughter, and other asides), though these tend to interrupt the flow of one's reading. I recall in the Heaney version he simply italicised the asides, which, to my mind, is a better means of dealing with these portions.

Finally, in receiving this text first and foremost as a poem of immense fortitude and beauty, I hungered for more, well, poetry and verve to the storytelling. Rarely was I struck by the strength of a particular line, and rarely was I fully absorbed in the truly stunning pieces of action. One line in particular stood out to me, when Beowulf was leaving the Danes, which reads, "That young sea-warrior was so strongly beloved."

All in all, a fair translation and I think a good one to read if you've already got the Heaney one under your belt.
Profile Image for Wayne.
175 reviews
November 25, 2019
I recently read Rebsamen's updated translation of Beowulf and it was *excellent*. I'm pretty sure my friend Jenny recommended this translation and I'm really glad she recommended it. I've read Beowulf a couple times before but never got too excited about it. This translation handled the excitement of the story really well. This version made me see why so many people love this book.

Be sure to read the introduction. It talks about this the translation and the poetry and it really helped with reading and making sense of the poem. Rebsamen tried to do the alliteration between half-lines, as was done in the original version.

I have a formatting complaint about the book. I read the version formatted for the iOS Kindle app. It did not have any spacing between the half-lines, and it would have been very helpful if there was some separation. I had to mentally work out the separation for each line. It got to be mostly automatic, but even then it made the reading a little rougher than it had to be.

Despite that problem, this was a superb Beowulf and I'm really glad to have read it. I highly recommend this.

(Important caveat: I am not a scholar for this type of literature. I can't talk intelligently about this translation versus that translation, or how poetry works in Old English versus Middle High Saxonish English. My thoughts on this book are the thoughts of a layman.)
255 reviews1 follower
June 19, 2020
I've skirted around the Beowulf poem for several years - read about it, analysis of it, films based on it, but hadn't got around to checking the original poem until now. My Old English isn't really that good, so plumped for a modern translation. The author does a nice job of explaining some of the context at the beginning and some inserts, and also some changes that he's made to compensate from old to modern English. Also some good advice on how to approach the text, such as to read passages aloud which gives a feel for the rhythm of the poem and allows you to appreciate the story rather than skimming.
Profile Image for Dianne.
102 reviews
January 5, 2019
This is the only translation of Beowulf I have read. Although it was slow going, I read it aloud to my 12-year-old daughter, and we both understood it and found it to be entirely enjoyable all around. We would stop after every so many lines, and recap to each other what had taken place. I was impressed at her comprehension, so I'd have to say the translation is well done.
Profile Image for Andy.
763 reviews3 followers
June 7, 2020
An excellent translation with useful footnotes and discussions. If you're looking for one translation for your bookshelf then this is a great choice.
7 reviews
November 29, 2021
It was a long, but interesting book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for CK.
88 reviews16 followers
June 8, 2023
I have about 50 new favorite words now
Profile Image for Carlos Simos.
85 reviews3 followers
July 2, 2021
``A todos nos llegará el momento de acabar la vida en este mundo. Quien pueda, que gane gloria antes de su muerte´´.
¿Cómo empezar a hablar de una de una obra tan legendaria y estudiada como Beowulf? Robert Chambers, H.P. Lovecraft, Tolkien, Borges y un largo etcetera le dedicaron sus estudios a esta gesta tan heroica como pocas que se hayan relatado. No he leído demasiadas, pero he admirado las hazañas de Ulises, Aquiles, Eneas, el Cid Campeador, Sigfrido, Cú Chulainn y quizá alguno que no recuerde en este momento. Entonces tenía que leer Beowulf.
Lamentablemente por esperar demasiado me perdí de la edición traducida por Tolkien, pero esta, está muy buena igual ofreciéndonos las versiones moderna y antigua del relato del héroe gauta.
El relato en sí mismo es simple: el héroe batallando contra un monstruo que amenaza la tranquilidad de un pueblo, luego la batalla contra otro de su misma estirpe. Tranquilidad durante muchos años de reinado y una batalla final para terminar de convertir en leyenda a alguien que claramente estaba destinado a serlo.
``Por esto, frías se han de sentir muchas lanzas cuando se cojan en la mañana y se levanten en mano. Tampoco ha de despertar a los guerreros la música del arpa, si bien el oscuro cuervo, alardeando entre los caídos, ha de contar muchas cosas: le dirá al águila cómo se apresuró en la fiesta de los despojos, compitiendo con el lobo por los restos de los caídos´´.
Beowulf es el prototipo de héroe que hoy conocemos quizá mas antiguo que muchos otros que hemos leído y si tenemos en cuenta que, como se dice, pudo haber sido copiado por un copista cristiano dándole esos toques de carácter bíblico, entonces lo puede ser aún mas.
No tengo mucho mas para decir sobre esta gran obra por temor a equivocarme en algún dato realmente importante sobre la misma. Tiene tanto para analizar que es mejor que cada uno que pueda leerlo se pueda informar al respecto y mejor si es por alguien que de verdad sabe sobre el tema 😄. Solo puedo decirles que si gustan de leer sobre gestas heroicas este libro no puede faltar en su colección y sumarse así a los grandes héroes mitológicos.
Profile Image for Michael.
16 reviews3 followers
January 12, 2008
Klaeber, the old pal of Robinson, is in the same school of traditionalist critics who use a heavy hand in glossing and commenting upon the poems. Overall, Klaeber's readings tend to be a bit more open and inviting to the outsider, making his work a tad more interactive than Robinson.

What garners this edition the five stars, though, are the other materials in this volume. This contains many other Old English fragments, including the great "Fight at Finnsburgh" (only "The Battle of Maldon" compares for a war story), and (if memory serves) some riddles and other shorter poems. Klaeber also includes some extensive discussion of the social and artistic world underlying the works, which goes a long way to grounding the reader in the social realities of early Middle Ages Anglo-Saxon life.
82 reviews4 followers
July 27, 2015
This is one of two generally accepted scholarly editions of the original Old English text of Beowulf, the other being in the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records editions by Krapp and Dobbie. I generally used the Klaeber edition, because it was conveniently sized for me to bring to lecture.

Overall, Klaeber's work is getting a little dated, but then again it has been in use as the dominant scholarly edition since 1922. That ought to tell you something about the quality of work—for general use, most academics are still inclined to look at this edition, and go, "Ooookay. I can't do better than this. Better not even try."
Profile Image for Susan.
476 reviews
December 5, 2010
I read the Anglo Saxon version in Freshman English, not happily.

A couple of years ago, I saw a dramatized version of 'Beowulf,' and thought afterward that if I had seen it before reading the work, the reading experience might have been more successful for me.

I decided to read it again, which I have started doing. I have chosen the illustrated edition of the Heaney translation. So far, so good.
Profile Image for Stephen Hebert.
40 reviews4 followers
June 8, 2008
If you are looking for an original text of Beowulf (and the Fight at Finnsburgh) to translate, this is the one. Klaeber's edition is still quite useful (though showing some age). There's even an Anglo-Saxon glossary in the back, since Anglo-Saxon lexica can be such a pain.

Highly recommended to anyone interested in the foundations of English literature.
Profile Image for Ceridwen.
20 reviews
December 15, 2007
Another rather good translation. There are many out there (Seamus Heaney's being the most prominent), and I would seriously recommend to anyone studying the subject to read several different interpretations, to get a comprehensive picture.
Profile Image for Neil.
293 reviews42 followers
February 27, 2012
Doesn't contain all the extras that Klaeber's edition does and nowhere near as encyclopaedic as Chambers' two volume text and introduction, but there is something so nice about a compact edition of the Beowulf text.
Profile Image for Ceridwen.
20 reviews
December 15, 2007
This book contains no translation, only the original Old English text and a very good, comprehensive glossary. We used this edition as the basic workbook in my "Translating Beowulf"-seminar.
Profile Image for Sandy Lender.
Author 38 books201 followers
April 23, 2009
Most excellent.
The Old English text is BEAUTIFUL...but maybe not for everyone.
A translated version might be better for casual reading!
Profile Image for Liz.
14 reviews7 followers
August 16, 2010
Now I know why I didn't remember what this book was about when I read it in high school...because I didn't understand it this time through either. All those thys and thous make it a difficult read!
Profile Image for Alia.
27 reviews
September 20, 2011
Beowulf in the original Old English. Reading/translating it is a great way to spend time at work during summer vacation!
Profile Image for G.M. Burrow.
Author 1 book106 followers
February 3, 2012
The super glossary in the back (a great help in translating Beowulf) is enough reason to buy this fantastic, near century-old book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews

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