Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Beowulf” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


4.18  ·  Rating details ·  5,320 ratings  ·  1,243 reviews
An Irish Times and Vox Best Book of 2020

A new, feminist translation of Beowulf by the author of The Mere Wife.

Nearly twenty years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf — and fifty years after the translation that continues to torment high-school students around the world — there is a radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley, which brin
Paperback, 140 pages
Published August 25th 2020 by MCD X Fsg Originals
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Beowulf, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Terence I just finished reading the translation & I'd say that Casey is right in that the language regarding Grendel and his mother is a bit more nuanced than…moreI just finished reading the translation & I'd say that Casey is right in that the language regarding Grendel and his mother is a bit more nuanced than simply presenting them a "monsters."

The poem focuses on its traditional protagonist, Beowulf, but Headley's translation tends to focus on the brutal environment & the motivations of the characters. I wouldn't really characterize it as "feminist" just as a version emphasizing elements of the tale sometimes marginalized or forgotten in other versions.

Headley's intro is actually quite good in laying out how she approached the translation & is worth reading even if you don't get to the poem.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,320 ratings  ·  1,243 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Beowulf
Oct 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Never has there been a translation whose tone and argument are encapsulated so completely by the very first word of the text: translating the Old English Hwæt as ‘Bro!’ tells you more or less everything you need to know about what Maria Dahvana Headley is up to here. She's unlocked her word-hoard and used every nook and cranny of it in service of a very specific reading of the text.

I really love Old English as a language, and have read Beowulf in the original more than once. But despite generall
Those of you looking for a precise, age-old translation of Beowulf need to go back to Heaney. This is no timeless classic, this is no pretentious, literary snobbery made to bore high school sophomores. This is living, breathing poetry as it's meant to be, rooted in the language of then and the language of now, full of drama and heroes and monsters and oh so much swag.

Will this be hilariously dated in fifteen years when the slang has all changed and swole joins the ranks of rad and groovy? Yes.
Sep 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-read, uk, usa
Bro! Maria Dahvana Headley has turned an esteemed classic into a fast, powerful 4D Dolby Surround action extravaganza that exudes the joy of storytelling. I've always wanted read "Beowulf", an Old English epic poem from the Early Middle Ages consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines that has survived only in the Nowell Codex. Unfortunately though, I don't understand Old English and I've also struggled with renditions that try to emulate some kind of ancient English (like the ones by J.R.R. Tolkien ...more
Roman Clodia
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Headley has crafted a translation of Beowulf that is dynamic, fast-moving (in the first 60% or so, but the slowing down is the original poem, not the translator's effect), thrilling in places and which has some glorious renderings of Old English into a contemporary language that still contains rhythm, alliteration (so hard, that!) and a balance to the metre: 'He hurled the sword: / useless hoard-gilt. Let it shatter in the silt. / He'd fight like a man, and take her hand to hand, / his fingertip ...more
Tom Quinn
Jun 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like most modern men, I read Beowulf at 18 years old, in college and away from home for the first time, making new friends in an all-male dorm less than lovingly nicknamed The Sausage Factory. My posse was all dorks, mostly English and History majors, the type to shout "Hwat!" when it was time to start a Venture Bros marathon, the kind who'd name their RPG character "Hrothgar, King of the Geats" for a laugh. Beowulf's band of sword swinging brothers-in-arms appealed to us on a deep and primal le ...more
Nat K

”And yet.
Possessions bring no peace. So many wars, so many kingdoms, so much calamity.”

So says Maria Dahvana Headley in the foreword of her translation of Beowulf . And she is correct. To strive to have more possessions takes effort. To retain them, even more so. Ms. Headley’s introduction to the history of this epic poem is brilliant. There is no other way to describe it. If her knowledge and passion for this poem and the background to it don’t inspire you to at least consider reading it (whet
Nov 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Bro! Hardly fucked by Fate, but rather hashtag blessed for this translation that gives zero shits. Our swole, sword bearing, son-of-a-bitch comes out swinging. Beowulf brings the beatdown, batters beasts, and bests the bringers of blood. Raring to be read aloud, voice raised over the roar of revelry. The song of sweaty soldiers with back slapping swagger who swear on the sword they saw it true. Headley is hard-core, heroic and hardly one to haver, hell-bent on hewing her own history here. Too mu ...more
anna (½ of readsrainbow)
women should be the only people allowed to translate classics, thanks

the "yes. i mean—i may have bathed in the blood of beasts" line and the "any season / is a season for blood, if you look at it in the right light" line made me gay
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Publicity materials and professional reviews of Maria Dahvana Headley's new translation of Beowulf have been using words like "radical" and "recontextualize" to describe her work, and making much of her use of modern slang. So great has been the effort to cast Headley's version as entirely different that I've been left wondering if it's so divergent that it should be considered an adaptation rather than a translation. Imagine my surprise when I read it and discovered it's actually a pretty stand ...more
K.J. Charles
A glorious translation that hits a perfect balance between modern language ("bro!") and archaisms. Brings gender to the forefront, including the less and more toxic varieties of masculinity, making it feel very much in the vein of the cowboy poet or pub storyteller. Which could be terrible in the wrong hands, but succeeds triumphantly here, mingling the bragging and the timeless-therefore-modern bits (reminding me of the fabulous The Emperor's Babe by Bernadine Evaristo) with really moving elegi ...more
Sep 24, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Imagine being excited about Beowulf! Don't I have other things to read? Hadn't I read it in high school, the Burton Raffel translation? All those fathers and sons I couldn't keep track of? Battles, and boasts? Fortunately for myself, my book club decided to read this new feminist translation by Maria Dahvana Headley, which begins "Bro! Tell me we still know how to speak of kings!" That 'Bro!' gives you a taste of her method, laden with humor, both in the plentiful, playful alliterations and rhym ...more
Jan 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
I have not read any of the multitude of translations of this epic poem. My rudimentary knowledge of the narrative comes from the film that was made about 15 years ago. I seem to remember Neil Gaiman’s name in the credits for writing and producing, but I may be wrong it was so long ago.

Whether he had anything to do with the screenplay or not I remember enjoying it immensely.

Without having read the original, I cannot compare this version to it, but the author, in a wonderful introduction, explain
Molly Quinn
Dec 08, 2020 rated it did not like it
Translators each have their own aspect of the story that they focus on. For instance, Seamus Heaney focused on the poetic elements of Beowulf.
This Beowulf, translated by Maria Headley, is a feminist translation. I support that mission entirely; there are so many aspects of Beowulf that are often overlooked that have to do with gender roles. This translation, however, really fails at delivering much else.
There are a couple of real big issues I had with this translation, but the most obvious one i
ARC received in exchange for an honest review

We all know a boy can't daddy until his daddy's dead.

I'll admit this is my first time reading a translation of Beowulf, but I think I picked a good one to start with. This reads like a labour of love from Maria Dahvana Headley, and a lot of thought has been put into the translation and how the story is presented to the reader.

In the introduction, Headley states that Beowulf is a poem between brothers, commrades and close friends all trying to outdo e
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I often struggle with the old classical poems, cause I can't concentrate on the language. So this modern - but still in character - translation hit the mark marvellously! The tale is vivid, sarcastic and feels so humanly real that I saw it play in my head.

The foreword is a class by itself, wonderful explanations on Headley's take and thoughts of this classic. It set the right mood to dive into this masterpiece where modern vibes and classic verses meet.

A great way to make the classics accessible
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Oct 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
"Bro! Tell me we still know how to speak of kings! In the old days,
everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only
stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times."

This new translation of Beowulf is a lot of fun, with Headley capturing the spirit of the original but using more modern words at times (I outright snorted at the use of "hashtag: blessed") - don't skip the intro where she discussed the research she did and why she's partial to Grendel's mother.
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
Maria Dahvana Headley’s opening salvo in her translation of Beowulf: A New Translation is the word “Bro!” This sets the stage for an irreverent, rollicking, electrifying, and astonishing translation unlike any we have seen before.

Headley has studied the poem extensively. Her goal was to render the poem as close to the spirit of its original form as possible. As she says in her extensive introduction, “The original reads, at least in some places, like Old English freestyle, and in others like a
Though purists disapprove, I relish this approach to translating a classic: sharply intelligent; witty; sparkling with sound-play and gasp-provokingly bold choices of proposed equivalencies, evidence of a poet's ear; enriched by a coherent translatorial point-of-view, an unmistakable translatorial voice; and, on top of it all, fast-paced and wildly entertaining. Translator Headley sticks a dagger in the side of this old tale with a perfect blend of respect and effrontery, much like, say, a warri ...more
Sep 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is the review where I reveal my complete and utter ignorance of classic works of English Literature or in this case Old English. I knew this was an "epic poem" ( groan ) that features an angry mother monster ( with the face of Angelina Jolie ) and a mead hall. I also knew if I was going to voluntarily attempt this, then something that markets itself as a "new feminist translation" was likely my best bet.

It's always a good sign to be laughing away within the first few lines of something you
Para (wanderer)
The winged wringer had no time for survivors. She skywrote
her grievances, then rewrote them roughly in land-fire
from end to end of Geat-realm, her scaly helm
shining as she sang insults from the clouds.
Bro! I knew I wanted to read this as soon as I heard it’s going to be a thing. The concept of a more modern translation of an epic poem seemed fun and the early excerpts promising. I managed to finally get my hands on in September and read it in one go.

If there’s one word I’d use to describe it
Galley provided by publisher

Earlier this year, I read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf and, in all honesty, it didn’t really stick with me. Maria Dahvana Headley’s, however, absolutely did, and even made me laugh out loud once or twice.

To be honest, my favourite part of any translation, particularly translations of classics, is the translator’s note. Maybe it’s an extension of my linguistics degree, but I love hearing just how the translator went about the translation, where and how they d
Scribe Publications
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 22, 2022 rated it it was amazing
a genuinely brilliant translation that deserves every single award for the inclusion of the sentence "Meanwhile, Beowulf gave zero shits." ...more
Eule Luftschloss
I didn't get on with this at all, and I guess I might be too oldschool for this translation.
The use of modern slang in there felt jarring and threw me out of the flow every single time - for example the shout "bro!" or the use of daddy/ daddying to describe a father. It felt forced, shoehorned in to make this appealing to a young audience.

I am not saying you need to use archaism if you're translating a medieval text.
I am saying that maybe I am just not the right kind of reader for this - and I
Sep 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, 2020
Audiobook is solid, though I still feel like I needed a print copy in order to follow along with some of the exposition.

Overall, this translation is REALLY great, it's like if Hamilton had an Old English baby. It's accessible and modern yet still keeps the cadence of the poem. Definitely worth checking out.
Emily Duncan
Sheree | Keeping Up With The Penguins
Bro! If the idea of reading Beowulf gives you traumatic flashbacks to high-school or university English lit classes, you need to check out this new translation.

Headley incorporates distinctly modern phrasing and slang to make the text more accessible for today’s audience. Even though Beowulf: A New Translation is undoubtedly easier for a novice to read than, say, Seamus Heaney’s translation, it would be good to familiarise yourself with the plot beforehand to make sure you don’t miss anything. I
Jan 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
What a clear, energetic translation! I enjoyed the author's enthusiastic and irreverent introduction too, though while billed as a 'feminist' translation, that didn't come through that clearly to me in the text.

For better or for worse, this is the "Bro!" Beowulf, from the invocation in the first line ("Bro! Tell me we still know how to speak of kings!"), and some of its more timebound contemporary stylings might not wear well (I could have done without a "Hashtag: blessed," for example). I can
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A vibrantly modern translation. The headlines are the colloquialisms -- the "Bro!" opening, the sassy memespeak -- but what makes this translation actually brilliant is the way that it interrogates the masculinity of the original tale. Every other translation of Beowulf that I've read has felt more or less like the classical image of a bard or storyteller recounting the tale to a murmuring crowd; this feels like we've been dropped into the middle of a Saxon hall, with drinking and roaring and fi ...more
Tanya Gold
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I want more translations like this 🤩

Yes: I mean—I may have bathed in the blood of beasts,
Netted five foul ogres at once, smashed my way into a troll den
and come out swinging, gone skinny-dipping in a sleeping sea
and made sashimi of some sea monsters.
Anyone who fucks with the Geats? Bro, they have to fuck with me.

« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Combine editions 2 11 Nov 22, 2020 06:14PM  
SciFi and Fantasy...: "Beowulf: A New Translation" by Maria Dahvana Headley (BR) 17 39 Sep 24, 2020 09:11AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Writers & Lovers
  • This is How You Lose the Time War
  • The Sun Down Motel
  • The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2)
  • The Invention of Wings
  • The Memory Police
  • Hamlet
  • All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)
  • New Kid (New Kid, #1)
  • Unraveling
  • Driftwood
  • De kommer att drunkna i sina mödrars tårar
  • The Book of V.
  • Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle, #1)
  • Sword in the Stars (Once & Future, #2)
  • Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Volume 1: Secrets and Rumors
  • Nimona
  • The Rising Force (Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice, #1)
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Books can be attributed to "Unknown" when the author or editor (as applicable) is not known and cannot be discovered. If at all possible, list at least one actual author or editor for a book instead of using "Unknown".

Books whose authorship is purposefully withheld should be attributed instead to Anonymous.

Articles featuring this book

  Those of us who like to give books as holiday gifts have the same problem every year: People are weird. Well, people are very…specific is...
223 likes · 12 comments
“Bro! Tell me we still know how to speak of kings! In the old days,   everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only   stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times.” 5 likes
“We know this much is true,   and it’s true for all souls: each of us will one day   find the feast finished and, fattened or famished,   step slowly backward into their own dark hall   for that final night of sleep.” 4 likes
More quotes…