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Beowulf: A New Translation

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  933 ratings  ·  248 reviews
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 brings to light elements never before transl
Paperback, 140 pages
Published August 25th 2020 by MCD x FSG Originals
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Casey It doesn't really change the narrative as far as plot goes; it can be seen more in the word choice especially surrounding the representation of Grende…moreIt doesn't really change the narrative as far as plot goes; it can be seen more in the word choice especially surrounding the representation of Grendel's mother. (less)

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Average rating 4.36  · 
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 ·  933 ratings  ·  248 reviews

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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
Sep 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: uk, 2020-read, 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
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.
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
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)
the "yes. i mean—i may have bathed in the blood of beasts" line totally sold me, i have to read this translation
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
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
Para (wanderer)
Bro! And I'm done. Definitely not what I expected. This was actually less gimmicky than the early reviews and hype led me to believe - it's not a reimagining, it seems like a pretty faithful translation with the occasional modern word thrown in. Those were a little bit distracting, yeah, but also served as a "pay attention" call - I'm prone to skimming and epic poetry is difficult for me to read and I don't think I'd be able to get through any other translation.

Longer review to come.
charlotte, (½ of readsrainbow)
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
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
Emily Duncan
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.
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.
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
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
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I love Beowulf. I grew up on Tolkien, but never read Beowulf until assigned Donaldson’s translation in my first survey of British Lit course. I was transfixed, so much of The Hobbit was directly taken from Beowulf! This led to reading Tolkien’s “The Monsters and the Critics” and then enthusiastically comparing and contrasting Beowulf and The Hobbit in one of the most enjoyable papers I ever wrote.

When Heaney’s translation came out I was captivated. It was so poetic and I loved looking at the Ol
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
Sep 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was my first time reading Beowulf. I had read essays and background on the Beowulf story, but not the actual translation of it. I think this is a highly readable, lively, and skillful translation of an archaic text and story. Headley has to work within the confines of the story, which is primitive. But her translation speaks back to you as you read it and makes for an interactive read — no small accomplishment.
Sep 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, retellings
This book had such a cool and unique energy. Just look at how Beowulf introduces himself:

I’m the strongest and the boldest, and the bravest and the best.   
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.

I’ve racked my brain, bro, but, Unferth,   
I can’t unpac
Wendy Bunnell
Sep 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
I liked it, but calling it a "feminist translation" is a stretch, as there was really no greater focus on the female characters than on the translation that I read in college over 30 years ago, what was that, the Seamus Heaney translation or something like that.

I love that my favorite kenning, "unleashed his word-horde" survived the new translation, as that one gives me the giggles and reminds me of English Lit 401. Some of the new translations were a breath of fresh air. Some were so topical,
Scribe Publications
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Mr. Dietz
Aug 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly modern in its translation, perhaps hastening its irrelevance, but at this current moment, I found this translation of the epic poem to be thoroughly entertaining, which is more than I can say about the last version of this story that I read. Your reaction to the choice to open the piece up by translating “Hwæt!” as “Bro!” will determine how much you enjoy the rest of the tale. Mashing up hoards and hashtags often results in neither kids nor adults being satisfied, but I’d be lying if ...more
Jason Furman
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: epic, classic, poetry, fiction
I often use new translations as an excuse to re-read books. (I even have a completely irrational, mystical fantasy that all the translations somehow combine in my subconscious to better approximate the original itself.) I was happy to seize on the excuse to re-read Beowulf, or in this case to listen to it on Audible while also going back and reading the text for some of the parts as well. Often a new translation can feel like a modest improvement. In this case it was a massive change, completely ...more
Elizabeth Sund
Nov 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read the Heaney in my left hand and the Headley in my right, which means I had access to the original Old English and two top notch translations simultaneously. I found the Headley to be a surprisingly serious translation. It was readable, compelling, and fun. Some parts were over the top translations for shock value, but the vast majority was straight up good modern work. The over the top parts were awesome anyway, bro.

My favorite lines are 236-256. I would like to have it engraved into wood
Nov 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, nypl
I can’t say how this works as a translation or how it compares to other translations but on its own merits it’s a fantastic read - muscular, visceral, and entertaining - though the whole thing with the dragon feels pasted on (as does the Christianity tbh).
Isaac R. Fellman
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A gleefully subversive translation which both parodies and celebrates the poem’s over-the-top masculinity, as well as interpreting its themes for a modern audience. The language doesn’t always sit naturally, but its stylized visibility illuminates qualities from the original that Headley explains in the introduction. If you’ve heard about this and are on the fence, go ahead and commit — you’ll be thrilled by the linguistic possibilities it explores.
Oct 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-reads, classics
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Bro! Can we talk about how freaking genius it is to translate Beowulf as a brash bar-room saga, shout-told by a sloshed scop? (It is very genius.)

Listen, I've been enamored with Maria Dahvana Headley's mind since I read The Mere Wife a couple years ago. It's clear that she understands the story and ethos of Beowulf from the inside, enough to do dazzling tricks like rewrite it as a tale of suburban conflict. Her translation is incredibly bold and dare I say actually ultra-faithful to the spirit o
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Goodreads Librari...: Combine editions 2 7 Nov 22, 2020 06:14PM  

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Maria Dahvana Headley is the New York Times-bestselling author of, most recently, THE MERE WIFE (out July 17, 2018 from MCD/FSG). Upcoming in 2019 is a new translation of BEOWULF, also from FSG. As well, she is the author of the young adult skyship novels MAGONIA and AERIE from HarperCollins, the dark fantasy/alt-history novel QUEEN OF KINGS, the internationally bestselling memoir THE YEAR OF YES, ...more

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