Peycho Kanev's Reviews > Beowulf

Beowulf by Unknown
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's review
Dec 07, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: poetry
Read from December 07, 2011 to January 06, 2012

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 composed as an elegy, recounts the deeds of the perhaps-mythical warrior of the Scandinavian Geats.
Seamus Heaney's Beowulf was assigned for Michael Faletra's medieval English literature class at Multnomah Public Library in Portland, Oregon. Michael Faletra is a translator of Geoffrey of Monmouth's *History of the Kings of Britain*, and Michael knows his Olde English Verbes well indeed. So it was with great joy that we plunged into the bilingual edition, blessed by a fabulous poet translator (Heaney) and a brilliant scholar-guide (Faletra). Heaney's new twist on this translation of Beowulf is through using the most exact word possible; the result are terms like "ring-hoard," "lake-birth," "shield-clash," and "sky-roamer." What makes this so magical is how the words fit so well, and flow like the soft voice that once spoke them. These specific terms help to create an image in the reader's mind of just what the original composer was intending: a story of gallantry, gold, fighting, Christianity, and the triumph of good over evil.
The poem does not end on an uplifting note; but today's reader must know, as those who first heard the tale knew, that what came next in the story was salvation through Christ. This is the uplifting note, the unwritten but understood ending to Beowulf.
So buy it and read it. Who knows, maybe you'll discover that you've been missing out on a really great thing.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Michael This is a great translation; one of my favorites. I look forward to reading your review.

Rachel Well said, I completely agree! Beowulf is interesting from a historical standpoint as well as a great read.

Alan I've read Beowulf in Anglo Saxon, part of my good Minnesota Ph.D. in the 60s and 70s. Much prefer the Battle of Maldon, touching and human, neighbors fighting the Vikings, and making the fatal mistkae to allow them to land, out of the Marshes to fight 'em.

Alan Not Medieval, in Engl Lit terms: Old English/Anglo-Saxon, an entrely separate language from Medieval English (Chaucer, Gower, Langland) which is closer to French than Old German. Chaucer's language is close to the English Justice system's language of the 13-15th C, Law French--"mortgage, voucher, attainder,remainder,merger, tender..." Chaucer, "And bathed every vyne in swich liquor/ Of whilche vertue engendered is the flouwer".

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