Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Seamus Heaney: Beowulf

Beowulf, Seamus Heaney (FSG, 2000)


I think I read chunks of Beowulf in high school; I'm sure I read a least a graphic novel adaptation of it (or "comic book," as we used to say), & as well John Gardner's novel Grendel, narrated from the monster's point of view (tho I remember nothing of that but the cover art). I recall learning about kennings & ring-givers, but – laboring under the disadvantage of being an American – I never had a go at the Old English itself, even in college, where I read the thing thru at some point (not for a course) in Burton Raffel's translation.

Seamus Heaney's version of the poem won prizes & praises, & I gather is now the text for the Norton Critical Edition. I'm sure he needs the money. Its sounds pretty Heaneyesque to me thruout, which moves me neither one way nor the other. I'd forgotten what a wonderful subject-jumper the Beowulf-poet is, how much trouble he has keeping his attention on the matter at hand. Guy Davenport did Old English with Tolkien at Oxford, which he would later recall in nightmares. Haven't seen the movie yet.


Craig said...

Love that translation--really opened up the poem for me, the way Fagels did for Homer. One of the tasks I've been meaning to set myself for several years now is to read it in the original. For a Tolkien fan who also speaks German, it seems almost obligatory, but I just haven't gotten the time together yet.

Liz said...

If by movie you mean the latest effort, with the motion-captured big name stars, I wouldn't be in a rush. I gave in and tried to watch it a couple of weeks ago, and I didn't even finish it b/c the way they changed the battle with Grendel's mother into a hot underwater love scene really annoyed me, but maybe I'm just humorless that way.

Unknown said...

Little known fact: Jerry Hall was one of the judges for the Whitbread the year he won it for Beowulf. It beat out Harry Potter, which everyone was cheering for.

Sarah said...

I would love to have Tolkien's own translation of Beowulf. If it exists as a whole.

In Finn and Hengest there's a translation of that section to go along with his lecture on the passage. It's it so incredibly tantalizing! I wish that all of JRRT's Beowulf work was available. F&H really opened my eyes as to why JRRT was such a popular teacher of the poem.

I still haven't read the Heaney translation yet, though I have a copy of it.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, how interesting! Your young experience runs almost parallel - but never the twain shall meet - to mine. I adored John Gardner as a teenager, read loads of his books and still have AND remember them. Not least of these is his "On Moral Fiction," which explored - or rather expounded on - his conviction that contemporary fiction was shallow, vain, trendy stuff., He said (and I paraphrase badly) that if the writers in the New Yorker wrote anything REAL the Steuben crystal paperweights in the ads would shatter.

For my fifteenth birthday my father gave me - knowing what a bluestocking I was, and I was - a parallel text edition of Beowulf. And somewhere or other, within a year or two of that, I managed to find a secondhand copy of Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader, and from then on it was just me and my books. Cribbing. Not that I got very far with it, but for some reason it was a rather profound experience nonetheless - maybe because I was doing it all on my own - and I can still remember the feel of those strange sounds in my mouth.

I haven't seen the film either.

Josh Hanson said...

I kind of hate Beowulf, tho I haven't read the Heaney (which sounds like some sort of idiomatic expression). The "film" was like an internet porn version of Shrek, with Crispin Glover moaning in the background. Only, you know, not in a good way.