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Beowulf: A Verse Translation [Paperback]

Daniel Donoghue , Seamus Heaney
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Dec 18 2001 0393975800 978-0393975802 New edition
Winner of the Whitbread Prize, Seamus Heaney's translation "accomplishes what before now had seemed impossible: a faithful rendering that is simultaneously an original and gripping poem in its own right" (New York Times Book Review). The translation that "rides boldly through the reefs of scholarship" (The Observer) is combined with first-rate annotation. No reading knowledge of Old English is assumed. Heaney's clear and insightful introduction to Beowulf provides students with an understanding of both the poem's history in the canon and Heaney's own translation process. "Contexts" provides a rich selection of material on Anglo-Saxon and early Northern culture. "Criticism" features eight essays carefully chosen for their relevance to undergraduate readers, including a full discussion of the Old English poem that lies behind Heaney's translation. Contributors include J.R.R. Tolkien, John Leyerle, Jane Chance, Roberta Frank, Fred C. Robinson, Thomas Hill, Leslie Webster, and Daniel Donoghue. A Glossary of Proper Names and a Selected Bibliography are included.

About the series: No other series of classic texts equals the caliber of the Norton Critical Editions. Each volume combines the most authoritative text available with the comprehensive pedagogical apparatus necessary to appreciate the work fully. Careful editing, first-rate translation, and thorough explanatory annotations allow each text to meet the highest literary standards while remaining accessible to students. Each edition is printed on acid-free paper and every text in the series remains in print. Norton Critical Editions are the choice for excellence in scholarship for students at more than 2,000 universities worldwide.


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About the Author

Seamus Heaney is the author of many volumes of poetry, criticism, and translation. One of the leading poets of his generation, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. Daniel Donoghue is Professor of English at Harvard University. He is the author of Style in Old English Poetry: The Test of the Auxiliary and Lady Godiva: The History of the Legend

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
I have reviewed over 60 different translations of Beowulf, . . . Although the Seamus Heaney translation is one of the best available, it is not, despite what all of the marketing people would have us believe, far superior to every other translation ever written. There are at least 10 other translations which rank with Seamus Heaney's translation. I would still rank Frederick Rebsamen's translation as superior to Heaney's.
Daniel Donoghue's choice of essays to include in this volume is interesting, in that he includes the 1934 essay by J. R. R. Tolkien "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics", an essay which has already been made available in many other volumes, and the popularity of which, in my view, is now based mostly on nostalgia. Professor Donoghue has neglected to include any of the writings of Professor Kevin S. Kiernan, who has been described by the British Library as "the world's leading authority on the history of the Beowulf manuscript," and who is the world's leading proponent of the theory that the Beowulf manuscript may have been initially composed after 1016.
This book will undoubtedly be very popular, in that it contains the Beowulf translation which most people believe is the best one available, as well as several essays which related directly to the most popular topics for Beowulf essays: women in Beowulf, and Christian themes in Beowulf.
It is a good book, . . . but don't believe the marketing hype that tells you that you shouldn't bother with any other translation. Try Bertha Rogers, or Ruth Lehmann, or Frederick Rebsamen, or John Porter as well.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
72 of 81 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heaney is good, but not far superior to everyone else Jan. 28 2002
By Syd Allan (www.jagular.com/beowulf) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have reviewed over 60 different translations of Beowulf, . . . Although the Seamus Heaney translation is one of the best available, it is not, despite what all of the marketing people would have us believe, far superior to every other translation ever written. There are at least 10 other translations which rank with Seamus Heaney's translation. I would still rank Frederick Rebsamen's translation as superior to Heaney's.
Daniel Donoghue's choice of essays to include in this volume is interesting, in that he includes the 1934 essay by J. R. R. Tolkien "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics", an essay which has already been made available in many other volumes, and the popularity of which, in my view, is now based mostly on nostalgia. Professor Donoghue has neglected to include any of the writings of Professor Kevin S. Kiernan, who has been described by the British Library as "the world's leading authority on the history of the Beowulf manuscript," and who is the world's leading proponent of the theory that the Beowulf manuscript may have been initially composed after 1016.
This book will undoubtedly be very popular, in that it contains the Beowulf translation which most people believe is the best one available, as well as several essays which related directly to the most popular topics for Beowulf essays: women in Beowulf, and Christian themes in Beowulf.
It is a good book, . . . but don't believe the marketing hype that tells you that you shouldn't bother with any other translation. Try Bertha Rogers, or Ruth Lehmann, or Frederick Rebsamen, or John Porter as well.
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much more than an old parchment... July 23 2004
By ewomack - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Most people probably think Beowulf is still read merely because it's old. Well, it is old. Wow it's old. Hoary and whiskery old. Best estimates place the composition somewhere between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. One can speak in terms of millenia when speaking of Beowulf. Though it's old - have I mentioned that it's old - age is definitely not the sole, or even the best, reason for reading the poem. Flinging oneself into Beowulf is almost like flinging oneself into another language (if one wants to argue that Old English may as well be another language, then there you go). Simply speaking, Beowulf is still read because it is a poetic masterpiece. It's not read because the monsters go "boo" or because it's considered the prequel to "The Lord of The Rings"; it's read for the impact of its language and the themes that it explores. Of course the poem can be read for enjoyment on the level of an adventure tale. There are monsters, and they're scary, gruesome, and mean; there are also swords, gore, carnage, death, heroes, more swords, myth, partying, a vengeful mother monster, a fire-breathing dragon, and more swords. The Beowulf poet wove a good tale. Some parts spew drama. When Beowulf seeks out Grendel's mother to kill her in vengeance for terrorizing the town, he must submerge himself in a pool of horrid things, holding his breath for the best part of a day. When he finds her his ancient sword fails him. A claustrophobic scene ensues that hydrophobes should skip. Nonetheless, a cursory surface reading obscures the rich interwoven text and meanings that peek just under the surface of what seems to be - to a modern reader, at least - a heroic adventure tale.

Just what the poem is about remains somewhat controversial. The incredible essays included in this Norton Critical Edition bring the poem, its history, and its controversies to life. J.R.R. Tolkien's famous and groundbreaking critique of Beowulf heads up the critical section. Also included are analyses of the structure of the poem(is it analogous to interwoven tapestries and designs of the Anglo-Saxons?), its religious tone (is it Pagan or Christian or both?), is it critical of the heroic life (does heroism lead to ruin), is it a statement on the impermanence of greatness? Was Beowulf deified? There's so much to munch on that a list of questions, controversies, and potential resolutions would be exhausting and inevitably incomplete. Leave it to say that the section of criticism allows one to read Beowulf at a higher level and discover just why this old thing is still around.

The translation by 1995 Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney reads wonderfully. No parallel Old English text is included. Heaney's introducton is amazing. It points out salient sections of the poem where the impact of the text is greatest. Heaney directs the reader to Beowulf's funeral where a Geat woman wails and mourns not only the passing of Beowulf but the impending destruction of her culture by foreign invaders now that their defending hero is gone. Heaney's introduction should be read by all Beowulf readers.

Also included are discussions about the archeology of Beowulf. Photos of artifacts and sites provide imagery for the setting of the poem. The boar-crested helmets are worth the price alone.

Beowulf is worth reading. It can be read on many levels: on the level of poetic analysis, historical analysis, philological analysys, as a monster tale, as one of the oldest poems in the english language, or for enjoyment. Big imposing degrees are not required (though admittedly some of the criticism can get heady and academic; this is not a beginner's guide or "Beowulf for Morons"). Open up. Grendel, Mamma, and Dragon await...
49 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but stay with Donaldson July 29 2005
By Ira Abrams - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I am a dissenter from the hype surrounding Seamus Heaney's new translation. I prefer Donaldson for two important reasons: the transparency of the translation and the translator's humble willingness to let stand archaic implications that may seem absurb or offensive to most people today.

On a technical level, Donaldson--much more consistently than Heaney--reproduces Old English compounded words and phrases with Modern equivalents. He does this with accuracy and freshness--if not with seamless grace as some readers would prefer. The great advantage of Donaldson's approach is that the reader who does not read OE can at least imagine that she can second-guess the translator, and can feel the raw, rugged texture of the original. Even my 12th grade (inner city high school) students who have bought Heaney's version have become irate at a number of crucial points where the complexity preserved by Donaldson has been eliminated by Heaney.

A second point--or a second way of looking at the same point--concerns interpretation. With all due respect to Heaney, he has an agenda related to the future of the European Union, and I suspect that this motivated or influenced his approach to the translation of Beowulf. Heaney is presenting, via the seminal text of Beowulf, a vision of the origins of European politcs that he believes will ultimately lay a foundation for its future viability and humanity.

Heaney's version is this a much more creative endeavor than was Donaldson's. Where Donaldson allows seeming incoherencies to emerge for the modern reader, Heaney makes things make sense. The main difference here lies in the treatment of the hero. For Heaney, Beowulf is an unambiguous ideal figure. Donaldson, on the other hand, preserves the original ambiguity of a hero who is physically similar to the monsters he fights in his superiority to ordinary men.

There's no translation without interpretation, but there's also a question of degree of control to consider. Heaney's translation falls in line with the unfortunate tradition of Raffel, whose Procrustean approach privileged modern sensibility above everything else. Heaney is much better than Raffel, but Donaldson is one of those rare translations that has and will continue to stand the test of time because he didn't try too hard to be a person of his time.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes it's good to be critical Feb. 4 2007
By Jack - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I had already bought Heaney's "A New Verse Translation" before I needed to buy this edition for a university class. That said, if you're only looking for a translation of the poem with no frills, buy the "New Verse Translation" because it's got the text in parallel with the original Anglo-Saxon. But if you're interested in Beowulf criticism and related anthropology then pick up this edition, because half the book is critical essays, including Tolkein's seminal work.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent edition Aug. 30 2006
By Nouche - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a beautiful translation that captures the tone and tenor of Old English. Although it eschews the alliterative line essential to Old English poetry, Heaney's rendering is magically evocative of the somber stoicism and occasionally wry understatement of this seminal poem. The critical commentary provides a nice general scholarly apparatus that helps one contextualize and better appreciate the poem and the achievement of Heaney as a modern day "scop" through whom the original - alas anonymous - poet speaks.
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