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Beowulf: A Verse Translation Paperback – Apr 29 2003
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From the Back Cover
One of the most universally studied of the English classics, Beowulf is considered the finest heroic poem in Old English. Written ten centuries ago, it celebrates the character and exploits of Beowulf, a young nobleman of the Geats, a people of southern Sweden.
Beowulf first rescues the royal house of Denmark from two marauding monsters, then returns to rule his people for 50 years, ultimately losing his life in a battle to defend the Geats from a dragon's rampage. The poem combines mythical elements, Christian and pagan sensibilities, and actual historical figures and events in a narrative that ranges from vivid descriptions of fierce fighting and detailed portrayals of court life to earnest considerations of social and moral dilemmas. Originally written in Old English verse, it is presented here in an authoritative prose translation by R.K. Gordon.
About the Author
Michael Alexander (translator) is Berry Professor of English Literature at the University of St Andrews. He has translated The Earliest English Poems, The Canterbury Tales: The First Fragment, and Beowulf for Penguin.
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Top Customer Reviews
The translation from Old English came through nicely and even had some flow. Beowulf may be the most important Old English poem, but it is also an important Germanic epic poem, and little seems lost or changed by the Christian writers.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There is so very little wrong with this translation that I'll get it out of the way. While the poem is generally very readable and smooth, there are a few places that read clumsily or just sound strange. Alexander also chooses to alter the spelling of some names for the sake of understanding or pronunciation. I generally dislike this in a translation, but it's a matter of preference and doesn't detract from the enjoyability of this epic.
That said, this is still one of the best editions of Beowulf available today, and makes an excellent companion piece to a bilingual edition of the Heaney translation or a student edition of the original text itself. Great reading for anyone interested in Anglo-Saxon, epic literature, or good stories in general.
As for why you would want to read Beowulf in whatever edition, the main thing is that it is the great poem of the English language. No one will dispute that Shakespeare is our language's greatest playwright, and few would dispute that the prosody of the King James Bible overwhelms that of any other prose work, or maybe even that the Lord of the Rings may be our greatest novel, but for epic poetry, ORIGINAL epic poetry, is there anything like Beowulf in English? It must have stood out in its day as the greatest poem ever, considering like I mention above, the expense involved in its production, and no one has ever since, in English, written a poem so great in scope, and so representative of the experience of English-speaking civilization. Spencer tried, but his allegorical figures hold no mystery - they beat you over the head with their meanings and the moral lessons you, a corrupt creature, are supposed to learn from them. Chaucer, though great too, bundles a collection of tales together about a trip to a church. Milton, who seems to have based his greatest poem on another Anglo-Saxon poem in his friend's collection, is retelling something we can find in Genesis. Beowulf treats the Danish ancestors of the English before they crossed the sea to England. It's a lovely reminder that we in North America are no more separated from the homeland of our language than they of our language's supposed homeland from their own. Beowulf has achieved national epic status in England for good reason, and more than this, it has achieved pan-national epic status for the entire English-speaking world. This is quite the triumph for the resident poet of some Anglo-Saxon king and his many sheep, so long ago. They put in their great effort, the sheep sacrificing their very lives even, to preserve and propagate this awesome work. The poem fought the ravages of time and fire, and is now preserved and sprung anew from the ashes, like the phoenix, to provide great solace and sustenance for us, the Anglo-Saxons' linguistic inheritors, today, in our brief flit though this lighted mead-hall of life.
I read Beowulf in English Lit and it was one of the influences that lead me to my major.
I love the language, the compound words, and the tale itself. It's fun to read out loud, giving the experience more flavor. I read it originally with the modern translation and Anglo-Saxon side by side. It was fantastic to listen to when the professor read parts of it.
That said I prefer the translation by Seamus Heaney and reading it in paperback, having the translation with original A-S on the facing page.
In general, I found Alexander's translation of this poem to be good. He obviously tries to keep close to the original and this is appreciated. However, since this is the apparent aim, the lack of a facing page translation format hurts this goal somewhat.
All in all, this is a good translation of an important work.