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5.0 out of 5 stars A poetic presentation of Western Civilization, July 14 2000
This review is from: Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (Hardcover)
This classic Anglo-Saxon poem was created by an unknown poet sometime between 700 and 1000 A.D. It was reduced to writing much later than that and has been turned into modern English prose by numerous translators. Since the nineteenth century, Beowulf has been a staple in college prep English classes throughout the English-speaking world.
Nobel laureate in poetry, Seamus Heaney has created a glistening translation of Beowulf. It shines in part because it is a translation in poetic form and in part because Heaney is an Ulster-born Irishman whose native tongue emphasizes the harsh consonants that drive the mood and meter of Beowulf. This book won England's prestigious Whitbread Award.
We meet Beowulf as a young warrior from Southern Sweden who travels to Denmark to slay the Dragon Grendel. After defeating Grendel, he has little time to boast because Grendel's mother seeks revenge for the death of her son. Here is Heaney describing the place where Grendel's mother lives (note that a mere is a lake or pond):
"A few miles from here
a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch
above a mere; the overhanging bank
is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface.
At night there, something uncanny happens:
the water burns. And the mere bottom
has never been sounded by the sons of men.
On its banks, the heather-stepper halts:
the hart in flight from pursuing hounds
will turn to face them with firm set horns
and die in the wood rather than dive
beneath its surface. That is no good place."
Beowulf defeats her, in her underwater lair, although it is a close call. From these victories his legend grows. He becomes the King of his land and rules wisely for fifty years. Near the end, yet another dragon marauds the land and Beowulf, even as an old man, is asked to take up the sword again . Once again he slays a dragon, but, this time, the price of victory is his life. The funeral pyre that cradles him also provides lasting glory to his name. The background of this poem is the teutonic warrior tradition of courage, loyalty, honor, generosity and glory. Warriors boast in the mead halls at night and deliver against those boasts by day .... or die trying.
This poem is at the very core of Western Civilization and Heaney's translation makes English-speaking readers proud to be the inheritors of that tradition. Here are 200 pages of poetry, with the original Old English poem on the verso and Heaney's contemporary English poem on the recto. Read this book! Everything virtuous about our heritage is on display for your delectation, delight and awe.
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Location: Orinda, CA USA

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