Heaney’s mastery

Beowulf’s bane by Charles Keeping

Beowulf: A New Translation
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber & Faber, 1999.

Over the years I’ve acquired a handful of titles designed to render the language of Beowulf accessible to the modern reader, for example prose renditions by R K Gordon (1922) and by G N Garmonsway and Jacqueline Simpson (1967), and a verse presentation by Michael Alexander (1973) designed to capture the style and mannerisms of the Anglo-Saxon poem but in more contemporary English.

But of all the translations, modernised versions and other paraphrases of Beowulf I’ve looked at over several decades Heaney’s has been the most readable and, I rather think, the most enjoyable.

Enjoyable for expressing the spirit of the original in a form that’s easily comprehended – for making it a delight to revisit the familiar tale when all the component parts were finally revealed to me as hanging together in harmony – enjoyable too for allowing me to witness a modern interpreter taking care with language just as the original anonymous poet did with his epic tale.

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