Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Beowulf by Anonymous, translated by Seamus Heaney

genre: epic poem :)

Have you heard of Beowulf?  That glorious warrior who comes to help the Danes defeat the monster Grendel?  Heaney's verse translation of this poem is a beautiful thing indeed, wrapping the powerful language into the most lyrical of packages (lyrical and beautifully graphic and violent, if that's even possible - I could not get over the phrase "wound slurry :).  Of course, it's really just one long battle-story after another.  Dragons to fight, wrongs to avenge, scores to settle.  But Beowulf, he just rises above it all.  He's this perfect hero, brave and full of honor, putting his duty above his own desires.  He fights like a maniac and puts all other warriors to shame - it's a hero story you can just imagine fathers telling their sons by firelight. 

Even though it's in verse, it was a bit slow going for me.  All the names are so unfamiliar and I finally just skipped over some of the parts that are just telling other, non-relevant stories.  THANK YOU to Seamus Heaney for giving us those little summaries on the sidebar.  One thing I found very interesting is how very much the Christian God is a part of this narrative.  God's will and God's power are constantly evoked - and even the outcomes of battles are said to be in God's hands.  Clearly this people had been converted at some point and so it's strange to have this dragon and monster story interwoven with a non-mythical God.  I liked it, actually, that juxtaposition.  I'll end with one of my favorite lines:
They knew too well the way it was before,
how often the Danes had fallen prey
to death in the mead-hall.  But the Lord was weaving
a victory on His war-loom for the Weather-Geats.

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bermudaonion said...

I struggled with this book. My son read it in it's original form in college and loved it.

reviewsbylola said...

I read this in college and remember liking it more than I expected. I would never have read it though had it not been assigned!

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