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Composed towards the end of the first millennium, the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf is one of the great Northern epics and a classic of European literature. In his new translation, Seamus Heaney has produced a work which is both true, line by line, to the original poem, and an expression, in its language and music, of something fundamental to his own creative gift.
The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on, physically and psychically exposed, in that exhausted aftermath. It is not hard to draw parallels between this story and the history of the twentieth century, nor can Heaney’s Beowulf fail to be read partly in the light of his Northern Irish upbringing. But it also transcends such considerations, telling us psychological and spiritual truths that are permanent and liberating.
'The whole performance is wonderfully intermediate - poised between the Bible and folk wisdom, between the Light Ages and the Dark Ages - and at the same time pulverisingly actual in its language. He has made a masterpiece out of a masterpiece.' Andrew Motion, Financial Times
Anglo-Saxon verse is celebrated for its alliterative riffs, its ringing and singing, and ... Heaney does it full justice ... Beneath the battledress, Beowulf is a peacemaker, a man who eases trouble. This fine translation is worth our trouble too.
Heaney has turn to Beowulf, and the result is magnificent, breathtaking ... Heaney has created something imperishable and great that is stainless - stainless, because its force as poetry makes it untouchable by the claw of literalism it lives singly, as an English language poem
The translation itself rides boldly through the reefs of scholarship ... Beowulf, an elegy for heroism and a critique of feud and fratricide, is alive and well.
Heaney's excellent translation has the virtue of being both direct and sophisticated, making previous versions look slightly flowery and antique by comparison. His intelligence, fine ear and obvious love of the poem bring Beowulf alive as melancholy masterpiece, a complex Christian-pagan lament about duty, glory, loss and transience... Heaney has done it (and us) a great service.
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