Friday, June 15, 2007

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

Here's another one I can add to the "books I never read in school but should have" pile. I would've enjoyed reading this book in a classroom setting. Particularly in college. Beowulf was a wonderful experience made even more enjoyable by Seamus Heaney's mastery of the English language.

Beowulf is a 3,182 line epic poem written "sometime towards the end of the first millennium A.D." It is the story of Beowulf, a hero called upon to rid a city from a monster named Grendel who is descended from Cain of biblical reference. The poem follows Beowulf through his battles, ceremonies, and his remaining days.

The translation here is phenomenal and I enjoyed Heaney's use of language as much as I enjoyed the story. This passage for example, painted a delightfully creepy image for me of the place leading to where Grendel's mother lived:

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 bank, 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.

This version was nice because it also included the entire text written in it's original old-English. Not that I could read or understand any of it, but it was nice to be able to make out the couple of word origins that I could. It also has little notes in the margin to explain some things that may not always be so obvious to the reader. Very pleasurable experience here.

What made me even more excited was that as I was reading this, I continually reminded myself that Neil Gaiman has written a screenplay for Beowulf. No word on when and if the film will be filmed and/or released, but no doubt that would be an amazing thing.

I'm glad that I read this one and am looking forward to Grendel by John Gardner next which is the story through the monster's eyes. Should be interesting!


Kim said...

I don't think I ever recovered from the graphic scene in the translation I read (in sixth grade no less).

Beowulf is forever the story of the little green monster who's arm got chopped off in a fountain of gore.

Glad you enjoyed it though!

Chris said...

Lol...I can imagine that being a bit traumatic in sixth grade Kim. I must say that I'm glad this wasn't thrown at me at that age. Great description though! I like that one ;)

Nymeth said...

I've read countless retellings of Beowulf, but I've been meaning to read the real thing before the upcoming movie. I wasn't sure which translation to pick, though, so thank you for the recommendation!

The movie's been filmed already, btw, and it's currently in post-production. According to imdb, the release date is this November already!

Court said...

I read parts of this in one of my classes in college, but have never read the whole thing. This sounds like it would be a really good translation to read once I actually get around to it. :)

Rhinoa said...

I have this version to read at some point. It is supposed to be one of the best translations out there. I am really looking forward to it and I am glad you enjoyed it and will look out for the screenplay.

Carl V. said...

I think alot of the Gaiman Beowulf film is done. He and Roger Avary did the script and I'm pretty sure the voice acting is all done. It is being done by the same people who did Polar Express on that form of animation is supposed to be miles more impressive than it was when they did P.E.

Wikipedia shows it as a November 21st release. That would be cool, since that is my birthday.

There is an official website with little on it except the cast names and it says November 2007 as well:

I love how Grendel and his mother are used in the Shadow novella, Monarch of the Glen. Look forward to the Gaiman film.

Chris said...

This one was great Nymeth. I really recommend it. Quixotic recommended this one to me and I'm so glad she did. Oh wow! Didn't know the movie had been filmed...that's GREAT news!!

Court, It was so good and I read it in maybe an hour and a half. It's an easy one to fit in. I really recommend it!

Rhinoa, Hope you enjoy it when you get around to it! If you check out Nymeth's comment above, it's apparently been updated from a screenplay to being released in November!

Carl, WOW! I'm so excited now. Silly me did no research on the Beowulf film before I posted this and now between you and Nymeth I've found that I don't have to wait long at all for this treat! Yay!

Petunia said...

I plan to listen to this book on CD in a couple of weeks when I go on vacation. I was told that Heaney reads the story and that it's fabulous. I am looking forward to it.

Chris said...

Hey Petunia! Thanks for stopping by! I didn't know that there was a version out there of Heaney actually reading it. That's so cool! I'll have to check that out.

Fence said...

I studied Beowulf at college. Not very well, but I did read it. Have been meaning to try Heaney's translation as he is a great poet. Must check if we have it at work.

Chris said...

Hey Fence, It's a great one...mind you it's the only one I've read, but I really enjoyed it ;)

Darla D said...

I remember when I read it in high school, our teacher played us a recording of some Beowulf scholar reading it in the old English. It was pretty cool (even to a jaded teenager) to hear it read by someone who presumably had an idea what he was doing.

Our translation (in the Norton anthology, I think it was) was nothing like the part you quoted. I look forward to revisiting this version in the future - thanks!

Chris said...

That sounds really cool Darla! This version was great. I really enjoyed it.