Summary and book reviews of Beowulf by Seamus Heaney

Beowulf

A New Verse Translation

by Seamus Heaney

Beowulf
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2000, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2001, 215 pages

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Book Summary

Heaney gives these epic qualities new and convincing reality for the contemporary reader.

Composed toward the end of the first millennium of our era, Beowulf is the elegiac narrative of the adventures of Beowulf, a Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel's mother. He then returns to his own country and dies in old age in a vivid fight against a dragon. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on in the exhausted aftermath. In the contours of this story, at once remote and uncannily familiar at the end of the twentieth century, Seamus Heaney finds a resonance that summons power to the poetry from deep beneath its surface.

Drawn to what he has called the "four-squareness of the utterance" in Beowulf and its immense emotional credibility, Heaney gives these epic qualities new and convincing reality for the contemporary reader.

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved,
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.


Afterwards a boy-child was born to Shield,
a cub in the yard, a comfort sent
by God to that nation. He knew what they had tholed,
the long times and troubles they'd come through
without a leader; so the Lord of Life,
the glorious Almighty, made this man renowned.
Shield had fathered a famous son:
Beow's name was known through the north.
And a young prince must be prudent like that,
giving freely while his father ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Independent (UK) - Blake Morrison

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.

Financial Times - Andrew Motion

Heaney's introduction does everything it should to dust down and exhibit the poem, exploring its origins, investigating its form and establishing its structure ... Heaney has caught the balance of these things brilliantly; he has made a masterpiece out of a masterpiece.

The Guardian - James Wood

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 Observer (UK) - Michael Alexander

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.

Evening Standard - Claire Harman

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.

Reader Reviews

Miss America

I like totally read this book and watched the movie to it. And it was like really awesome and everything, you know. I just thought like wow! people could actually write in the 8th century. Reading Beowulf was like an etreme adventure into wherever ...   Read More

Will

This is the greatest work of literature produced onto paper in the 8th century. Why would it not be one of the grandest adventure stories ever?

Emily Jordan

I think that this was the best poem ever. please launch it on your website so i can read it over and over again.

matthew tucker

this book challenged my most upmost reading skills.

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