Beowulf A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

Beowulf A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

Classic Epic poetry

Original title – Beowulf

Source – review copy

I haven’t reviewed a lot of poetry over the years of the blog which is strange as I have a lot of poetry on my shelves that I tend to dip in and out of so when I was given the chance to read a reworking of the great Anglo Saxon Poem Beowulf. In the acknowledgments for the book Maria said she came up with the idea of translating Beowulf when she was up for a world fantasy prize for her acclaimed book The Mere Wife how she had used a translation of Beowulf in the research for the book and was asked in the Q & A when her translation would be out she decided to pick up the Baton. As for me, I did read the Seamus Heaney about the time it came out as there was such acclaim for that book as it made the poem more accessible but I always feel language moves and there is always room for new angles at old works if it brings something new to the table. as Borges said in his poem about his thought on translating Beowulf.

Poem Written in a Copy of Beowulf

At various times, I have asked myself what reasons
moved me to study, while my night came down,
without particular hope of satisfaction,
the language of the blunt-tongued Anglo-Saxons.

Used up by the years, my memory
loses its grip on words that I have vainly
repeated and repeated. My life in the same way
weaves and unweaves its weary history. Borges

The opening of Beowulf in the new translation!

Bro! Tell me we still know how to speak of kings! in the days

Everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound.Only stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes song hoarded for hugry times

Their first father was a foundling: Scyld Scefing.

He spent his youth fists up, browbeating every barstool-brother, bonfiring his enemies. That man began in the waves, a baby in a basket.

but he bootstrapped his way into a kingdom, trading loneliness for luxury. Whether they thought kneeling necessary or no, everyone from head to tail of the whale-road bent down:

There’s a king, there’s his crown!

Thats a good King

The opening 11 lines of Beowulf !!

 

Beowulf follows the hero of the Title as he heads from Anglo Saxon England (Although England is never mentioned in the text as Q (Arthur Quiller-Couch) pointed out in a lecture in his work “On the art of writing”. he travels to help the king of the Dane who has lost many of his best men to the monster Grendel. he offers his help to kill Grendel and creature that has been terrorizing the kingdom since the creature is meant to be descended from Cain a nod to biblical connection in the origin of the book. They celebrate when Beowulf kills him with his own hands and then on the next night they are attacked by Grendel mother as Beowulf isn’t there but when he arrives back there follows a great battle Beowulf returns home and is made king of his own land only many years later to die fighting a dragon now this is the story but what Maria has done is made it easier to get into with the use of street terms and add a little more flow to the prose.

 

Hidden by fog,grendel roved the moors, God-cursed

Grudge worsening. He knew who hunted:

wine-drunk, mead-met men, and he oined

for his prey. Under storms clouds, he stalked them,

in his usual anguish, feeling a forbidden hearth,

that gulded hall stop the hill, gleaming still,

through years of bloodshed.This was not

the first time he’d hunted in Hrothgar’s hall,

butnever before nor later had he such hard luck.

no one worthyhad historically lain in wait

10 lines from early on in the book just show you how the book pops.

Christopher Hitchens said in his review of Harry Potter many years ok said it would spark a revival of anglo Saxon works like Beowulf as it has since the likes of Tolkien and C S lewis been interwoven with the world of fantasy as well. With dragons, quests warriors it has a link to Fantasy and also back to greek epics but what Maria has done is make it also sound modern with her use of street slang with words like Bro. She has also made it bloody it’s almost as though it has mixed a Nordic noir with an episode of Vikings and has also made the female characters appear a little more than I remembered in the Heaney translation. This is a great new version of the book if you haven’t read it this may be the edition for you if you like a=fantasy or greek epics this is the bridge between those works a cornerstone of English literature given a new breath of life for a new generation !!

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Mar 12, 2021 @ 00:45:20

    This one is on my radar… I requested a copy from the publisher but no luck, and I haven’t seen a copy in the bookshops yet.
    Just as well, since I have more than enough to read at the moment!

    Reply

  2. Janakay | YouMightAsWellRead
    Mar 13, 2021 @ 16:58:01

    I’ve been dipping in and out of Headley’s Beowulf translation since it was published (o.k., let’s be honest — mostly out!). At one high energy point I did some spot comparisons with Seamus Heaney’s translation, which is a lovely, lively but far more traditional version. My verdict? I love both of them but would in most moods incline towards Headley. The New Yorker called it “a Beowulf for our moment” (the review is great BTW: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/08/31/a-beowulf-for-our-moment ) and I agree with you that this might be the version to try if previous versions haven’t worked for you. As a side benefit, I love Headley’s feminist tilt, evident in her treatment of Grendel’s mother! (did you know that Headley has done a modern re-telling of Beowulf, called “The Mere Wife”?)

    Reply

  3. Trackback: That was the month that was March 2021 and Booker reaction | Winstonsdad's Blog

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