Beowulf

August 9, 2008

Several years ago I printed a page from the college library’s card catalog. It said, Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney“, and it hung on my bulletin board, taunting me, passing time, accumulating a set of neighbors (Gilgamesh is still hanging there), but not getting read.

This finally changed earlier this summer when my daughter brought home a copy of Beowulf that she would be reading for her senior English class in the fall. Seeing my chance, I grabbed the book, brought it into my room, and gradually worked my way through it.

To my surprise, Heaney’s introduction was harder to grasp than the poem itself. The poem is wonderfully easy to read and I sailed through it. But I wound up re-reading the introduction and was glad I did. The introduction makes the poem more accessible, while the poem makes the introduction more powerful.

Much could be said about the hero, Beowulf. Comparisons with Jesus spring to mind (my daughter attends a Catholic high school), but I’ll leave that for her research paper. Beowulf and his ilk reminded me of the Klingons from Star Trek. Check out:

“It is always better

to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.

For every one of us, living in this world

means waiting for our end. Let whoever can

win glory before death.” 1384-1388

Other images:

“Grendel came greedily loping 711 / he grabbed and mauled a man on his bench 740 / bit into his bond-lappings, bolted down his blood 741 / and gorged on him in lumps 742

88-92 “It harrowed him [Grendel] / to hear the din of the loud banquet / every day in the hall, the harp being struck / and the clear song of a skilled poet / telling with mastery of man’s beginnings”

“I [Beowulf] had a fixed purpose when I put to sea 632 / I shall fulfill that purpose 636 / prove myself with a proud deed 637 / or meet my death here 638

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