Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Unknown, Seamus Heaney (translator)|Battle Royale

Overview: The national bestseller and winner of the Whitbread Award. Composed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf is the classic Northern epic of a hero’s triumphs as a young warrior and his fated death as a defender of his people. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on, physically and psychically exposed in the exhausted aftermath. It is not hard to draw parallels in this story to the historical curve of consciousness in the twentieth century, but the poem also transcends such considerations, telling us psychological and spiritual truths that are permanent and liberating. (taken from Barnes & Noble)

Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic poem written in English. It influenced and inspired many generations of writers. Funny how the best source for finding ideas to write new stuff are from the old stuffs. This is because these ideas are timeless. We’d think that our generation is so much better and different with the technology and all but actually, some things never change.

Beowulf reminds me of many modern literary works. It reminds me of Battle Royale in particular. For those of you that don’t know, Battle Royale is a Japanese novel and the plot is sort of like The Hunger Games or Lord of the Flies (also a manga, a movie, and the novel is available in English translation as well. Google it if you want to find out more :D). Yeah, huge difference between a hero who fought monsters, and a class of 42 who had to kill each other on an island, but the cool part about literature is that it’s like a mirror that reflects ourselves. Thus, in essence, they are the same because they both reflect the people in our society today. There are the innocent victims, like the citizens in Beowulf who suffered from Grendel’s attacks, or Mayumi who died before even realizing that Battle Royale had begun. There are the people who does not feel for others, like Grendel who attacked Heorot (King Hrothgar’s mead-hall), or Kiriyama who killed the most people in BR. There are the people that will be perfectly harmless, minding their own business, until you decide to bother them in some way, like Grendel’s mother who sought vengeance for his son, or Chigusa who stabbed a guy to death because he threatened to rape her. There are the people who just simply want to get what they want, no matter how they do it, like the dragon that wanted his cup back, or Mitsuko who killed her classmates because she wants survival. Beowulf is like Shogo. They are the people that help others out even if it puts themselves in danger. These are the people we need the most in our society today, but why is it that there are only a handful of “Beowulfs” around us?

Many people would argue that we don’t need “Beowulfs” in our society today, because he is not modest and he is selfish. But imagine if Beowulf told Hrothgar that, “Maybe I will try to slay Grendel, but I don’t know if I could because I’m not that good.” If he is well aware of his ability, then why shouldn’t he comfort the people by showing his confidence in killing Grendel? As long as your actions are louder than your words, I think that’s fine. As for being selfish, he did pursuit glory and reputation, but I don’t think he did it for himself. We have to remember that everyone at that time is defined by their father and ancestors. If Beowulf was to live and have children, they would have an easier life when they grow up because of Beowulf’s reputation. People would help them out just like how Beowulf helped Hrothgar partly because Hrothgar did a favor for Ecgtheow, Beowulf’s father. Also, last words often reveal what the person cares about the most in his life. Beowulf’s last words were along the lines of, “Wilgar, watch the people’s needs,” meaning that he cares about his people having a rightful ruler after he dies the most. If he was selfish, he’d say, “Tell people about my story.” (Hamlet!) I don’t think that’s wrong, because we all want the best for our family, especially if we were to be obsessed with patriarchal history like them.

Because Beowulf is so old, most of us can only enjoy it in translations. I read Seamus Heaney’s version of Beowulf. Although this is the only version of Beowulf I’ve read, I thought that this version is easy to understand and at the same time, it preserves the beauty of the old English poem style by using the same techniques the Anglo-Saxon used.

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8 responses to “Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Unknown, Seamus Heaney (translator)|Battle Royale

  1. I googled it and am really surprised about the length of the poem. Over 3000 lines!

  2. They say beowulf, follows the idea of the “hero with a 1000 faces” In essence we retell the same story all the time, Its he same reason why you can score out bits of the plot from starwars and replace it with different terms and you get the plot of harry potter (no joke). It goes back to the epic of gilgamesh, essentially the oldest story written on stone tablets. but excellent post. still to read the full story of Beowulf myself, I have read extracts and read parodies, and retellings by authors like Neil gaiman and the likes (highly recommend it). ps. loved the BR reference amazing books!

  3. I’m reading this book in school this year 🙂

    • I hope you’ll like the book, I think Beowulf is a great example of how old ≠ boring 😀

      • I’m reading it now and it’s really a great translation. It’s interesting to read the English and then see what the old English looks like. I’m surprised how quick of a read it is =D

      • Lol the book I read from had the original Anglo-saxon poem right beside the translation so it was really fun to look at it and see if I can decode any words :D. But the story itself eventually took my focus away from that. And yes, it’s a short read. Pretty long for a poem though. ^_^

  4. I read this entire poem (in the SH translation) aloud to my son when he was ten. I kept offering him the option of stopping, thinking he’d find the language too remote, too incantatory, but he always replied, “Keep going!” Wonderful experience. Ken

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