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Translating Beowulf: Modern Versions in English Verse

Translating Beowulf: Modern Versions in English Verse

Hugh Magennis
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 254
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  • Book Info
    Translating Beowulf: Modern Versions in English Verse
    Book Description:

    `A senior scholar writing here at the height of his powers and bringing experience and insight to an important topic... the second chapter is one of the best short, general introductions to the artistry of the poem I have read...A dizzying and engaging na

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-837-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. List of abbreviations
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. 1 Beowulf and Translation
    (pp. 1-26)

    Throughout its modern history the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf has inspired translations into Modern English. In the last century and a half or so, some forty verse translations have appeared in print, producing a range of different takes on the Old English poem, in everything from iambic pentameter, to jaunty ballad rhyme, to strict Old English metre, and even more prose translations have been produced.¹ Meanwhile, Beowulf has been a source of interest too for literary translators/adaptors in a broader sense and for other creative artists, though interestingly it has only entered into popular culture to a significant degree in recent...

  7. 2 Approaching the Poetry of Beowulf
    (pp. 27-40)

    The present chapter takes us back to Beowulf itself, presenting a discussion of its poetry and poetics in the historical context of the larger tradition to which the poem belongs. Having briefly explored key poetic features of Beowulf in general terms, it will go on to focus on two specific illustrative passages from the poem (lines 1–11 and 867b–74). In subsequent chapters we will be considering the responses of modern verse translators to the features covered in this chapter and we will also be looking at versions of the illustrative passages in some translations.

    Beowulf is viewed in...

  8. 3 Reception, Perceptions, and a Survey of Earlier Verse Translations of Beowulf
    (pp. 41-80)

    Subsequent chapters will focus particularly on verse translations of Beowulf from Edwin Morgan’s on, covering the period from the 1950s down to the present. There were plenty of attempts at rendering Beowulf in English verse before Morgan, of course, and I wish to give an overview of these before coming to the more recent period. In the present chapter I will sketch in something of the earlier larger reception history of Beowulf in the modern era and trace some inherited and changing perceptions of it, with particular reference to the history of its translation into verse. I have already referred...

  9. 4 Edwin Morgan: Speaking to his Own Age
    (pp. 81-108)

    Edwin Morgan had a clear aim in mind when he published his translation of Beowulf in 1952.¹ As he brings out in the manifesto-like ‘Introduction’ to the translation and indicates in its very title, Beowulf: A Verse Translation into Modern English, he wanted to produce a version of Beowulf in the living medium of modern English poetry, a version that, while properly guided by its author’s commitment to ‘the care of accuracy’,² is written for the reader of poetry and that works as poetry. As he worked on Beowulf, Morgan had already produced or was working on translations into Modern...

  10. 5 Burton Raffel: Mastering the Original to Leave It
    (pp. 109-134)

    Burton Raffel’s translation of Beowulf appeared in 1963, eleven years after that of Edwin Morgan. Raffel would go on to be a prolific and admired translator of poetry (and prose) from many languages, ancient and modern, but, as was the case with Morgan, his translation of Beowulf comes from early in his literary career. It is the confident and energetic work of a young writer, and it comes indeed from a time that was one of ostensible confidence and optimism in the larger dominant culture as well. Like Morgan, having previously done translations of other Old English poems,¹ Raffel had...

  11. 6 Michael Alexander: Shadowing the Old English
    (pp. 135-160)

    The version of Beowulf by the British translator Michael Alexander appeared in 1973, when Alexander was in his early thirties.¹ He had studied English at Oxford, receiving his training in Old English from Christopher Tolkien, Bruce Mitchell and others, and had embarked upon what would be a successful – and wide-ranging – academic career. Alexander had published some original lyric poems in the early 1960s, eventually collected together in an elegant small volume published in 1978,² but most of his poetry has been translations from the Old English, among which his most signal achievement has been the translation of Beowulf....

  12. 7 Seamus Heaney: A Living Speech Raised to the Power of Verse
    (pp. 161-190)

    Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf was published in 1999 to a reception that was mostly very enthusiastic indeed. Attracting a level of interest unprecedented in recent times for a verse publication, the translation caught the imagination of modern readers, even having lengthy stints at the top of the best-seller lists in Britain and Ireland and in the United States. It was praised by poetry critics for its freshness and vigour, and, for the most part, Anglo-Saxon scholars approved of the translation too.¹ They hailed it as a sensitive and generally accurate rendering of the great Old English poem, based on...

  13. 8 Other Post-1950 Verse Translations
    (pp. 191-216)

    In addition to the four discussed in previous chapters, many other English-language verse translators have been busy on Beowulf in the past fifty years or so, particularly in America. Earlier in the book I noted the comment from the prose translator David Wright in 1957, ‘Almost everyone has heard of Beowulf.’¹ That was overstating things then and would be today as well, but Beowulf – though not in the original language – is now known about more widely than at any time in the past. Recent film versions have brought it into popular culture, its association with the magic name...

  14. 9 Epilogue
    (pp. 217-220)

    A veritable industry of popular Beowulf adaptations and spin-offs has been in evidence in recent years, bringing our hero to life on the page, on the stage, on the cinema/television screen, and on the computer/game-console screen. Beowulf has made it into popular culture at last.¹ There is supposed to be no such thing as bad publicity, and so this unprecedented popular attention to the story of Beowulf and its hero should be taken as good news for the poem. The new versions of Beowulf may even eventually bring some people to the poem itself, curious to sample the original.


  15. Bibliography of works cited
    (pp. 221-240)
  16. Index
    (pp. 241-246)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-247)