Skip

BEOWULF: A new translation [free download]
August 25, 2012 2:42 PM   Subscribe

BEOWULF: A new translation Many modern Beowulf translations, while excellent in their own ways, suffer from what Kathleen Biddick might call “melancholy” for an oral and aural way of poetic making… The sense of loss or nostalgia for the old form seems a necessary and ever-present shadow over modern Beowulfs. What happens, however, when a contemporary poet, quite simply, doesn’t bother with any such nostalgia? Michael Davidson: "Tom Meyer’s Beowulf reenacts the dark grandeur of a poem that is as much a story of vengeance as it is of courage and loyalty. Meyer brings the poem’s alliterative, inflected line in concert with post-Poundian lineation to give the reader a vivid sense of our oldest poem’s modernity." Free download from independent publisher Punctum Books.
The eyes of Hygelac’s kin watched the wicked raider
execute his quick attack:
without delay,
snatching his first chance,
a sleeping warrior,
he tore him in two,
chomped muscle, sucked veins’
gushing blood,
gulped down his morsel, the dead man,
chunk by chunk,
hands, feet & all.
posted by the mad poster! (47 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's easy to miss that you can download the whole book as a PDF for free.
posted by localroger at 3:05 PM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yay, CC license! As soon as I saw this I thought "I would love to have a chunk of that text on my wall." Now to decide which chunk...
posted by cali at 3:09 PM on August 25, 2012


I always enjoy seeing how translators deal with the first word Hwaet - My tutor at university favoured 'Attend!', and was appalled when Seamus Heaney chose 'Listen!' instead, on the grounds that it's too banal.
I see that Meyer has chosen 'Hey'. It works just fine for me, but I'm not sure my tutor would have been exactly bowled over...
posted by Monkeymoo at 3:49 PM on August 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


Monkeymoo: "Seamus Heaney chose 'Listen!' instead, on the grounds that it's too banal. I see that Meyer has chosen 'Hey'. It works just fine for me, but I'm not sure my tutor would have been exactly bowled over..."

It could have been worse...
posted by Strange Interlude at 3:54 PM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am enjoying this, but can I fix the typo on pg 48 (Gendel)?
posted by zangpo at 4:00 PM on August 25, 2012


Hard to beat the Seamus Heaney translation for me, but I will give it a look. And a free download is good.
posted by Isadorady at 4:05 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, a single-word opening phrase that's supposed to be striking and attention-grabbing is like translator tequila. Sadly, though, George Walkden argues (quite convincingly in my view) that this contemporary interpretation of the opening hwæt is incorrect.
posted by No-sword at 4:09 PM on August 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


While I'd nominate "Hey, Wait!" as a way to translate that first word based simply on how it looks to this english speaker, I suspect that the actual translation should be "Yo! Listen up!"
posted by hippybear at 4:47 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Has anyone else read far enough to get to the ents and orcs yet? Surprised me a bit. Page 46.
posted by not that girl at 4:53 PM on August 25, 2012


Great post.

Interesting to ruminate over possible lineaments and ultimate origin of an unchristianized presumable prior version: Grendel as a remnant of a prior human population, displaced and exterminated by the invading Danes?

Of course, I would like him to have been a Yeti, or-- better yet-- a last surviving neandertal or neandertal half-breed.

As I understand it, Christianity had to contend with a bear cult of some kind (bears were sacred enough that we don't know the actual word for them in some area languages, I've heard) so maybe Grendel can be seen as a demi-deified bear.
posted by jamjam at 4:55 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I found this discussion of whether Grendel's mother was a monster or just a woman warrior interesting: Debates on Grendel's mother. You'd think most of the warrior style deeds were being done by men so how a female vengeance-seeking battler comes into the picture is interesting to ponder.
posted by the mad poster! at 5:02 PM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


BANG! like a flash that hard hearted, grim, greedy,
sick thing snatched 30 sleeping Danes &
jiggetyjig ran home again, fists full of blood candy.


Nice.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:27 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


While I'd nominate "Hey, Wait!" as a way to translate that first word based simply on how it looks to this english speaker, I suspect that the actual translation should be "Yo! Listen up!"

According to Urban Dictionary, the following are all acceptable translations of "hwæt": Hark, Lo, Wait, What, Listen, So, Now, Hey!, Hey you, Check it, Shut the fuck up, Look at Me! Look at Me!, Everyone listen to me right now or I'll tear you apart broken bone-locking by blood-drenched sinew.
posted by kenko at 5:31 PM on August 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, is this the right place to mention the very odd Gerard Butler film Beowulf & Grendel, which I'm not exactly sure what it was even after watching it a couple of times? Because it seems like it might be.
posted by hippybear at 5:36 PM on August 25, 2012


"Listen" is banal?

Maybe I'm too much influenced by Evan Connell, who, in Points for a Compass Rose, liked to start stanzas with that word, and he was always worth listening to.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:45 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love it when people argue over translation, it reveals so much about how each think. For the record, I think either "Listen" or "Hey" are good choices for a modern translation though I like "Listen" better. hippybear's suggestion made me think of "Oi!", and now I'm imagining the whole thing as a play set in 1980's London...
posted by cali at 5:58 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like to think of hwæt in terms of the 'YOU! Complete with finger pointing and glare of doom".
posted by geek anachronism at 6:03 PM on August 25, 2012


zangpo: I let the publishers know about the typo, and it's been fixed (and they thank you for catching it!).

(I know the publishers; they're great. I recommend poking about their site at some of their other publications, all of which are available for free pdf download, and many of which are very short books/long essays (say, fifty pages); I'm particularly fond of The Death of Conrad Unger, which is about the author's friend's suicide, and about parasites, and things like that.)
posted by Casuistry at 6:03 PM on August 25, 2012


Uh, misplaced close quote there.

"YOU!" then the gesture.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:04 PM on August 25, 2012


Had this translation been done today the opening word would translate as "I'mma let you finish but..."
posted by howfar at 6:15 PM on August 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Monkeymoo, my edition of Heaney's translation begins, "So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by ... "

Does Heaney translate "hwæt" as "listen" elsewhere? I can't read Anglo-Saxon, so I don't know.

Sorry for the derail. I'll have to check this translation out.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:02 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The single greatest thing about the Heaney translation is the audio book. It's good enough to read, but hearing the man himself deliver it is something else again.
posted by Craig Stuntz at 7:20 PM on August 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I second Craig Stuntz's recommendation of the Heaney audio book for an experience of that translation. And I remember the book (and the audio version as well) having either a foreword or afterword that discusses the use of "So." for Hwaet, why he used it and where it came from; I found it a convincing choice.

I'll be interested to read this new translation as well! The more the merrier, I say. (Besides...blood candy. Yow.)
posted by theatro at 7:28 PM on August 25, 2012


Jamjam, you've read Michael Crichton's book Eaters of the Dead, yeah? Because oh is it right up that alley.
posted by theatro at 7:31 PM on August 25, 2012


Seeing as it's an (old) English term, I would translate "hwæt" as Oi!
posted by orrnyereg at 8:22 PM on August 25, 2012


Also, I collect translations of Beowulf so it's great to have another one. Thanks very much for the post!
posted by orrnyereg at 8:23 PM on August 25, 2012


STAY a while, and LISTEN! /Deckard Cain
posted by Sebmojo at 8:35 PM on August 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have not read Beowulf in any form and know almost nothing about it, except that it's Old English and is about Viking-type dudes. Is this translation a good first read or is it only interesting as a curious experiment?
posted by vogon_poet at 9:35 PM on August 25, 2012


My husband and I are in the SCA and every summer we go to a huge medieval-type event (Pennsic). Our son is six, and this is his seventh year attending (we brought him as a tiny baby). This year, on our next to last day, a neighbor told him (along with a few other kids in our camp) a version of the first part of Beowulf as a bedtime story.

Now it's all Beowulf all the time at our house. We've gone through a short rhyming-couplet version I found in the internet, a lavishly illustrated children's book, and now I've found myself with my college copy of Norton's Anthology of English Literature on his bedside table as his bedtime reading as I work through a (fairly good) victorian-era translation of the entire tale. (Oh, and we also got him a Beowulf coloring book. Weird, I know.) If he asks for yet another go-round (as I suspect he will) I will absolutely turn to this one.

By the way, do not doubt that Beowulf is truly enthralling to an adventure-minded six year old. It has everything: monsters, battles, treasure, good and evil, kings, super-heroes, and no kissing parts. It's sparked discussions on what it means to be brave, what it means to be a good king vs. a poor king, of why Grendel might be jealous of the men, and has also stretched his mind to think about the story from the perspective of Grendel's mother.
posted by anastasiav at 9:47 PM on August 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


I have not read Beowulf in any form and know almost nothing about it, except that it's Old English and is about Viking-type dudes. Is this translation a good first read or is it only interesting as a curious experiment?

I envy you approaching Beowulf for the first time.

This translation is a pretty good one for a reader who is accustomed to modern styles of poetry. As far as the little I've perused it, anyway.

I can't speak to whether it's in any way definitive, but the story comes through rather well.
posted by hippybear at 9:51 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's sectioned off into Fits! Like Carroll's Hunting of the Snark! I are in love.
posted by egypturnash at 11:17 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looking at the conversation about hwæt, I had the realisation that it trsnslates into the Stargate word "kree".

I'm such a nerd.
posted by zoo at 12:37 AM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


"What the hell does 'kree' mean?"
"Well, actually, it means a lot of things. Loosely translated it means 'Attention', 'Listen up', 'Concentrate'."
"'Yoo-hoo'?"
"Yes, in a manner of speaking."

—Daniel Jackson, responding to Jack O'Neill
posted by zoo at 12:40 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


James Ellroy meets Grendel. May the best monster win.
posted by SteveLaudig at 4:34 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, Beowulf. I read the Heaney version in a weird course that counted for both lit and comp called "War Stories" which was run by a slightly (by reputation anyway) crazy German professor at Davidson called Scott Denham.

I read almost everything in that class - basically a book a week as I recall, except for when we read War & Peace, which as a college freshman, practically killed me. But Beowulf pretty much claimed my soul and that, along with taking a 101 level class with my to-be adviser (shout out to Dr. Barnes) sealed my obsession with taking every class ever about Medieval History - including reading Chaucer in the original.

So thanks for this. So many lovely memories of reading the Heaney and being mesmerized. Some years later my now-spouse got me the audiobook (on CDs!) and I think I'm going to have him burn that for me so I can enjoy it again on my commute.

LISTEN! I have to go to work!
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:48 AM on August 26, 2012


I once had someone tell me that you can't really understand Beowulf until you've heard it recited in a cave, around a fire, surrounded by hairy guys stomping out the rhythm.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:22 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I tried that and didn't really understand it even then. And I guess that's why I never made Eagle Scout.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:34 AM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you like Beowulf, might I recommend the Hildebrandslied? One of this (former German major)'s all-time favorites in terms of old Germanic lit...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:15 AM on August 26, 2012


And if you like Beowulf you can't miss Grendel, by John Gardner, funny, obscene, philosophical, strange, poetic, anthropological and short, for a novel. The conceit is that the monster tells the story. Grendel was, after all, part human (which is the basis for a lot of the philosophical bits about art, heroism, religion, politics, etc. This human/monster blend is interestingly explained in the the much maligned movie, which was partially a Neil Gaiman project).
posted by kozad at 8:47 AM on August 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


John Gardner's version attacks the Grendal knot without a sword: he pulls it apart with his teeth. Great read, all of what kozad said, plus irreverent splaying of heroes and their wet dreams.
posted by mule98J at 10:11 AM on August 26, 2012


It's sectioned off into Fits! Like Carroll's Hunting of the Snark! I are in love.

posted by egypturnash


Exactly what I thought! So I looked it up.

I don't know how much one can trust wiktionary, but here's their Old English entry (meaning song), and a Modern English definition that's appropriate. I guess Carroll was using it as an appropriate archaic word that had a funny modern meaning. I wonder if its archaic meaning was more familiar to Carroll's contemporaries than to us?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:01 AM on August 26, 2012


Rustic Etruscan: "So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by ... "

Hokay. So.
posted by Gordafarin at 3:19 PM on August 26, 2012


Monkeymoo, my edition of Heaney's translation begins, "So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by ...
Thanks - I stand corrected - I remember now. The word 'listen' must feature in a different translation.
posted by Monkeymoo at 5:23 PM on August 26, 2012


What the fuck happened here?
posted by homunculus at 10:43 PM on August 26, 2012


Jamjam, you've read Michael Crichton's book Eaters of the Dead, yeah?

Viking Answer Lady: Ibn Fadlan's Account of the Rus
posted by homunculus at 10:53 PM on August 26, 2012


The Neil Gaiman movie script is much more interesting that I had been expecting, especially if one's familiar with the original.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:23 AM on August 27, 2012


Monkeymoo, I caused my Anglo-Saxon prof to collapse in laughter by translating "hwaet as "yo." He admitted it worked literally, but perhaps didn't quite have the same emotional impact.

I look forward to reading this. The Chickering translation (still my favourite, although Heaney has the best cover) sucked me in to a life of heathenry, study and odd early medieval fandom. I'm still grateful to my high school English teacher for lending it to me.
posted by QIbHom at 10:32 AM on August 28, 2012


« Older "I like to entertain people, and apparently I...   |   Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time In America" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post