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Beowulf: A New Translation

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A new, feminist translation of Beowulf by the author of The Mere Wife. Nearly twenty years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf — and fifty years after the translation that continues to torment high-school students around the world — there is a radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley, which brings to light elements never before transl A new, feminist translation of Beowulf by the author of The Mere Wife. Nearly twenty years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf — and fifty years after the translation that continues to torment high-school students around the world — there is a radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley, which brings to light elements never before translated into English. A man seeks to prove himself as a hero. A monster seeks silence in his territory. A warrior seeks to avenge her murdered son. A dragon ends it all. These familiar components of the epic poem are seen with a novelist’s eye toward gender, genre, and history. Beowulf has always been a tale of entitlement and encroachment — of powerful men seeking to become more powerful and one woman seeking justice for her child — but this version brings new context to an old story. While crafting her contemporary adaptation, Headley unearthed significant shifts lost over centuries of translation; her Beowulf is one for the twenty-first century.


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A new, feminist translation of Beowulf by the author of The Mere Wife. Nearly twenty years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf — and fifty years after the translation that continues to torment high-school students around the world — there is a radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley, which brings to light elements never before transl A new, feminist translation of Beowulf by the author of The Mere Wife. Nearly twenty years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf — and fifty years after the translation that continues to torment high-school students around the world — there is a radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley, which brings to light elements never before translated into English. A man seeks to prove himself as a hero. A monster seeks silence in his territory. A warrior seeks to avenge her murdered son. A dragon ends it all. These familiar components of the epic poem are seen with a novelist’s eye toward gender, genre, and history. Beowulf has always been a tale of entitlement and encroachment — of powerful men seeking to become more powerful and one woman seeking justice for her child — but this version brings new context to an old story. While crafting her contemporary adaptation, Headley unearthed significant shifts lost over centuries of translation; her Beowulf is one for the twenty-first century.

30 review for Beowulf: A New Translation

  1. 4 out of 5

    Warwick

    Never has there been a translation whose tone and argument are encapsulated so completely by the very first word of the text: translating the Old English Hwæt as ‘Bro!’ tells you more or less everything you need to know about what Maria Dahvana Headley is up to here. She's unlocked her word-hoard and used every nook and cranny of it in service of a very specific reading of the text. I really love Old English as a language, and have read Beowulf in the original more than once. But despite generall Never has there been a translation whose tone and argument are encapsulated so completely by the very first word of the text: translating the Old English Hwæt as ‘Bro!’ tells you more or less everything you need to know about what Maria Dahvana Headley is up to here. She's unlocked her word-hoard and used every nook and cranny of it in service of a very specific reading of the text. I really love Old English as a language, and have read Beowulf in the original more than once. But despite generally liking translation as a medium, I have never really liked any translation of Beowulf. I loved this, though. It does what I think the best translations always do, which is to write something completely new which translates the thoughts and ideas of the original without getting too distracted by the actual words. The thing is, what register should you use if you're translating a text from the Early Middle Ages? Most of the time, people go for the archaic stuff – words like ‘betwixt’, ‘verily’, you know, the things that tell you you're reading a serious poetic work. Tolkien said that if you didn't use archaisms, then you weren't doing justice to Beowulf at all, since much of its language would have been archaic even to its original audience (though this is very hard to be certain of). Seamus Heaney added a few regionalisms to the mix. Headley does use the odd archaism and regionalism – but her primary tool is an American ‘guy slang’, which is a wonderfully productive lens through which to read a poem like this one, concerned as it is with ‘manly virtues’. It cuts through the aphoristic vagueness of a line like Gǣð ā wyrd swā hīo scel (‘Fate will be as it will be’), reducing it to the pithy ‘Bro, Fate can fuck you up’, which is really what is meant. Individual translation choices are often glorious. Searwum fāh ‘decorated with artistry’ here becomes ‘blinged-out’, where again the audacity does not obscure the accuracy. It works particularly well in direct speech. When Beowulf is criticising one of the Danes for allowing Grendel to pillage at will, he says: hē hafað onfunden,    þæt hē þā fǣhðe ne þearf, atole ecg-þræce    ēower lēode swīðe onsittan [‘he'd found that there was no need to fear any enmity here, or any terrible sword-storm from your people’] Most translators stick to this fairly closely, often with some arty flourish in however they handle ecg-þræce. But Headley's approach gets right to the heart of the one-upmanship underlying this conversation: “Grendel was aware he had nothing to fear here. Your sword's soft, son.” In a similar vein, consider the bit where Hrothgar gives some advice to Beowulf. The original reads:   Ðū þē lǣr be þon, gum-cyste ongit!    Ic þis gid be þē āwræc wintrum frōd. [‘Learn from this, understand manly virtues. I who recite you this song am many winters old.’] Again, Headley drenches the passage in coded male dynamics: Listen to me, boy. Keep your shit straight. I've been fostered by frost-seasons, fathered by time, and I'm dropping knowledge now. It must be said that a lot of the time, as is probably already obvious, Headley is inventing freely. At one point Beowulf is described as being ‘swole as a troll’ – what a brilliant way to translate…whatever that is, I thought; but when I turned to the original, I realised it wasn't translating anything, it was just a random insertion of Headley's own devising, presumably for added ambiance. Something similar happens at Wealhtheow's appearance in the hall, when we get the half-line ‘Hashtag: blessed’ as a complete invention. Some of these novelties are rather cheeky: she describes the dragon's treasure, in passing, as a ‘pile of preciouses’ (which I love). How you feel about such things will depend on many factors, including your opinions on translation and your feelings about modern slang. I really enjoyed it, but it should probably be understood that a lot of it is made up out of whole cloth. When it works, it works really well. When Beowulf boasts about his past exploits to Hrothgar, Heaney in 2000 translated it like this: They had seen me boltered in the blood of enemies when I battled and bound five beasts, raided a troll-nest and in the night-sea slaughtered sea-brutes. I have suffered extremes and avenged the Geats (their enemies brought it upon themselves, I devastated them). This is perfectly serviceable, and pretty ‘faithful’ on a word-by-word basis. But it seems utterly inadequate compared to Headley's already-famous rendering of this passage: Yes: I mean—I may have bathed in the blood of beasts, netted five foul ogres at once, smashed my way into a troll den and come out swinging, gone skinny-dipping in a sleeping sea and made sashimi of some sea monsters. Anyone who fucks with the Geats? Bro, they have to fuck with me. They're asking for it, and I deal them death. See, this is a translation with a real voice, which is something translators often struggle to find. In this case, the voice is in service of a very specific agenda, which has to do with rethinking the gender assumptions of the poem. Headley makes much of her reinterpretation of Grendel's mother, for instance, pointing out that āglǣcwīf literally just means ‘fighter-woman’, but is often translated with things like ‘monstrous hell-bride’ (that's Heaney). I think this is maybe not as controversial as she makes out – the nature of Grendel's mother has always been a rather uncertain thing, and in my copy of the text (Mitchell & Robinson, which is more than twenty years old), āglǣcwīf is glossed unremarkably as ‘warrior-woman, female combatant’. It seems to me more problematic that Grendel's mother is later described as grundwyrgen, which really has to mean something like ‘beast of the deep’. Headley doesn't mention this piece of vocabulary (which she translates as ‘reclusive night-queen’). Still, this translation is a kind of line in the sand, and it will definitely be impossible for future translators to make lazy assumptions about Grendel's mother's inhumanness from now on. (Incidentally, Headley also makes the dragon female, against the many translators who, she says, write it as male ‘rather than ungendered’. It's not clear what she means by this – true, Old English draca is a neuter word, but the monster is usually referred to as a wyrm, which is definitely grammatically masculine. Anyway, it works well as a female creature whatever the justifications might be.) Now look, I have to admit that I did not read this without some…qualms? about the way Headley appropriates the linguistic trappings of male-male socialisation. It is one thing to say, as a brilliant pub-conversation starter, that Beowulf is basically an Anglo-Saxon dudebro. It's another thing to sustain this conceit over three thousand lines. The effect is that we are reading a kind of parody of maleness which, while fascinating, strips away much of the emotional authenticity of what is being said, in favour of poking fun at the characters' preconceptions. It doesn't come across (to me) as a real depiction of how men interact, but rather as a strangely skewed, inevitably outsider's view of what male interaction can look like. But this is no bad thing; one of the reasons I think this is such a good translation is because it's such a productively argumentative one, with something really new to say about Beowulf. And about its eponymous central character, whose blokey claims to fame Headley smiles at even while fulfilling (with considerable brio) the poem's predictions: You're famous here, and long after your lifetime, you'll be known, your story sweeping as the sea, shores borne into being by waves of words.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Meike

    Bro! Maria Dahvana Headley has turned an esteemed classic into a fast, powerful 4D Dolby Surround action extravaganza that exudes the joy of storytelling. I've always wanted read "Beowulf", an Old English epic poem from the Early Middle Ages consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines that has survived only in the Nowell Codex. Unfortunately though, I don't understand Old English and I've also struggled with renditions that try to emulate some kind of ancient English (like the ones by J.R.R. Tolkien Bro! Maria Dahvana Headley has turned an esteemed classic into a fast, powerful 4D Dolby Surround action extravaganza that exudes the joy of storytelling. I've always wanted read "Beowulf", an Old English epic poem from the Early Middle Ages consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines that has survived only in the Nowell Codex. Unfortunately though, I don't understand Old English and I've also struggled with renditions that try to emulate some kind of ancient English (like the ones by J.R.R. Tolkien and Seamus Heaney). Now, Headley comes along and serves us a fierce, modern version of the text that makes for a riveting read. Beowulf (which probably was intended to mean "bee wolf", so "bear"), the warrior hero of the Geats, saves the day when he comes to help the Danish king who has been under attack from Grendel, an unspecified ferocious being and descendant of Cain. Beowulf slays Grendel and then Grendel's mother, a female warrior who wanted to avenge her son. So Beowulf is #badass, or, as he himself explains in Headley's translation: "Yes: I mean - I may have bathed in the blood of beasts, netted five foul ogres at once, smashed my way into a troll den and come out swinging, gone skinny-dipping in a sleeping sea and made sashimi of some sea monsters. Anyone who fucks with the Geats? Bro, they have to fuck with me. They're asking for it, and I deal them death." Beowulf travels home, becomes king and, 50 years later, slays a dragon and dies. Throughout the whole poem, vigilance, loyalty, and courage are core themes, and it's safe to say that out warrior-king isn't particularly woke when it comes to the importance of riches and fame: So. much. gold. Plus a momument at the shore - sure, why not. Reading this old text was so much fun, and Headley wrote a fantastic foreword explaining the importance of the text, talking about the feat of translating it and her intention to do right by the women in the text: For instance, "aglæca" was often translated as "hero" when referring to Beowulf, but Grendel's mother, the "aglæc-wif", suddenly was a "monstrous hell-bride" (Heaney), not a "warrior wife". A great book, now I have to read The Mere Wife.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    Headley has crafted a translation of Beowulf that is dynamic, fast-moving (in the first 60% or so, but the slowing down is the original poem, not the translator's effect), thrilling in places and which has some glorious renderings of Old English into a contemporary language that still contains rhythm, alliteration (so hard, that!) and a balance to the metre: 'He hurled the sword: / useless hoard-gilt. Let it shatter in the silt. / He'd fight like a man, and take her hand to hand, / his fingertip Headley has crafted a translation of Beowulf that is dynamic, fast-moving (in the first 60% or so, but the slowing down is the original poem, not the translator's effect), thrilling in places and which has some glorious renderings of Old English into a contemporary language that still contains rhythm, alliteration (so hard, that!) and a balance to the metre: 'He hurled the sword: / useless hoard-gilt. Let it shatter in the silt. / He'd fight like a man, and take her hand to hand, / his fingertips blueprinting her skin.' But I'm not sure what renders this a 'feminist' translation as blurbed? Headley is certainly aware of the gendered nature of this heroic tale but surely that's nothing new? She humanises Grendel's mother and makes her a warrior woman rather than a monster which works well but as a character, she doesn't get more than, at a guess, a few hundred lines at most in the poem. Headley does draw attention to the wiping out of women as individuals in some history and literature: 'And I hear he hand-clasped his daughter / (her name's a blur) to Onela' - that blurred name a sharp contrast to the heroic naming of Grendel and Beowulf himself. And the dragon becomes female. But is that all it takes to make this 'feminist'?*** More prominent is the masculinised language of the text to foreground the way in which the world of the poem is ideologically founded on male homosociality - again, surely not a new insight? 'Bro!' is the opening word and, personally, I found this a bit too obvious especially since it is spoken by the bard or poet-narrator who thus becomes assimilated to the warrior-brotherhood of the characters. It also might be perceived as alienating female readers: where do we place ourselves in this world if even the teller of the heroic tale can only envisage a masculine audience for his words? Some of the other word choices didn't work for me: the switching of registers from, for example, 'Dude, this was what they call a blood feud' (though love that dude/feud rhyme!), or 'Anyone who fucks with the Geats? Bro, they have to fuck with me' (great for a school classroom?), or 'Meanwhile, Beowulf gave zero shits' to the more formal tones of 'Grendel was the name of this woe-walker' or 'war was the wife Hrothgar wed first' (see, great alliteration) felt jarring to my ear. And, unfortunately, I couldn't help giggling at 'Beowulf knew he was a goner'... On the other hand, I loved the sly mischief of the dragon sleeping on her bed which is 'a treasure: a pile of preciouses' - wonderful! Despite some misgivings, then, solely around some of the word choices, overall I'd say this is an engaging, accessible and wonderfully readable translation that thrusts us through the story, and it's particularly one which I'd recommend for schools or general readers - and if it sends more people back to Beowulf, then brilliant! *** Scholarship on classical epics - Homer, Virgil, even Hesiod - has been exploring them from feminist perspectives for the last 40-50 years, and a critique of the ethos of masculine warrior heroism is already embedded within even the Iliad when Achilles says he'd rather be alive and a humble goatherd that the famous and heroic king of the dead in the underworld. Many thanks to Scribe UK for an ARC

  4. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Those of you looking for a precise, age-old translation of Beowulf need to go back to Heaney. This is no timeless classic, this is no pretentious, literary snobbery made to bore high school sophomores. This is living, breathing poetry as it's meant to be, rooted in the language of then and the language of now, full of drama and heroes and monsters and oh so much swag. Will this be hilariously dated in fifteen years when the slang has all changed and swole joins the ranks of rad and groovy? Yes. Those of you looking for a precise, age-old translation of Beowulf need to go back to Heaney. This is no timeless classic, this is no pretentious, literary snobbery made to bore high school sophomores. This is living, breathing poetry as it's meant to be, rooted in the language of then and the language of now, full of drama and heroes and monsters and oh so much swag. Will this be hilariously dated in fifteen years when the slang has all changed and swole joins the ranks of rad and groovy? Yes. Do I care? Absolutely not. This translation is a masterpiece of its own kind, a unique update that explores the mutability of language and the tradition of oral storytelling in a way that honors the original poet who first wrote this oldest of English and yet brings the characters into a place where today's readers can contextualize and better understand the heart of the poem. This is not a translation for ivory towers and Norton Anthologies of English Literature. This is a translation for reading out loud, for shouting over the noise of bars, for spitting into the slam poetry mic. The rhythm here is just brilliant, the scattered kennings and alliterative lines serving as the beating heart of this story. This translation makes me want to fight dragons, and this Beowulf almost makes me think I could. You might not think this is your cup of tea, but I promise, you are wrong. Because it isn't a cup of tea. It's an old-timey flagon of mead poured into a line of shot glasses on a friendly bar, a whirlwind of words that absolutely pounds through you. Bro! You do not want to miss this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Riley Redgate

    bro

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    Bro! Hardly fucked by Fate, but rather hashtag blessed for this translation that gives zero shits. Our swole, sword bearing, son-of-a-bitch comes out swinging. Beowulf brings the beatdown, batters beasts, and bests the bringers of blood. Raring to be read aloud, voice raised over the roar of revelry. The song of sweaty soldiers with back slapping swagger who swear on the sword they saw it true. Headley is hard-core, heroic and hardly one to haver, hell-bent on hewing her own history here. Too mu Bro! Hardly fucked by Fate, but rather hashtag blessed for this translation that gives zero shits. Our swole, sword bearing, son-of-a-bitch comes out swinging. Beowulf brings the beatdown, batters beasts, and bests the bringers of blood. Raring to be read aloud, voice raised over the roar of revelry. The song of sweaty soldiers with back slapping swagger who swear on the sword they saw it true. Headley is hard-core, heroic and hardly one to haver, hell-bent on hewing her own history here. Too much? Truly it is a touch too far at times but still a towering testament to her talent. Beowulf rode hard. He stayed thirsty! He was the Man! He was the man.

  7. 4 out of 5

    anna (½ of readsrainbow)

    the "yes. i mean—i may have bathed in the blood of beasts" line totally sold me, i have to read this translation

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    ARC received in exchange for an honest review We all know a boy can't daddy until his daddy's dead. I'll admit this is my first time reading a translation of Beowulf, but I think I picked a good one to start with. This reads like a labour of love from Maria Dahvana Headley, and a lot of thought has been put into the translation and how the story is presented to the reader. In the introduction, Headley states that Beowulf is a poem between brothers, commrades and close friends all trying to outdo e ARC received in exchange for an honest review We all know a boy can't daddy until his daddy's dead. I'll admit this is my first time reading a translation of Beowulf, but I think I picked a good one to start with. This reads like a labour of love from Maria Dahvana Headley, and a lot of thought has been put into the translation and how the story is presented to the reader. In the introduction, Headley states that Beowulf is a poem between brothers, commrades and close friends all trying to outdo each other with tales of daring over many, many pints. It's a poem that shouts from the rooftops, mixing every emotion possible within its verses - and I think Headley goes a great job at showcasing this. It uses a mix of contemporary slang (never did I expect to find phrases like 'hashtag blessed' and 'brass balls' in a classics translation) and classic phrases and literary methods to maintain the feel of the story and it's setting, yet making it accessible and fresh. The use of alliteration that is repeated throughout is especially clever, helping the text to flow and linking the story together. I also love the way Headley has interpreted Grendel's mother as the true warrior single mother she is. She's easily a match for Beowulf. He just had luck in his side. I will say that the story itself isn't amazing, and there's a lot of repetition as we hear a story once and then it's repeated again to another group of people. However, I can appreciate this for the important text it is, and the seeds of influence it's had on other classic fantasy stories. This is a fantastic translation for those new to the story of Beowulf, and opens the door to a text that might otherwise feel intimidating.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tamara Agha-Jaffar

    Maria Dahvana Headley’s opening salvo in her translation of Beowulf: A New Translation is the word “Bro!” This sets the stage for an irreverent, rollicking, electrifying, and astonishing translation unlike any we have seen before. Headley has studied the poem extensively. Her goal was to render the poem as close to the spirit of its original form as possible. As she says in her extensive introduction, “The original reads, at least in some places, like Old English freestyle, and in others like a Maria Dahvana Headley’s opening salvo in her translation of Beowulf: A New Translation is the word “Bro!” This sets the stage for an irreverent, rollicking, electrifying, and astonishing translation unlike any we have seen before. Headley has studied the poem extensively. Her goal was to render the poem as close to the spirit of its original form as possible. As she says in her extensive introduction, “The original reads, at least in some places, like Old English freestyle, and in others like a wedding toast of a drunk uncle who’s suddenly remembered a poem he memorized at boarding school.” She captures the rollicking spirit of the poem admirably, generating a work that is not so much a translation but a re-creation. Her goal was to create “a text that is as bubbly and juicy as I think it ought to feel.” Headley smashes the sedate lines of previous translations with flashes of lightning. As she explains in her introduction, some of the Old English words are difficult to pin down in modern English. Just as previous translators have had to interpret and take liberties with the wording, Headley has had to do the same. Whenever possible, she opts for wording that conforms with the original temperament of the poem. For example, the word “hwaet,” which has been variously translated as “Listen,” “Hark,” “Lo,” she translates as “Bro!” She conceives it as the poet’s attempt to capture audience attention and as a form of masculinist coded language. She punctuates traditional, stately passages of sublime poetry with the occasional four-letter word and phrases currently inhabiting social media. For example, Wealhtheow admires Beowulf’s “brass balls.” Treasure is now “bling.” The watchman in Denmark initially confronts Beowulf with, “There’s a dress code! You’re denied.” Headley perceives the narrator as “an old-timer at the end of the bar, periodically pounding his glass and demanding another.” He shouts to be heard in a mead hall of rowdy men falling over each other in a drunken stupor. He interrupts himself, comments on the action, engages in foreshadowing, and addresses the audience directly to retain attention. She argues his language is laced with satire as he interrogates definitions of masculinity with its concomitant heroic boasts and chest-thumping. One of the more interesting aspects of Headley’s translation lies in her treatment of Grendel’s mother. She allows her the simultaneous qualities of a monster while retaining her human qualities as a mother experiencing overwhelming grief at the loss of her only child. With its raucous rhymes, refreshing language pulsating with contemporary idioms, Headley successfully reclaims a thousand-year-old manuscript for today’s audience. She comes out swinging. This is definitely not your father’s Beowulf. Very highly recommended for its originality, riotous fun, effusive temperament, and sheer audacity. My book reviews are also available at www.tamaraaghajaffar.com

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gabi

    I often struggle with the old classical poems, cause I can't concentrate on the language. So this modern - but still in character - translation hit the mark marvellously! The tale is vivid, sarcastic and feels so humanly real that I saw it play in my head. The foreword is a class by itself, wonderful explanations on Headley's take and thoughts of this classic. It set the right mood to dive into this masterpiece where modern vibes and classic verses meet. A great way to make the classics accessible I often struggle with the old classical poems, cause I can't concentrate on the language. So this modern - but still in character - translation hit the mark marvellously! The tale is vivid, sarcastic and feels so humanly real that I saw it play in my head. The foreword is a class by itself, wonderful explanations on Headley's take and thoughts of this classic. It set the right mood to dive into this masterpiece where modern vibes and classic verses meet. A great way to make the classics accessible for nowaday's students. MDH is a rockstar!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Para (wanderer)

    Bro! And I'm done. Definitely not what I expected. This was actually less gimmicky than the early reviews and hype led me to believe - it's not a reimagining, it seems like a pretty faithful translation with the occasional modern word thrown in. Those were a little bit distracting, yeah, but also served as a "pay attention" call - I'm prone to skimming and epic poetry is difficult for me to read and I don't think I'd be able to get through any other translation. Longer review to come.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    Though purists disapprove, I relish this approach to translating a classic: sharply intelligent; witty; sparkling with sound-play and gasp-provokingly bold choices of proposed equivalencies, evidence of a poet's ear; enriched by a coherent translatorial point-of-view, an unmistakable translatorial voice; and, on top of it all, fast-paced and wildly entertaining. Translator Headley sticks a dagger in the side of this old tale with a perfect blend of respect and effrontery, much like, say, a warri Though purists disapprove, I relish this approach to translating a classic: sharply intelligent; witty; sparkling with sound-play and gasp-provokingly bold choices of proposed equivalencies, evidence of a poet's ear; enriched by a coherent translatorial point-of-view, an unmistakable translatorial voice; and, on top of it all, fast-paced and wildly entertaining. Translator Headley sticks a dagger in the side of this old tale with a perfect blend of respect and effrontery, much like, say, a warrior confronting a dragon whom bystanders might suspect of outclassing him: though she begins her translation with a slangy "Bro!" and ends it with a likewise anachronistic-sounding "He was the man," making it her good-humor-laced quest to illuminate the work's modernity-relevant subtexts on gender performance and masculinity, yet she never seems to underrate or disrespect her source material or the poetry-loving soul of its characters' social system, and she somehow manages to endow that final "He was the man" with equal parts wit and sincere emotion. It's an impressive feat. Headley shows us Beowulf in multiple lights simultaneously: as an almost-caricature of machismo, yes, but also as a man of some depth -- a good fighter but rather reluctant ruler, capable of human empathy toward worthy adversaries ("For a moment, / he felt for his old foes, fen-bound, embarking alone"), his brain (or "word-vault") brimming with not only bloodlust but also eloquent language. If you like, say, Christopher Logue's takes on Homer, you may want to give this one a try.

  13. 5 out of 5

    charlotte, (½ of readsrainbow)

    Galley provided by publisher Earlier this year, I read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf and, in all honesty, it didn’t really stick with me. Maria Dahvana Headley’s, however, absolutely did, and even made me laugh out loud once or twice. To be honest, my favourite part of any translation, particularly translations of classics, is the translator’s note. Maybe it’s an extension of my linguistics degree, but I love hearing just how the translator went about the translation, where and how they d Galley provided by publisher Earlier this year, I read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf and, in all honesty, it didn’t really stick with me. Maria Dahvana Headley’s, however, absolutely did, and even made me laugh out loud once or twice. To be honest, my favourite part of any translation, particularly translations of classics, is the translator’s note. Maybe it’s an extension of my linguistics degree, but I love hearing just how the translator went about the translation, where and how they decided to deviate from previous translations, and why, and just discussions of choices of words. And here, I genuinely would have read a whole book-long translator’s note (similarly when I read Emily Wilson’s Odyssey translation a few months ago). So, bearing in mind that I have only read the two translations of Beowulf, what I loved in this one was that it modernised the text, while staying true to it. Headley talks about this in the introduction, specifically her choice to use “bro” instead of something like “hark”, but I think that’s the primary reason I connected more with the story this time around. Modernising the text makes it a whole lot more accessible, and you don’t feel like you’re trogging through it at all. It’s a whole lot more fun to read. So really, all I have to say more is that, if you want to pick up Beowulf and you don’t know which translation to start with, do yourself a favour and skip straight to this one.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    "Bro! Tell me we still know how to speak of kings! In the old days, everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times." This new translation of Beowulf is a lot of fun, with Headley capturing the spirit of the original but using more modern words at times (I outright snorted at the use of "hashtag: blessed") - don't skip the intro where she discussed the research she did and why she's partial to Grendel's mother.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Emily Duncan

    Stunning

  16. 4 out of 5

    wishforagiraffe

    Audiobook is solid, though I still feel like I needed a print copy in order to follow along with some of the exposition. Overall, this translation is REALLY great, it's like if Hamilton had an Old English baby. It's accessible and modern yet still keeps the cadence of the poem. Definitely worth checking out.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Publicity materials and professional reviews of Maria Dahvana Headley's new translation of Beowulf have been using words like "radical" and "recontextualize" to describe her work, and making much of her use of modern slang. So great has been the effort to cast Headley's version as entirely different that I've been left wondering if it's so divergent that it should be considered an adaptation rather than a translation. Imagine my surprise when I read it and discovered it's actually a pretty stand Publicity materials and professional reviews of Maria Dahvana Headley's new translation of Beowulf have been using words like "radical" and "recontextualize" to describe her work, and making much of her use of modern slang. So great has been the effort to cast Headley's version as entirely different that I've been left wondering if it's so divergent that it should be considered an adaptation rather than a translation. Imagine my surprise when I read it and discovered it's actually a pretty standard translation. Published reviews I've seen have chosen to quote passages showing Headley's incorporation of modern slang into the ancient poem, but this gives a false impression of most of the text. These lines spoken by Wealhtheow are much more representative of the translation:Accept this cup from me, my lord of rings, and lift this golden goblet. Give the Geats their due. Be good to them who've been good to you. Gifts are for granting, and your hands should be open, your heart happy, even as you remember--I know you do--the good men who gave kith-gifts to you.That's definitely modern English, and it isn't deliberately archaic or full of poetic flourishes like some translations, but it's not earth-shatteringly radical either. Headley does use modern slang in places, but she also drops in old-fashioned terms just as often; readers are as likely to come across a "swan-road" and "warp and weft" as they are a "bling" and "hashtag." Oddly, this sparing use of slang actually works less well than more liberal use would have; the effect here is like a poseur trying to sound cool by slipping in words they don't really understand. The most radical thing about Headley's translation is her clear sympathy for the monsters. Her word choices emphasize Grendel's alienation and his mother's grief-fueled rage at the death of her son. This interpretation isn't unsupported by the text; it's just a different take from most other translations, and it certainly makes for thrilling action scenes. I must say I don't share Headley's enthusiasm for Grendel's mother: I find it hard to stir up much sympathy for someone who goes on a murder spree to avenge a son who was killed while breaking in next door so he could eat the neighbors. To sum up: Do I believe this version qualifies as a translation? Yes. Would I recommend this version to someone looking for an epic poem with some good action in it? Maybe. Would I recommend this version to someone looking for a good translation of Beowulf, the 1,000+ year old poem? No.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I love Beowulf. I grew up on Tolkien, but never read Beowulf until assigned Donaldson’s translation in my first survey of British Lit course. I was transfixed, so much of The Hobbit was directly taken from Beowulf! This led to reading Tolkien’s “The Monsters and the Critics” and then enthusiastically comparing and contrasting Beowulf and The Hobbit in one of the most enjoyable papers I ever wrote. When Heaney’s translation came out I was captivated. It was so poetic and I loved looking at the Ol I love Beowulf. I grew up on Tolkien, but never read Beowulf until assigned Donaldson’s translation in my first survey of British Lit course. I was transfixed, so much of The Hobbit was directly taken from Beowulf! This led to reading Tolkien’s “The Monsters and the Critics” and then enthusiastically comparing and contrasting Beowulf and The Hobbit in one of the most enjoyable papers I ever wrote. When Heaney’s translation came out I was captivated. It was so poetic and I loved looking at the Old English text. By this point I had read Troilus and Cressida and The Canterbury Tales in Middle English (I was so smart once!!!) and loved fantasizing about learning to read Old English, too. It never happened. Am I sitting with my heavily annotated Norton Anthology Donaldson and my pristine (but 20-years-old?! How???) Heaney next to me right now? Yes. Yes I am. I needed a little comparative Beowulf upon finishing this one. BECAUSE I AM IN LOVE WITH MARIA DAHVANA HEADLEY’S TRANSLATION! She’s funny, irreverent, feminist, tongue-in-cheek, and delightful. Her author’s note had me motormouthing and gushing to my bewildered, yet patient, husband. Despite her disagreement with Tolkien! There’s room in literature for both beautiful Heaney translations and cheeky Headley translations! My only regret is that I received this as a Libro.fm Educator ALC, and I’ve not yet read it in print. Clearly I’ll be buying a copy to add to the collection. I mean, “... you dove overboard surfing on stupidity swearing that you knew the currents better than any other and that you, swole as a troll fed on travelers, were superior to any swell” (Track 3, 32:41). 😍😂😎

  19. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    A vibrantly modern translation. The headlines are the colloquialisms -- the "Bro!" opening, the sassy memespeak -- but what makes this translation actually brilliant is the way that it interrogates the masculinity of the original tale. Every other translation of Beowulf that I've read has felt more or less like the classical image of a bard or storyteller recounting the tale to a murmuring crowd; this feels like we've been dropped into the middle of a Saxon hall, with drinking and roaring and fi A vibrantly modern translation. The headlines are the colloquialisms -- the "Bro!" opening, the sassy memespeak -- but what makes this translation actually brilliant is the way that it interrogates the masculinity of the original tale. Every other translation of Beowulf that I've read has felt more or less like the classical image of a bard or storyteller recounting the tale to a murmuring crowd; this feels like we've been dropped into the middle of a Saxon hall, with drinking and roaring and fighting and fucking. I want more translations like this, translations that root us in the feeling of the historical text as opposed to trying to aim for some glorified rarity. This is a translation that should be taught in schools (sorry, Seamus) not just because it'll actually wrap kids up in a text they'd otherwise write off... but because it will cause new generations to reconsider the meaningfulness (or the lack thereof) of war and violence and toxic masculinity.

  20. 5 out of 5

    John

    This was my first time reading Beowulf. I had read essays and background on the Beowulf story, but not the actual translation of it. I think this is a highly readable, lively, and skillful translation of an archaic text and story. Headley has to work within the confines of the story, which is primitive. But her translation speaks back to you as you read it and makes for an interactive read — no small accomplishment.

  21. 5 out of 5

    nastyako

    This book had such a cool and unique energy. Just look at how Beowulf introduces himself: I’m the strongest and the boldest, and the bravest and the best.    Yes: I mean—I may have bathed in the blood of beasts,    netted five foul ogres at once, smashed my way into a troll den    and come out swinging, gone skinny-dipping in a sleeping sea and made sashimi of some sea monsters.    Anyone who fucks with the Geats? Bro, they have to fuck with me. I’ve racked my brain, bro, but, Unferth,    I can’t unpac This book had such a cool and unique energy. Just look at how Beowulf introduces himself: I’m the strongest and the boldest, and the bravest and the best.    Yes: I mean—I may have bathed in the blood of beasts,    netted five foul ogres at once, smashed my way into a troll den    and come out swinging, gone skinny-dipping in a sleeping sea and made sashimi of some sea monsters.    Anyone who fucks with the Geats? Bro, they have to fuck with me. I’ve racked my brain, bro, but, Unferth,    I can’t unpack any similar stories of    heroics from you. Let me say it straight:    You don’t rate and neither did Breca    when it came to battle. The gulf? You’re cattle,    and I’m a wolf. I’m not even mentioning your sins,    your kin-killing, your brother-beating:    I’m not the man to damn you. This book is full of bravado and testosterone. This is the Beowulf from Michael Bay movie. Gredel’s death: The world clung to his fingers, and life-leaving    wouldn’t be swift, no existence-snuffing    instantaneous gift, but sickly slow suffering,    his sinning spirit sent to sink    slowly down to Hell. Meeting Gredel’s mother: Now his mother was here,    carried on a wave of wrath, crazed with sorrow,    looking for someone to slay, someone to pay in pain    for her heart’s loss. She found the path,    and made her way to Heorot. At dawn, a black raven called out the melody of morning,    the happiness of inhabiting the heavens. Sunlight snatched shadows    from corners, and wayward warriors readied themselves    for removal—hungering for home. Their leader was up at once,    looking into the distance, his soul seeking his ship. I don’t know how it was as a translation but I loved it as a retelling!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Bunnell

    I liked it, but calling it a "feminist translation" is a stretch, as there was really no greater focus on the female characters than on the translation that I read in college over 30 years ago, what was that, the Seamus Heaney translation or something like that. I love that my favorite kenning, "unleashed his word-horde" survived the new translation, as that one gives me the giggles and reminds me of English Lit 401. Some of the new translations were a breath of fresh air. Some were so topical, I liked it, but calling it a "feminist translation" is a stretch, as there was really no greater focus on the female characters than on the translation that I read in college over 30 years ago, what was that, the Seamus Heaney translation or something like that. I love that my favorite kenning, "unleashed his word-horde" survived the new translation, as that one gives me the giggles and reminds me of English Lit 401. Some of the new translations were a breath of fresh air. Some were so topical, I suspect this will end up reading as dated in less than a decade. It was a quick, fun read, a nice flashback to reading this same story with different words back when I was young. Then, as is still true now, Beowulf was "the man."

  23. 4 out of 5

    Scribe Publications

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. An iconic work of early English literature comes in for up-to-the-minute treatment … Headley’s language and pacing keep perfect track with the events she describes … [giving] the 3,182-line text immediacy without surrendering a bit of its grand poetry. Some purists may object to the small liberties Headley has taken with the text, but her version is altogether brilliant. STARRED REVIEW Kirkus Reviews [The Mere Wife] includes some tantalising snippets of Beowulf as translated by Headley. Now we An iconic work of early English literature comes in for up-to-the-minute treatment … Headley’s language and pacing keep perfect track with the events she describes … [giving] the 3,182-line text immediacy without surrendering a bit of its grand poetry. Some purists may object to the small liberties Headley has taken with the text, but her version is altogether brilliant. STARRED REVIEW Kirkus Reviews [The Mere Wife] includes some tantalising snippets of Beowulf as translated by Headley. Now we have the full version, and it is electrifying … It is brash and belligerent, lunatic and invigorating, with passages of sublime poetry punctuated by obscenities and social-media shorthand … With a Beowulf defiantly of and for this historical moment, Headley reclaims the poem for her audience as well as for herself. Ruth Franklin, The New Yorker I have a lot of things to say about Maria Dahvana Headley's new book, Beowulf… The first thing I need to tell you is that you have to read it now. No, I don't care if you've read Beowulf (the original) before … I don't care what you think of when you think of Beowulf in any of its hundreds of other translations because this — this — version, Headley's version, is an entirely different thing. It is its own thing. Jason Sheehan, NPR Bold … Electrifying. Ron Charles, The Washington Post [L]ively and vigorous … I am delighted. I’ve never read a Beowulf that felt so immediate and so alive … It’s profane and funny and modern and archaic all at once, and its loose and unstructured verses are full of twisting, surprising kennings. Constance Grady, Vox The author of the crazy-cool Beowulf-inspired novel The Mere Wife tackles the Old English epic poem with a fierce new feminist translation that radically recontextualises the tale. Barbara VanDenburgh, USA Today Of the four translations I’ve read, Headley’s is the most readable and engaging. She combines a modern poetry style with some of the hallmarks of Old English poetry, and the words practically sing off the page … Headley’s translation shows why it’s vital to have women and people from diverse backgrounds translate texts. Margaret Kingsbury, Buzzfeed Headley brings a directness, intensity, and rhythm to her translation that I haven’t seen before. This is what it must have felt like to sit in a mead hall and listen to a scop tell the tale. Other translations may be more scholarly, literal, or true to the poetic form of the original, but it’s been a thousand years since Beowulf was this accessible or exciting. Steve Thomas, The Fantasy Hive Headley’s Beowulf is kindred in spirit to The Mere Wife — highly conscious of gender and modernised to the hilt — but totally different in form. Instead of changing names or places, Headley sticks closely to the original Old English text while updating the vocabulary with flourishes of internet humour … The feminism in Headley’s translation is embedded in the texture and language of the poem itself rather than in its individual events or characters … Her Beowulf is a tragicomic epic about the things men do to impress one another. It’s as fierce an examination of masculine weakness as The Mere Wife was of feminine strength. Jo Livingstone, Poetry Foundation [A]s a poetic meditation on the poem, it’s full of startlingly powerful and often raucously lovely language. Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Review

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mr. Dietz

    Thoroughly modern in its translation, perhaps hastening its irrelevance, but at this current moment, I found this translation of the epic poem to be thoroughly entertaining, which is more than I can say about the last version of this story that I read. Your reaction to the choice to open the piece up by translating “Hwæt!” as “Bro!” will determine how much you enjoy the rest of the tale. Mashing up hoards and hashtags often results in neither kids nor adults being satisfied, but I’d be lying if Thoroughly modern in its translation, perhaps hastening its irrelevance, but at this current moment, I found this translation of the epic poem to be thoroughly entertaining, which is more than I can say about the last version of this story that I read. Your reaction to the choice to open the piece up by translating “Hwæt!” as “Bro!” will determine how much you enjoy the rest of the tale. Mashing up hoards and hashtags often results in neither kids nor adults being satisfied, but I’d be lying if I said this new look didn’t make me re-examine my view of this story. It gets a hearty recommendation from me.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jason Furman

    I often use new translations as an excuse to re-read books. (I even have a completely irrational, mystical fantasy that all the translations somehow combine in my subconscious to better approximate the original itself.) I was happy to seize on the excuse to re-read Beowulf, or in this case to listen to it on Audible while also going back and reading the text for some of the parts as well. Often a new translation can feel like a modest improvement. In this case it was a massive change, completely I often use new translations as an excuse to re-read books. (I even have a completely irrational, mystical fantasy that all the translations somehow combine in my subconscious to better approximate the original itself.) I was happy to seize on the excuse to re-read Beowulf, or in this case to listen to it on Audible while also going back and reading the text for some of the parts as well. Often a new translation can feel like a modest improvement. In this case it was a massive change, completely unlike the Seamus Heaney translation Beowulf (and presumably the many others, none of which I have read). A massive change for the different, provoking, exciting, thrilling, in some ways more reliable, in other ways less reliable, but extremely enjoyable from beginning to end--and possibly the place I would recommend anyone start. Maria Dahvana Headley's translation was like almost no other new translation I've read (Stanley Lombardo's translation of The Iliad comes close). It was completely different, and blew me away with the vigor, energy and fresh excitement and perspective it brought to this ancient but by no means musty work. If you've been paying any attention at all you know the first word: "Bro!" It continues in that vein with hyper masculine language but also humanizes Grendel's mother and feminizes the dragon as part of what the marketing materials call a "feminist" translation. I confess I was suspicious that a translator would bring their own perspective to a work that was written with what was presumably a very different perspective. At times certain word choices made me suspicious that she was projecting into the book instead of interpreting it. But then I read the excellent and reasonably detailed introduction after finishing the poem itself and was convinced that Headley has spent years studying the poem, trying to understand it, and had good arguments for many of her choices, in some cases what seemed like clearly better arguments than some of her predecessor translations. That said, I'm obviously in no position to adjudicate the fidelity of the translation, but I no that no one can fully translate an ancient culture/language into the present and am even more sure that I loved reading this one. Maybe it is an "interpretation" not a "translation" but who cares when you're having this much fun? The fun is not just the story but the vigor of the language, the impressive alliterations, the way that slang really does work, and the effortlessness of reading the poetry. Read or listen to it yourself, is short and exciting from beginning to end.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Sund

    I read the Heaney in my left hand and the Headley in my right, which means I had access to the original Old English and two top notch translations simultaneously. I found the Headley to be a surprisingly serious translation. It was readable, compelling, and fun. Some parts were over the top translations for shock value, but the vast majority was straight up good modern work. The over the top parts were awesome anyway, bro. My favorite lines are 236-256. I would like to have it engraved into wood I read the Heaney in my left hand and the Headley in my right, which means I had access to the original Old English and two top notch translations simultaneously. I found the Headley to be a surprisingly serious translation. It was readable, compelling, and fun. Some parts were over the top translations for shock value, but the vast majority was straight up good modern work. The over the top parts were awesome anyway, bro. My favorite lines are 236-256. I would like to have it engraved into wood by someone from the Norsk Hostfest and hung on my door.

  27. 4 out of 5

    victoria.p

    I can’t say how this works as a translation or how it compares to other translations but on its own merits it’s a fantastic read - muscular, visceral, and entertaining - though the whole thing with the dragon feels pasted on (as does the Christianity tbh).

  28. 4 out of 5

    Isaac R. Fellman

    A gleefully subversive translation which both parodies and celebrates the poem’s over-the-top masculinity, as well as interpreting its themes for a modern audience. The language doesn’t always sit naturally, but its stylized visibility illuminates qualities from the original that Headley explains in the introduction. If you’ve heard about this and are on the fence, go ahead and commit — you’ll be thrilled by the linguistic possibilities it explores.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The last time I read beowulf it was for AP english and it was the seamus heaney translation. Which, I think, at the time was the 'cool, way more up to date' version. But man, oh man is this version way more fun. It is definitely the strangest and best bridge between old english kennings but also modern speech. Beowulf has a swagger to him that is so overblown and....funny? The translator says that she imagined him being drunk in the bar and telling his friends the story and that is exactly how i The last time I read beowulf it was for AP english and it was the seamus heaney translation. Which, I think, at the time was the 'cool, way more up to date' version. But man, oh man is this version way more fun. It is definitely the strangest and best bridge between old english kennings but also modern speech. Beowulf has a swagger to him that is so overblown and....funny? The translator says that she imagined him being drunk in the bar and telling his friends the story and that is exactly how it goes down. "I'm the strongest and the boldest and the bravest and the best. Yes: I mean -- I /may/ have bathed in the blood of beasts, netted five foul ogres all at once, smashed my way into a troll den and come out swinging, gone skinny-dipping in a sleeping sea and made sashimi of some sea monsters. Anyone who fucks with the Geats? Bro, they have to fuck with me" I mean. What a ride

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    Bro! Can we talk about how freaking genius it is to translate Beowulf as a brash bar-room saga, shout-told by a sloshed scop? (It is very genius.) Listen, I've been enamored with Maria Dahvana Headley's mind since I read The Mere Wife a couple years ago. It's clear that she understands the story and ethos of Beowulf from the inside, enough to do dazzling tricks like rewrite it as a tale of suburban conflict. Her translation is incredibly bold and dare I say actually ultra-faithful to the spirit o Bro! Can we talk about how freaking genius it is to translate Beowulf as a brash bar-room saga, shout-told by a sloshed scop? (It is very genius.) Listen, I've been enamored with Maria Dahvana Headley's mind since I read The Mere Wife a couple years ago. It's clear that she understands the story and ethos of Beowulf from the inside, enough to do dazzling tricks like rewrite it as a tale of suburban conflict. Her translation is incredibly bold and dare I say actually ultra-faithful to the spirit of the original. Also, so often when a woman translates a "masculine" poem, that act in and of itself is considered radical without actually being so (c.f. all the hullabaloo surrounding Emily Wilson's Odyssey, which was an amazing translation, but not conceived of nor intended as a radical feminist project), but Headley truly earns her radical stripes with every choice she makes with this text. Brava!

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