April 05, 2004

Awendednesse Beowulfes

In answer to this question from Blinger I can recommend three translations of Beowulf, actually.

For a very literal, accurate translation, the one in S.A.J. Bradley’s Anglo-Saxon Poetry, which contains translations of the majority of Old English poems, is a quite reliable prose rendering. Bradley is usually the first translation I reach for for Old English poetry.

On the other hand, for a more entertaining verse translation, there is always the recent version by Seamus Heaney. Heaney’s version is quite interesting as a poem in and of itself, but he does take some liberties with the text. There is a handy dual language edition with facing page text of the original Old English poem. Or there is a critical edition from Norton, which has a number of useful extras such as commentary and a collection of important Beowulf scholarship.

R.M Liuzza’s verse translation is quite a successful compromise between these two ends of the spectrum. I quite like Liuzza’s version, actually. It is an accurate representation of the text, and it is interesting to read. It also contains a slew of useful materials in appendices, such as translations of various analogues to the poem and sample passages for a number of Beowulf translations for comparison.

It’s quite interesting comparing these three versions. Bradley and Liuzza are both Old English scholars, and Heaney, of course, is a famous (Irish) poet. Heaney has certain goals in his translation which he explains in his introduction. One of the essay topics I set for my Old English students was to compare two different translations of an Old English text. In addition to the translations of Beowulf there are some quite interesting versions of Old English poems by otherwise famous English poets, such as Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Battle of Brunanburh and Ezra Pound’s The Seafarer. I’m quite looking forward to what my students come up with.

For those who have read any of these translations, what did you think?

Posted by Mark at April 5, 2004 09:46 PM