2004-05-17: Beowulf [Raffel]

Beowulf (~700, tr 1963)

by The Beowulf Poet (~700), tr Burton Raffel (1928-)

After reading Tolkien’s critical essay about Beowulf, I decided to read the poem itself. I’ve read it before, or part of it, but had little recollection of it.

This translation seems very good, a straightforward verse rendition. The translator’s Introduction and an Afterword by Robert P. Creed help put the poem and the translation in perspective.

As Creed says, the poem is “a lament for the passing of the heroic age.” As it happened, I am also reading Tolkien’s Silmarillion. It is very interesting to see how similar some of the aspects of the two works are. I have read elsewhere that whenever he read a legend or fairy tale, he wished to write one himself; it shows.

Whenever I read works from ancient authors, I am (briefly) inspired to learn to read the original language. Curiously, that never happens when I read a modern author in translation. I seriously doubt I will ever read Homer or Aeschylus, Caesar or Horace, or the Beowulf Poet in the original; but I suppose it’s some kind of tribute to them that I would like to.

I also have a newer translation, by Seamus Heaney. If I read it, I will report on it, too.


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