A New Translation

Book - 2020
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Headley provides a radical new verse translation of the epic poem. She brings to light elements that have never before been translated into English, recontextualizing the binary narrative of monsters and heroes into a tale in which the two categories often entwine, justice is rarely served, and dragons live among us. The familiar elements of the epic poem are seen with a novelist's eye toward gender, genre, and history, unearthing significant shifts in the epic poem that have been lost over centuries of translation.
Publisher: New York : MCD x FSG Originals, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780374110031
Branch Call Number: 829.3 HEA 2020-11
Characteristics: xxxiv, 140 pages ; 19 cm
Alternative Title: Beowulf. English


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Mar 13, 2021

The voice is so now, so urban, that many will probably miss the point and be put off, but just because the language is casual doesn't mean there is a lack of scholarship here. This is scholarly as %#@$. And don't let the cuss words make you neglect the artistry. MDH writes with exquisite care. Take a section where King Hrothgar reacts to the slaying of Grendel:

"First and most fervent, we give thanks
to the ever-bearer for this sight, our long struggle
cleared in a single night. We've suffered years
of hall-harvesting here, but hard times are done
at last. God is good. Grendel is gone."

The elegant tone of the words of the king, with the embedded poetry of rhyme and alliteration, contrasts with the more street-tone of the narration and shows that MDH is more than capable of an elevated tone where it is called for.

No this is not like the Heaney translation (which I also love) but it does something different, and so it should be different. It shows the legend through a different lens; one in which we might reject the more toxically-masculine elements of the tale.

Dec 20, 2020

I was skeptical about this translation at first, but the bro-story worked. Headley kept the alliterative tradition and wove in modern words, brilliantly selected. Seriously, I was laughing out loud with delight over her word choices. I wish this had come out while I was in college. We would have obsessed over this translation while working on our own in my Old English class. This is up there on the pedestal with Stanley Lambardo's Iliad and Odyssey translations.

Nov 12, 2020

A delightful translation.

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