Written a thousand years ago, this long poem is the very first surviving piece of English literature. Join Beowulf, a young warrior, as he achieves glory by fighting and killing three fantastic monsters. This new translation, by the Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney, offers modern listeners an accessible, intensely dramatic text. It amply demonstrates why this epic has spread its influence over more than a millennium of literature.
Public Domain ©2000 Seamus Heaney (P)2004 Recorded Books
Seamus Heaney's version of "Beowulf" is a wonder, a totally modern translation of the poem that somehow manages to sound like it's been around for a thousand years. For a long time, his translation was only available on Audible in a badly abridged version - badly abridged even though it was read by Heaney himself: enough of the story was cut that some passages were incomprehensible. Recorded Books has had this complete version for several years, and it's finally available on Audible as well.
If we can't have Heaney doing the whole thing, George Guidall is a great alternative: he has a deep, rich, old-soul-sounding voice that works beautifully on this kind of epic verse. (See "Gilgamesh" and "The Inferno" for other examples.) This is, in my opinion, the best version of this work available in audiobook format. Bear in mind, though, that I've been a fan of the poem for many years, and have read at least some of it in the original (in an undergraduate Old English course forty years ago). My recommendation may be less useful for someone trying to get a first-time gist of the story. I honestly don't know how this would come across to someone who'd never heard the story before.
If you want another interesting treat, listen to Guidall giving the other side of the story, in the audiobook version of "Grendel" by the late lamented John Gardner.
The way the author tells the story powerfully expresses what it must have felt like when, during those same times, they watched their mighty pagan traditions of honor and bravery set out to sea forever, then to be replaced by the new culture of Christianity.
If you read it, make sure you also read J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Monsters and The Critics." The whole essay brings new insights to the story; my particular favorite part was his metaphorical statement that Beowulf is a story of youth and old age, the rising and setting of life, and the embracing of the dragon that comes for us all.
This book is well read and does a good job at bringing the text to life. The part that most intrigued me was the essay by the author at the close of the book. His explanation of his translation was fascinating and illuminated the often told story even move.
What a great way to review (or meet!) Beowulf! Heaney's translation is fantastic, and while I'd love to hear a Irishman, a Dane, or a Scotsman read it, Guidall is skilled if neutral. The inclusion of the introduction at the end is surprising (why not include it at the start?) but fantastic, and helps enrich the whole experience. I've read and taught Beowulf before, but I never really enjoyed its story fully until I listened to it. HIGHLY recommended. Yup, even the middle section while they're all boasting and trading loot. Listen to this and skip the terrible cartoony version with Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mom!
I have no need to listen to this again because the audible book translation was completely accurate in comparison to my college textbook and the assignment is complete.
Line for line I followed along and understood the story with clarity.
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