Reading Beowulf: A New Translation

March 15, 2021 Uncategorized 12 ★★★★

Reading Beowulf: A New TranslationTitle: Beowulf: A New Translation
Author: Maria Dahvana Headley, Unknown
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: As a novice poetry reader, I found this new translation fun and approachable.

As a reader who is comfortable with many genres, but totally intimidated by poetry, I feel like a bit of a cliche. At least I’m not alone in finding poetry one of the less approachable forms of writing! Honestly, before picking up this new translation of Beowulf, I didn’t think of this classic as a poem. I think at some point I must have read a narrative version and that’s how I thought of Beowulf. I still don’t feel I know how to talk about poetry, but this book gave me a new appreciation for the careful selection of word and cadence that poetry involves.

I picked this up, in part, because I heard that it used the word ‘bro’ throughout. That was enough to make me confident this would be a fun, modern take on a classic. I was not disappointed! The word play in this book was delightful. Modern words and phrases, newly coined word combinations, and more traditional word choices were all used thoughtfully to create a particular feel. In the intro, the author imagined someone declaiming this story in a bar, occasionally banging their mug on the table. The book read like that. It felt epic, boastful, adventurous. The posturing and bragging of the various characters was particularly humorous.

The cadence of the story was also perfect for reading out loud. The rhythm contributed to the feel of being a barroom tale of adventure, but it also felt modern. It flowed easily, naturally. Even as someone not that familiar with poetry, I felt I had a good grasp of how the book was meant to sound. I do have to take this opportunity to mourn the missed opportunity that is the audiobook for this story. I found a snippet on YouTube and it’s incredibly dry and monotone. A slam poet was clearly the right choice here and I hope we’ll eventually get to hear this book read by the narrator it deserves.

12 Responses to “Reading Beowulf: A New Translation”

    • DoingDewey

      I don’t think I’ve read an original version of this yet, but I did really enjoy this one! Despite having to think a little bit about how to read this as poetry, I found it a fun and easy read once I got into it.

    • DoingDewey

      This might be a bit of a challenge if English isn’t your first language, because the author uses a lot of off-best pop cultural phrases that I see a lot online but not often in books, as well as some older language and some made-up word combinations. Hopefully it’ll be made available in French! That seems like it would be an interesting job for a translator as well.

    • DoingDewey

      I hope this might still feel fresh to you even though you’re more familiar with this classic than I am. It felt very unique to me!

    • DoingDewey

      I think they probably would! I enjoyed this a lot, but I think I’d have loved it even more when I was middle school or high school.

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