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Beowulf Translations

JAG18

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A few days ago, I finished reading "Beowulf", while I was reading I kept anticipating specific cool moments I've heard of over the years; like when Beowulf pulls Grendel's arm out of it's socket like a wookiee, but one moment I was really waiting for was when Beowulf kills the Frankish standard bearer.

 

Now, here is how Tom Shippey described the moment, in the special features for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug",

 

When I killed the Frankish standard-bearer my warlike grasp broke his house of bones and crushed out the pulses of his heart.

 

...and here is how Marc Hudson put it in the "Wordsworth Classics of World Literature" edition I read,

 

The standard-bearer fell in battle,

the aetheling in his courage, nor was a sword his slayer.

A battle-grip stilled his heartbeat,

crushed his ribcage...

(lines 2505-2508)

 

Maybe a slight difference to some, but clearly not as exciting or epic IMO; no offense to Hudson and his publisher, but now I think I really should have read whatever translation Shippey is quoting.

 

 

Anyway, I now need to find something new to read.



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I think it really depends on what your looking for - I can tell you right away that, while Shippey's is colloquialized and flows better on modern tongues, Hudson's adheres more closely to the original text. 

 

Personally I like the more literal translations, but that's because I find the historical context of the poem more interesting than the content - which definitely isn't the case for everyone.

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Seamus Heaney's translation is also so good, really sticks the original form of the poem and really translates it into English well in my opinion(as one who is not super familiar with original Anglo-Saxon verse yet). Also, his use of alliteration throughout is so great. The passage you quoted goes as follows in his translation:

 

their standard-bearer, highborn and brave.

No sword blade sent him to his death:

My bare hands stilled his heartbeats

And wrecked the bone-house. (2505-2508)

I haven't read Tolkien's version yet, unfortunately. I hope to soon, though.

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You can read Tolkien's translation of Beowulf, if you want to give it another go. I'm still in the middle of it, but its great. Rich in epic wording like you exampled.

I knew about Tolkien's "Beowulf: Monsters and the Critics", but I was unaware he also had a translation.  I don't normally reread books much, but if his is more in line with my example then that's a very good reason to give Tolkien's a try while doing it.

 

 

I think it really depends on what your looking for - I can tell you right away that, while Shippey's is colloquialized and flows better on modern tongues, Hudson's adheres more closely to the original text. 

I honestly just read Hudson's version because I got it cheap at a second-hand book store, but I am glad to learn that greater adherence to the text is a strength of it.

 

What I look for in a translation varies, but for "Beowulf" I was just looking to enjoy a good story (conveyed in a readable way) and to get the overall feel of the poem.  Which means Shippey or Tolkien probably has what I'm looking for.

 

 

Seamus Heaney's translation is also so good, really sticks the original form of the poem and really translates it into English well in my opinion(as one who is not super familiar with original Anglo-Saxon verse yet). 

Noted, for if and when I get around to rereading this.  XP

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Tolkien's version is fantastic (it just came out a couple years ago thanks to his son)--I definitely second that. It's cool because it's also prose rather than the usual epic poem style, and considering Tolkien's style of prose it reads incredibly beautifully IMO. I recently took a class on Old English (which also included Beowulf, both in the original and a translated version), and I didn't really like the translation we read (by Kevin Crossley-Holland, I believe), but I asked my professor if I could use Tolkien's translation for the paper and fortunately she allowed it, which I definitely much preferred. I usually love epic poetry but just wasn't the biggest fan of Crossley's Beowulf, so Tolkien's prose was a nice relief (then again I'm biased as he's my favorite author).

 

I still really want to read Heaney's version too, as I love his original poetry, but just haven't gotten around to it. And besides reading some random version that I don't remember about ten years ago, those are the only two translations I've read so far--I'm definitely interested to check out both translations you mentioned. 

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sniff sniff there's Old English afoot

 

nothing beats that original:

 

ac in campe gecrong    cumbles hyrde, 

 

æþeling on elne    ne wæs ecg bona, 

ac him hilde-grāp    heortan wylmas 

bān-hūs gebræc.    Nū sceall billes ecg, 

hond ond heard sweord    ymb hord wīgan.

 

but in combat cringed    the banner's herd,

the prince in strength,    edge was not the-slayer

but battle gripped    his heart, whelms

broke his bone-house.    Now shall blade's edge,

hand and hard sword,    for the hoard do battle.

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sniff sniff there's Old English afoot

 

nothing beats that original:

 

ac in campe gecrong    cumbles hyrde, 

 

æþeling on elne    ne wæs ecg bona, 

ac him hilde-grāp    heortan wylmas 

bān-hūs gebræc.    Nū sceall billes ecg, 

hond ond heard sweord    ymb hord wīgan.

 

but in combat cringed    the banner's herd,

the prince in strength,    edge was not the-slayer

but battle gripped    his heart, whelms

broke his bone-house.    Now shall blade's edge,

hand and hard sword,    for the hoard do battle.

That version seems a little... hard to get through.
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sniff sniff there's Old English afoot

 

nothing beats that original:

 

ac in campe gecrong    cumbles hyrde, 

 

æþeling on elne    ne wæs ecg bona, 

ac him hilde-grāp    heortan wylmas 

bān-hūs gebræc.    Nū sceall billes ecg, 

hond ond heard sweord    ymb hord wīgan.

 

but in combat cringed    the banner's herd,

the prince in strength,    edge was not the-slayer

but battle gripped    his heart, whelms

broke his bone-house.    Now shall blade's edge,

hand and hard sword,    for the hoard do battle.

That version seems a little... hard to get through.

 

Literature and prose has certainly come a long way since the mid-First Millennium Anno Domini, that's for sure. :lol:

 

Here's a taste of Tolkien's prose in his salvaged take on Beowulf. I've yet to reach the passage with the Frank, so here is something else:

 

   After these words the prince of the windloving Geats

hastened dauntless forth, for no answer would he wait. The

surging sea engulfed that warrior bold. Thereafter a long

hour of the day it was ere he could descry the level floor.

Straight away that creature that with cruel lust, ravenous and

grim, had a hundred seasons held the watery realm, perceived

that there from on high some man was come espy the

dwelling of inhuman things. She clutched then at him, seized

in her dire claws the warrior bold. No whit the sooner did

she hurt his body unharmed within; the ring-mail fended

him about, that she might not pierce with cruel fingers the

supple-linked shirt that clad him in the fray. Then that she-wolf

of the waves to the sea-bottom coming bore the mail-clad

prince unto her own abode. Even so, in no wise could

he wield his weapons - wroth was he thereat! - so many a

monster strange beset him sorely as they swam, and many

a beast of the sea with fell tusks at his hauberk tore; fierce

destroyers pressed upon him.

 

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