Seamus Heaney's beautiful version of Beowulf takes the lyrical route of translation rather than the literal one. Having studied Old English as an undergraduate student, Heaney pursued his desire to translate Beowulf in a manner that would retain the emphatic power of the original, using his poetic prowess, understanding of language, and feel for the elegiac qualities that run rampant through the epic.
The text comes complete with the text of the original, and both the Old English and the modern translation can be viewed side-by-side for the scholar. Also included for the cheerful pedant is a family tree of the heroes of Beowulf and their immediate families. These elements expose this work as something more than a swift read for a high school student--each detail is seamlessly integrated for the literary devotee. The publication of Heaney's Beowulf is was the culmination of decades of dedication to the idea to give the epic tale a life worthy of its scope and magnitude.
The tale is mesmerizing in its weighty, sometimes simple, diction. Heaney's words are a vessel for the oral tale to live on in an echo in the readers' minds, low and steady, ringing through a mead-hall for a captivated audience. As those listeners must have believed in the wrath of the monster Grendel, so too is the modern reader invited to question what monsters today give whole populations reason to tremble . . . and ask where are the heroes, and where are the story tellers to spread the good news of those heroes' victories?
But the answer is clear--Seamus Heaney is the story teller, not to recount tales of modern heroes and monsters, but to remind us that the same tales may relate to us something of our link with the past: through emotions, through cadence, through language.