Goodreads Review: Beowulf: A New Translation by Unknown and Maria Dahvana Headley

Three star review, originally posted here on December 20, 2021.

There are two halves to consider here: the epic of Beowulf, and this particular translation. I remember really liking Beowulf in high school. That was, admittedly, a VERY long time ago, so my memory isn’t the clearest. Did we even read the entire poem, or just excerpts? Who knows. As I was reading this translation, I was struck by how much time was spent talking about how badass Beowulf was because he fights all these monsters, and an abysmally tiny amount of time actually fighting the monsters. I think maybe I’d assumed all these years that we must have only read excerpts since the fight scenes seem to be missing from my memory, but now reading the whole thing again has me realizing that, naw, that’s just how this poem rolls.
What of this translation? Meh. I dunno. It’s fine. I don’t recall having any issues with the version we read in the 90’s, so I didn’t really perceive a problem that needed to be solved here. It’s odd to read the reviews and blurbs claiming that Beowulf was previously a stuffy tormenter of English students everywhere, but NOW we have this badass version that’s so SOOO fucking cool and approachable! I didn’t find that to be the case. Yeah, every now and then there’s some slang thrown in. But… I dunno, does anyone NEED the term “bro” thrown around in order to suddenly “get” this poem? If so, then I think this translation falls short. Because MOST of the poem is still, you know, just a poem that still reads like a poem. It’s not like Michelle Pfeiffer is going to walk into an inner city schoolroom and throw this down and suddenly all the cool kids from THE STREETS are going to be fucking LOVING their English lit class. It’s still a nerdy poem for nerdy readers.
All that being said, there’s nothing WRONG with this translation as far as I can tell. Except that it will age rapidly instead of remaining timeless. It was adequate and fine. So, neutral rating it is.


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