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1 - Beowulf and Translation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

Hugh Magennis
Affiliation:
Queen's University Belfast
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Summary

Introductory

Throughout its modern history the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf has inspired translations into Modern English. In the last century and a half or so, some forty verse translations have appeared in print, producing a range of different takes on the Old English poem, in everything from iambic pentameter, to jaunty ballad rhyme, to strict Old English metre, and even more prose translations have been produced. Meanwhile, Beowulf has been a source of interest too for literary translators/adaptors in a broader sense and for other creative artists, though interestingly it has only entered into popular culture to a significant degree in recent years. The present study focuses most closely on verse translations in English, particularly those produced in the last sixty years, though it also pays attention to prose translations and to previous verse translations, as well as referring to other creative adaptations.

The verse translation by Edwin Morgan (1952) is argued here to be of special significance in its own right but also as the beginning of translation of Beowulf into a genuinely modern poetic idiom, leading the way for many later followers down to and beyond Seamus Heaney (1999). With the exception of William Morris's uncompromisingly strange version (1895), discussed below, which creates its own – medievalizing – idiom, Morgan's may be seen as the first serious sustained poetic engagement with the poem in Modern English.

Type
Chapter
Information
Translating 'Beowulf'
Modern Versions in English Verse
, pp. 1 - 26
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2011

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