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6 - Michael Alexander: Shadowing the Old English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

Hugh Magennis
Affiliation:
Queen's University Belfast
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Summary

The version of Beowulf by the British translator Michael Alexander appeared in 1973, when Alexander was in his early thirties. He had studied English at Oxford, receiving his training in Old English from Christopher Tolkien, Bruce Mitchell and others, and had embarked upon what would be a successful – and wide-ranging – academic career. Alexander had published some original lyric poems in the early 1960s, eventually collected together in an elegant small volume published in 1978, but most of his poetry has been translations from the Old English, among which his most signal achievement has been the translation of Beowulf. His career has been one that has integrated scholarship and art and this integration is reflected above all in his work on Beowulf. His translation of the poem proved extremely popular, staying continuously in print until it was recently reissued in a new revised edition. Alexander points out that his Beowulf and an earlier volume of translations, The Earliest English Poems, have between them sold more than half a million copies over the years.

Among British verse translations of Beowulf of the second half of the twentieth century, Alexander's version is highlighted in the present chapter as being not only the most popular and the one used most for teaching purposes but also, in my view, as a particularly interesting and enabling translation, reading well in its own right while bringing a lively sense of the poetry of the original poem to the modern reader.

Type
Chapter
Information
Translating 'Beowulf'
Modern Versions in English Verse
, pp. 135 - 160
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2011

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