Exploring Epic Poems

The hardy group who read Paradise Lost last year have decided to continue to make life complex by reading Beowulf (not in the original) using Seamus Heaney’s recent translation. Unfortunately the group is full now.

We have now moved on to looking at Piers Plowman.

Here’s a little bit of what you have missed:

As with Paradise Lost, Beowulf is among the greatest English language (well, actually Anglo-Saxon) poems.  These gentle sessions will explore its beauty, meaning and relevance.


Hwæt! We Gardena       in geardagum,
þeod-cyninga       þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas       ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing       sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum,       meodo-setla ofteah 5
egsode eorlas.       Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden,       he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum,       weorðmyndum þah
oðþæt him æghwylc       ymbsittendra
ofer hron-rade       hyran scolde, 10
gomban gyldan.       Þæt wæs god cyning.

Original text (from R.M. Liuzza: Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. Peterborough: Broadview, 2000.)


So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes. 5
This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him 10
and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king

Translation by Seamus Heaney ; Beowulf: A Verse Translation. New York: Norton, 2002.