A new, feminist translation of Beowulf by the author of the much-buzzed-about novel The Mere Wife
Nearly twenty years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf—and fifty years after the translation that continues to torment high-school students around the world—there is a radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley, which brings to light elements that have never before been translated into English, recontextualizing the binary narrative of monsters and heroes into a tale in which the two categories often entwine, justice is rarely served, and dragons live among us.
A man seeks to prove himself as a hero. A monster seeks silence in his territory. A warrior seeks to avenge her murdered son. A dragon ends it all. The familiar elements of the epic poem are seen with a novelist’s eye toward gender, genre, and history—Beowulf has always been a tale of entitlement and encroachment, powerful men seeking to become more powerful, and one woman seeking justice for her child, but this version brings new context to an old story. While crafting her contemporary adaptation of Beowulf, Headley unearthed significant shifts lost over centuries of translation.
My love affair with Beowulf began with Grendel’s mother, the moment I encountered her in an illustrated compendium of monsters,1 a slithery greenish entity standing naked in a swamp, knife in hand. I was about...
Praise for Beowulf: A New Translation
"Of the four translations I’ve read, Headley’s is the most readable and engaging. She combines a modern poetry style with some of the hallmarks of Old English poetry, and the words practically sing off the page . . . Headley’s translation shows why it’s vital to have women and people from diverse backgrounds translate texts. If you haven’t read Beowulf before, start with Headley’s version, and if you have read Beowulf before, then it’s time to read it again." --Margaret Kingsbury, Buzzfeed
"An iconic work of early English literature comes in for up-to-the-minute treatment . . . From the very opening of the poem--'Bro!' in the place of the sturdy Saxon exhortation 'Hwaet'--you know this isn't your grandpappy's version of Beowulf . . . Headley's language and pacing keep perfect track with the events she describes . . . [giving] the 3,182-line text immediacy without surrendering a bit of its grand poetry . . . Her version is altogether brilliant." --Kirkus Reviews (starred)