Spent last night with Larry and WriterKatie reading Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf aloud.

I never read Beowulf in school myself, for all that I was an English major, but it always had a reputation of being very much a slog to get through.

Heaney’s translation changes that, and is both lovely as poetry in its own right and as a way of making the original feel real and immediate. The world of the tale feels at once very close and very far away.

This is my second “reading” of the story. Reading it all at once, and out loud, adds quite a bit.

And as when reading the sagas, one is struck again by how this story is stll with us, a part of the stories we read and tell now. For fantasy readers, especially, much is familiar. (And for Tolkein readers, the similarities are often very direct indeed.)

One of many lovely bits:

A few miles from here
a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch
above a mere; the overhanging bank
is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface.
At night there, something uncanny happens:
the water burns. And the mere bottom
has never been sounded by the sons of men.
On its bank, the heather-stepper halts:
the hart in flight from pursuing hounds
will turn to face them with firm-set horns
and die in the wood rather than dive
beneath its surface. That is no good place.

The old stories still have the power. And can still send shivers down the spine.

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