Beowulf - Maria Dahvana Headley

This was something of an internet sensation a few weeks/months ago, but it took a while for my copy to arrive, and then a while to read. It's a rather contemporary translation of Beowulf, famously starting "Bro!". It's very accessible, but not "street"y throughout - those parts mostly come through in speech. The rest of it is not just translation into modern language, but really plays with the language - lots of alliteration and assonance, lots of turns of phrase clearly trying to dig into the original's wording.

I'm really not into poetry. I've tried, but it doesn't stick. However, so much of this just wants to be read out loud. It's hard not to hear it in your head. It has immense energy to it, and is great fun to read.

The other great thing about it is that it's not without criticism. From the very first line, it's a world of "bro"s, with all that entails. A world that relies on individual "heroes" who eventually die for a big pile of gold that can't be defended by those left behind, and where so many kill each other pointlessly. This being the first version of Beowulf I've read, perhaps it's always there, but it really comes across here that they're a bunch of violent, posturing men.

Thousands of lines of ancient poetry's not my usual read, but this translation makes it sing. Highly recommended.

Posted 2020-11-21.