A Readable Beowulf: The Old English Epic Newly Translated

A Readable Beowulf: The Old English Epic Newly Translated

A Readable Beowulf: The Old English Epic Newly Translated

A Readable Beowulf: The Old English Epic Newly Translated


Stanley B. Greenfield, one of the world's foremost Anglo-Saxon scholars, writes of why, after more than thirty years of study, he undertook the Herculean task of rendering Beowulf into contemporary verse: "I wanted my translation to be not only faithful to the original but, as the late John Lennon would have put it, A Poem in Its Own Write.' I wanted it to flow,' to be easy to read, with the narrative movement of a modern prose story; yet to suggest the rhythmic cadences of the Old English poem. I wanted it both modern and Old English in its reflexes and sensibilities, delighting both the general reader and the Anglo-Saxon specialist.... I wanted it to reproduce the intoxication of aural contours which… might have pleased and amused warriors over their cups in the Anglo-Saxon mead-hall, or those monks in Anglo-Saxon monasteries who paid more attention to song and to stories of Ingeld than to the lector and the gospels."

Greenfield has succeeded to a remarkable degree in reaching his goals. An early reviewer of the manuscript, Daniel G. Calder of UCLA, wrote: "I find it the best translation of Beowulf.

One of the great problems with other translations is that they make the reading of Beowulf difficult. Greenfield's translation speeds along with considerable ease... Scholars will find the translation fascinating as an exercise in the successful recreating of various aspects of Old English poetic style."


This volume has been a labor of love, a climax to some thirty years of research in and teaching of Beowulf. What I have produced is simultaneously a poem and, by virtue of the nature of translation, an act of criticism; it is also my testament of critical faith to the enduring value of the Old English masterpiece.

I cannot begin to give credit to all those who have contributed in one way or another to this re-creation of the Anglo-Saxon poet's epic vision, but mention of some of them is in order. First, I should like to pay homage to my now-deceased mentor and friend, Arthur G. Brodeur, without whose inspiration my scholarly feet might never have been directed to the Beowulfian path. Then, I wish to thank the many students and colleagues, here and abroad, who have listened with patience and good nature to my ideas about translation and parts of my performance in countless classes and lectures over the last five years: their encouragement has sustained me often in the desert of my doubts. Particular thanks are due to Eric G. Stanley, who has probably forgotten that it was he who first urged me to try my wings in the rarefied air of poetic translation; to Peter Clemoes and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, who, through a Visiting Fellowship in spring 1979, furnished time and audience for a prolonged effort in the translative atmosphere; and to Daniel G. Calder, who, in reading the manuscript for the Press, helped bring . . .

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