Beowulf

beowulf-burton-raffel-hardcover-cover-art

I found out only recently that my dad used to tell me stories from Beowulf when I was a kid. Like, three. He told a three-year-old about Beowulf ripping the arm off of a monster. I don’t remember these stories, so either I was tougher than I make myself out to be, or I just blocked out the memories. Either way, I turned out functional, right?

I recently found a Perma-Bound version of Beowulf at a thrift store for only a dollar, and I bought it on the spot. And read it over the next two days or so. I was surprised – I had always grown up hearing, in and out of English class, that Beowulf was the oldest English poem we had, that it was this great epic poem, yadda yadda yadda… I assumed it would take me months to finish. But it turned out to be around 150 pages in all, in fairly readable verse. It was an easy read.

My copy was translated by Burton Raffel, by the way. It was extremely readable, and beautifully poetic. Check out a few lines about setting King Shild’s funeral boat afloat:

“High up over his head they flew
His shining banner, then sadly let
The water pull at the ship, watched it
Slowly sliding to where neither rulers
Nor heroes nor anyone can say whose hands
Opened to take that motionless cargo.”

That’s good poetry! Anyways. I cheated (?) and skipped the introduction and afterward, which were chock-full of the kind of details about translation, rhyme, rhythm, and meter from all those English classes that had me convinced that this was going to be a ridiculously hard read. But the story itself is a good adventure full of monsters, dragons, and derring-do. And it only took a few hours to read, in total. ♦

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