Tag: Beowulf

Battling grief with Beowulf

Beowulf is a cold substitute for a warm woman, the warm woman being my wife, who is now a non-being in the cold black void of death.

To try and stop from going insane and/or shooting myself, I am currently seeking refuge in literature — the classics, from Beowulf to War and Peace.

Tonight it’s Beowulf, an anonymous epic poem of 3,182 lines about a Scandinavian hero prince that was written sometime between the years 650 and 990.

What interests me is the difference in translations. English translations of any foreign language work are an almost impossible endeavor, particularly one written in Anglo-Saxon or Old English.

Beowulf has been much translated, but take the latest highly lauded translation in 2000 by Irish writer and poet Seamus Heaney, which was on the New York Times best-seller list.

Here is his version of Beowulf’s battle with the dragon (lines 2688 to 2693):

Then the bane of that people, the fire-breathing dragon,

was mad to attack for a third time.

When a chance came, he caught the hero

in a rush of flame and clamped sharp fangs

into his neck. Beowulf’s body

ran wet with his life-blood: it came welling out.

Compare that to the 1963 translation by Burton Raffel:

Then the monster charged again, vomiting

Fire, wild with pain, rushed out

Fierce and dreadful, its fear forgotten.

Watching for its chance it drove its tusks

Into Beowulf’s neck; he staggered, the blood

Came flooding forth, fell like rain.

To me, the Raffel translation (in a handy Signet Classic pocket book that actually does fit in your pocket) is more dramatic and superior to the overly praised version by Heaney (a larger, clumsier Norton paperback.)

Anyway, that’s tonight’s excursion into the escapism of literary distraction. I hope you found it interesting. Comments most welcome.

William Michelmore


In the grip of loneliness, be Beowulf

Loneliness is a bully. It’s like a thug on a deserted street. It coldcocks you and then kicks you when you’re down. If you don’t fight back, it can kill you, either by forcing your own hand to take an overdose or slash your wrists or pull the trigger, or causing you to fall ill and lose the will to recover.

Loneliness is one of the lowest forms of life, right down there with drug dealers and wife beaters. And it will keep tearing you apart no matter how loudly you wail.

You’ve got to stand up to loneliness. You must not cower, because that feeds loneliness’s basest instincts. Loneliness laughs loudest when you cry and cringe.

A grief-stricken person, for example, after yet another lonely sleepless night and desperate day, has got to say, I’ve had it with this creep! Beat the bastard at its own game. When it laughs at your despair, laugh back and louder.

Be Beowulf. Grab that old sword you keep in the back of the closet and come out slashing. I guarantee the cowardly bully will run from the house. If he doesn’t, cut the bastard’s head off.

If you don’t happen to have an old sword in the back of the closet, then tell loneliness to go fuck itself.