Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney has died, at the age of 74. While I’m familiar with his other work, I’m particularly touched by this because his version of Beowulf is the one in the Norton Anthology, and hence the one through which the kids at Mondoville have experienced the text over my decade there.
In fact, the Spawn is currently reading the poem in her Honors English class at Mondoville High, although I don’t know which translation she’s using. I think I’ll lend her my freestanding copy of Heaney’s translation, as I find it eminently readable, while also demonstrating how an attentive translator can capture the feel of the grave old lines.
I suppose my praise is superfluous, but it’s sincere as well. And in the words of Hygelac’s thane, the son of Ecgtheow:
For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark. (1386-9)
By that standard, Mr. Heaney is well defended indeed.