Farewell, Mr. Heaney

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.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Medievalia. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Farewell, Mr. Heaney

  1. Sad news. I used to dislike Beowulf. I was required to read a translation that did nothing for me in high school. It was torture. Many years later a friend suggested I check out Heaney’s translation and see if it changed my mind. It did. I own a copy now and have even picked it up from time to time just to read some lines.

    I suppose that Heaney’s Beowulf is his glory from life and that for which he will be remembered (at least by me.)

  2. Kate P says:

    I’m so sad to hear this. I always introduce him to my students in March. It will feel different when I do it next.

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