One for Anglo-saxonists and lovers of poetry: BBC Radio 4 is set to air a recording of the late Irish poet Seamus Heaney reading his translation of Beowulf next week in 10 separate 15-minute installments. The first episode of 10 is set to air on BBC Radio 4 on Monday at 09:45 BST.
Heaney was an internationally recognised Nobel Prize-winning poet. He died earlier this month at the age of 74. Professor Michael Drout, noted Anglo-saxonist and author of Beowulf and the Critics by J.R.R. Tolkien has described Heaney’s translation as “the most poetic”. A publication of Tolkien’s own translation of has been in limbo for more than a decade.
Composed towards the end of the first millennium, the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf is one of the great Northern epics and a classic of European literature. Radio 4 describes Heaney’s translation, completed near the end of the second millennium, as “true, line-by-line, to the original, as well as being an expression of his own creative, lyrical gift.”
The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then living on, physically and psychically exposed, in that exhausted aftermath. It is not hard to draw parallels between this story and the history of the twentieth century, nor can Heaney’s Beowulf fail to be read partly in the light of his Northern Irish upbringing.
But it also transcends such considerations, telling us psychological and spiritual truths that are permanent and liberating.