Friday, September 9, 2011

Beowulf translated by Gummere

Free US/UK Kindle Classic
Beowulf translated by Gummere, 1910. (US Edition) (UK Edition) Tolkien believed Beowulf dated from the 8th century, with is good enough for me!

When I read Beowulf, I get a primal tingling, a sense that my DNA was sitting around a fire in the Great Hall hearing this tale told at a time when fire, a spear and a strong arm might not be sufficient protection against what lurks in the dark beyond the door.  

So lived the clansmen in cheer and revel a winsome life,
till one began to fashion evils, that field of hell.
Grendel this monster grim was called, march-riever {1e} mighty,
in moorland living, in fen and fastness;
fief of the giants the hapless wight a while had kept
since the Creator his exile doomed.
On kin of Cain was the killing avenged
by sovran God for slaughtered Abel.
Ill fared his feud, {1f} and far was he driven,
for the slaughter’s sake, from sight of men.
Of Cain awoke all that woful breed,
Etins {1g} and elves and evil-spirits,
as well as the giants that warred with God
weary while: but their wage was paid them!

The footnotes, which you see in the text are linked to a list of footnotes at the end of the book.  You can easily click back and forth because they are cross-linked.  Here is an example from the text above.

{1e} A disturber of the border, one who sallies from his haunt in the fen and roams over the country near by. This probably pagan nuisance is now furnished with biblical credentials as a fiend or devil in good standing, so that all Christian Englishmen might read about him. “Grendel” may mean one who grinds and crushes.

It was once my pleasure to hear this read in the original language with slides translating to English and with original music performed on an instrument imagined to be like the stringed instrument of the time.  The only thing lacking was mead. 

All poetry is best read out loud, so perhaps you will want to read Beowulf to your cat, who I am sure will take the side of Grendel, or worse, his mother.

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