Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. London: Faber and Faber, 1999. First edition. pp. xxx, 106. Dark blue paper boards, title in gilt on spine. Signed by Seamus Heaney on titlepage. A fine copy in dust jacket.
The great relic of English literature is the epic ‘Beowulf’. The poem is in West Saxon but was originally composed in a northern or midland dialect. There are many theories as to its origins and composition. It probably developed into a saga in Northumbria in the 7th century and in the 8th it attained its present unity with the central heroic figure of Beowulf.
Most of the characters in the events in Beowulf are mentioned in history or folklore, chiefly in the Scandinavian legends. Beowulf himself is reputedly an historical figure, warrior of one of the Kings of Denmark (like our own Fionn and the Fianna who were said to be historical but about whom a band of legends grew up).
The main events in the poem occurred in the 6th century. It is a mixture of folk tale, hero legend and the poet’s imagination of a noble character. This new translation by Seamus Heaney was met with great critical acclaim when first published in 1999.