Stephen Mitchell's marvelously clear and vivid rendering recreates the robust masculine music of the original. It both hews closely to the Old English and captures its wild energy and vitality, not just as a deep "work of literature" but also as a rousing entertainment that can still stir our feelings and rivet our attention today, after more than a thousand years. This new translation - spare, sinuous, vigorous in its narration, and translucent in its poetry - makes a masterpiece accessible to everyone.
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- Tad Davis
Great translation, weak reading
I’ve been looking forward to Stephen Mitchell’s translation of Beowulf ever since I heard it was coming. I’ve enjoyed several of his other works, and this tale seemed like it was right up his alley. His version is a model of clarity and narrative drive, and he retains enough of the technical features of the original to give a sense of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Most of all he manages to convey the sadness that seems to cling to every line of the poem: a world-weariness that pervades the most exciting battle scenes.
As an audiobook, it suffers from Mitchell’s narration. In his attempt to be clear and understated, he’s managed to compress everything into the same matter-of-fact tone. Beowulf the poem includes single combat, battle sequences, meadhall celebrations, bardic songs, betrayal and grief. Mitchell’s text captures all of this beautifully. But Mitchell’s voice stays on the same (un)emotional level throughout.
I plan to listen to it again, and to evaluate the translation in print. It’s a worthwhile outing, but I wish it was a more dramatic audio experience.
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