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Translated by Ben J. Reinhard
Dating from the age of Bede the Venerable, Beowulf is the quintessential Anglo-Saxon poem, the “heroic-elegaic” of man versus monsters. The hero, Beowulf, defends the Danes against the rampaging Grendel and his monstrous mother, and returns home, where he lives long and prosperously. At life’s end, however, he must confront the final foe, death, in battle with a dragon, deadly and ancient.
“Hark! We have heard of the Spear Danes from days of yore
The kings of that people; their power and glory—
How those heroes did their noble deeds.”
This new verse translation by Ben J. Reinhard is a notable achievement in literal fidelity and poetic form, producing a formal equivalent to the original text with a noble and somber style of its own. Complementing the translation are the Old English text, a critical introduction, and detailed explanatory notes that ground the poem in traditional criticism and the Catholic intellectual tradition. Subject of seemingly countless efforts of analysis, criticism, and translation, Beowulf is nevertheless “not spent,” Reinhard notes in his introduction, because “like all great works, its message can never be exhausted.” This measureless source of meaning is made possible by the poem’s unique character as described by J. R. R. Tolkien: “The whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real.… It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.”
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Ben J. Reinhard is Academic Dean and Associate Professor of English at Christendom College, where he teaches courses in Old and Middle English literature. His scholarship has appeared in: Anglo-Saxon England, English Studies, Mythlore, Notes and Queries, Old English Newsletter, and Religion & Literature.