The Seamus Heaney Beowulf translation

I’m reading the (relatively) new Beowulf translation by Irish poet Seamus Heaney. I didn’t know what to expect actually. I was surprised to find it much more “prosey” than the old Gumerre translation that is in the public domain. This new one is much easier to read and understand and certainly still maintains the fun alliterative verse. It’s very different though and after reading Tolkien’s version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight last year, I can’t help but find the old alliteration-laid-on-thick version a bit more strange and enjoyable at times.

Here is a comparison Heaney translation (first) with the Gumerre, starting at line 115.

So, after nightfall, Grendel set out
for the lofty house, to see how the Ring-Danes
were settling into it after their drink,
and there he came upon them, a company of the best
asleep from their feasting, insensible to pain
and human sorrow. Suddenly then
the God-cursed brute was creating havoc:
greedy and grim, he grabbed thirty men
from their resting places and rushed to his lair,
flushed up and inflamed from the raid,
blundering back with the butchered corpses.


Went he forth to find at fall of night
that haughty house, and heed wherever
the Ring-Danes, outrevelled, to rest had gone.
Found within it the atheling band
asleep after feasting and fearless of sorrow,
of human hardship. Unhallowed wight,
grim and greedy, he grasped betimes,
wrathful, reckless, from resting-places,
thirty of the thanes, and thence he rushed
fain of his fell spoil, faring homeward,
laden with slaughter, his lair to seek.