In the 1980's the editors of ''The Norton Anthology of English Literature'' asked Seamus Heaney, the most accomplished poet writing in English and a Nobel laureate, to translate ''Beowulf,'' the English tradition's first great epic, which so dramatically -- in terms of monsters and dragons -- presents the human being's experience of life as an expanding series of challenges by the unknown that bring us ineffable strength and wisdom before we die. Heaney, who grew up Roman Catholic in Northern Ireland, for 40 years has been one of the most subtle and profound witnesses to the violence and anguish of the political, religious and social struggles in his country and acknowledges a brooding resentment that for centuries the English, who conquered Ireland, suppressed its rich Gaelic poetic tradition, so different from that of the English language. In fact, ''Beowulf,'' in which conquest and colonizing are dominant themes, may contain in its language a record of conquest, the history of which is now lost to us. In this edition of the translation that first appeared in the anthology, Heaney writes an introduction explaining that he decided to give the poem the voice of Northern Irish men he'd grown up with, making his work as translator a wrestling with the great poem as a personal recapitulation of the whole Irish struggle. That battle is palpable here; he has achieved a faithful rendering of the epic that is also an original, captivating poem in its own right. As our language changes, translations get dated; Heaney's poem stands a much better chance of a long life.

The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters.
By Matt Ridley.
Harper Collins.


Satisfied customers are saying