What could be a more promising poetic project than the greatest of early English poems, Beowulf , newly translated by arguably the greatest of living poets writing in English, Seamus Heaney? The literary pedigree of this great fabular epic in the hands of Nobel Laureate Heaney matches Ted Hughes' award-winning rewrite of Ovid's Metamorphosis , Tales from Ovid . Heaney has chosen the plain, prosaic yet subtly cadenced vernacular of his Northern Irish roots as the poetic voice into which he renders this famous Anglo-Saxon fabular epic of a dragon-slaying Danish warrior. The result is an engaging evocation of the highly alliterative, densely metaphorical texture of Anglo-Saxon verse, which is famously hard to capture in modern English poetic forms. "It's narrative elements may belong to a previous age but as a work of art it lives in the present," writes Heaney of this tale of monstrous, murderous Grendel, heroic, kingly Beowulf, blood-feuds, dragon-slaying and spiritual grace. The very plain-spokenness of Heaney's translation makes it admirably easy to read and understand, whilst rendering an often true translation at a galloping narrative pace. Heaney's Beowulf opens up one of the most famous founding epics of European literature to a modern world of new readers. -- James Barry
Beowulf was written in England, but is set in Scandinavia; its dating has attracted considerable scholarly attention. The poem has been dated to between the 8th and the early 11th centuries, with some recent scholarship offering what has been called "a cohesive and compelling case for Beowulf's early composition."   However, opinion differs as to whether the composition of the poem is nearly contemporary with its transcription, whether it was first written in the 8th century, or if a proto-version of the poem was perhaps composed at an even earlier time (possibly as one of the Bear's Son Tales ) and orally transmitted for many years, then transcribed in its present form at a later date. Albert Lord felt strongly that the manuscript represents the transcription of a performance, though likely taken at more than one sitting.  J. R. R. Tolkien believed that the poem retains too genuine a memory of Anglo-Saxon paganism to have been composed more than a few generations after the completion of the Christianisation of England around AD 700  , and Tolkien's conviction that the poem dates to the 8th century has been defended by Tom Shippey , Leonard Neidorf, Rafael J. Pascual, and . Fulk, among others.