For several decades students coping with the strangeness and vagueness of Anglo-Saxon writing and the text of Beowulf for the first time did so by means of the translation by E. Talbot Donaldson. In recent years the Norton Anthology, a fixture in English departments around the world, made the startling decision to replace Donaldson’s prose translation with a verse translation by Seamus Heaney. However, numerous medieval scholars were not pleased by this change; for Heaney’s version of the Old English epic fails to retain the meaning of the original. A comparative approach, guided by the essential factor of retaining the meaning of the original, readily reveals the weaknesses of Heaney’s text. Heaney frequently strays from the original material and, moreover, avoids numerous poetic devices (such as alliteration and litotes) that contribute to the richness, atmosphere, and meaning of the original epic. Heaney’s version is not the translation one should read if one is encountering Beowulf for the first time. Heaney’s translation does not adequately capture the mood and feel of the Anglo-Saxon epic and its cultural heritage. The translation further neglects to modernize the style of Anglo-Saxon verse. Rather, Heaney’s translation reflects the poet’s rather subjective take on the subject. The best translation of Beowulf is Donaldson’s prose translation, which remains true to the spirit and nature of the original.
臺灣英美文學期刊, 3, 37-52 Taiwan journal of English literature