Throughout the class’ examination of Heaney’s original poetry, we have oftentimes mentioned how connected he is to the history of Ireland in a physical context, namely the soil. Considering this fixation on the organic development of Ireland and Irish culture, I found myself thinking about Heaney’s coveted translation of Beowulf. While his work with the poem has earned much acclaim as an engaging and accurate translation into modern English, one must puzzle over what this says about Heaney as a poet, as well as an Irishman.
While Heaney is a native of Northern Ireland, as well as a born Catholic, his translation of a traditional English epic poem that is classic to the English archives of literature encourages further criticism to follow his history of teetering between political views and alliances with Irish and English conflicts. In an interview with the New York Times, Heaney himself admits, “Part of me had been writing Anglo-Saxon from the start.” Heaney’s ability to maintain a reputation as a talented and skilled writer despite the political complications regarding his career is nothing short of incredible.
To illustrate the skill with which Heaney takes history and reforms it for modern society, below are hyperlinks to two youtube videos that read Heaney’s translation of Beowulf aloud in the tradition of the bard performing his art, bringing to life the lyrics that Heaney so carefully deduced to be the most accurate way of giving this classic piece new life.