Copyright 2012 by Daniel Veach
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This book allows us, like Bede’s sparrow, to fly into the fire-
The main course, of course, is Beowulf, a great wild boar of a poem whose flavor
is like nothing else on earth. As the golden cup is passed around, we sit as close
as we can to the music of the ancient poet’s harp, the mead-
There’s plenty of good English beef here too, some of it bloody. “The Battle of Maldon,”
one of the world’s great war poems, puts us on the front line against the Viking
onslaught, surrounded by shouting men, clanging swords and whistling arrows. Women
also win their share of honor: Judith
is as handy with a sword as Beowulf—maybe more so, as he keeps breaking his!
Their brand of Christianity was no place for cowards either. In “The Dream of the
Rood,” Christ is a courageous young warrior, eager for his encounter with the cross.
They even dared to rewrite Genesis—and make the story better! In their version of
Paradise Lost, Eve is innocent of any intentional sin. And Satan has a juicy new
role—800 years before Milton—as a dark, demonic anti-
There is wine for the spirit as well: the vast elegiac vision of “The Wanderer” and the flight of the soul at the end of “The Seafarer,” one of the great moments in all of world poetry. This new translation of “The Seafarer” was recently awarded the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize.
For dessert, we’ll unbutton a bit, and serve up some tidbits you won’t find in the
textbooks. There are curious sayings and spells, where pagan and Christian beliefs
intertwine. And we’ll share in a favorite Anglo-
It’s amazing to us that such risqué riddles were found in a manuscript written by
monks and owned by a bishop. But this is just one more example of the robust, broad-