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Roberts, Gildas.

St. John's, Breakwater Books, n.d. 99pp, paper, $6.95, ISBN 0-919519-64-4. CIP

Grades 9 and up
Reviewed by Alan Thomas

Volume 13 Number 3
1985 May

Beowulf, the natural epic of the Anglo-Saxon language and people, first written it is believed in the eighth century, is here put into a modem English verse by a scholar concerned with the maintenance of as much as possible of the original heroic manner. Professor Roberts keeps to the original poetic practice of word-couplings, or kennings, as in "whale-road" and "gannet's-bath" as expressions for the sea, and allows into his verse alliterations that recall the Anglo-Saxon rhythmic stresses, as in:

Then the day departed
As the dragon desired . . .

This conservative handling certainly conveys a sense of the strongly-weighted march of the original verse and checks the danger of a collapse into thinness with the use of a modern idiom. Surely this is to be commended. If students are to read an eighth-century epic in translation, they should be able to hear in the new lines a strong echo of the old. Beowulf is a poem before it is anything else. Its interest as an historical document is also served by Professor Roberts' preface outlining the burden of ideas carried in the poem and the relation of these, in particular, to Christianity. There is clearly a bias at work here in the author's insistence on its Christian nature, but opposing arguments for its pagan character are also presented. The poem comes with a glossary of names and terms, undoubtedly useful, and notes to individual lines. There is a map of the region of the action and a short bibliography that lists specialist works of a scholarly nature and also recent fictional reworkings of Beowulf that could prove helpful in classroom treatment of the poem.

Alan Thomas, Scarborough College, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont.
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