There are several books I read yearly. The topics range from marriage and childrearing to education and the Lord’s Supper. There are not many fiction books on this list. However, I have read Beowulf at least twice a year for the past three years. I never tire of it. I give it to my friends. I read it to my boys. We memorize portions of it.
It is hard to say why I love Beowulf so much. There are more complex and important stories, such as a Dickens’ novels or Shakespeare. I am currently working through Crime and Punishment, which is a truly stunning novel. I was reading it while my wife was bringing our most recent child into the world (Don’t worry. I only read while she was resting.) and had to keep reminding myself where I was and what I was doing. Still for me Beowulf resonates with who I want to be and who I want my sons to be. Beowulf is a savior, a deliverer, a hero. He slays the great monsters and ultimately gives his life for his people. He weaves speeches of grand, but not pompous, words. He does not fear death, but he is not a fool who risks for no reason. He fights for someone, the good king Hrothgar and finally for his people. He resists the temptations that come with being a wealthy king. I am not sure that I have read a more masculine book in my life. There are swords and torn arms and heads on the tops of spears. There is beer and feasting and song. There is dread and terror, followed by gladness, followed by more dread and terror. Beowulf gets in your bones. You read it and the atmosphere sticks with you. And the best part of all is that it is poetry.
There are several good versions out there. There is a kid’s prose version by Serrailer that is worth reading to get an introduction to the text. I have two poetic versions. Both of them are excellent. The one I like best is by Seamus Heaney. On one side of the page he has the Old English translation. On the other side he has a modern translation. He is Nobel prize winning poet and this work is superb. The other poetic version I own is by Rebsamen. This is more accessible than Heaney’s version, but you cannot go wrong with either one. Beowulf can be hard to read initially. We are not used to poetry like this. But after a couple of reads it becomes much easier. Persevere and Beowulf will reward you.