Edinburgh Book Festival: Beowulf

Colin Griffith is the Publishing Director for Tethered by Letters. He received his undergraduate degree in 2012 from Kenyon College, where he studied English with an emphasis in film. Focused on fiction and nonfiction alike, he’s especially fascinated by science fiction, horror, and cultural commentary. In addition to editing and publishing F(r)iction, Colin writes fiction reviews for the TBL website.

Edinburgh Book Festival: Beowulf

by Colin Griffith

It’s been a busy week at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Thankfully, I got a much-needed break Saturday night, when I was able to attend a dramatic reading of “Beowulf.” Organized in partnership between the Book Festival and Glasgow’s Tron Theatre Company, the reading was one of the month’s most highly anticipated events. It did not disappoint.

Specifically, the event was billed as a celebration of Seamus Heaney, whose 1999 translation has become the standard English version of the ancient work. Performed in a sparse, clean staging by three female readers, the reading was delivered with an appropriately understated drama. The program’s director explained after the event that Seamus Heaney never intended for his translation of the poem to be staged in a full dramatic performance, preferring instead for the language alone to transmute the drama of the story.

This goal was certainly achieved by the three readers, whose command over Heaney’s intricate alliterative style and poetic eloquence was immediately recognizable. I found the poem to be particularly compelling when read in a Scottish accent. There was an authority accompanying their delivery that I found quite impressive, something that I think was enhanced by their regional accents.

Listening to the reading, I was reminded of my first experience with Heaney’s translation. It remains, to my ear, the best possible rendition of the ancient epic, flowing with a kind of poetic fluency that breaks the constraints of rhetoric and moves the work into a more dramatic space. It was a pleasure to hear it read by such confident and commanding voices, and I’m sure the night will remain one of the highlights of my festival experience.

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