By Dave Coulter
Ahh, this weather! A lot of people don’t like this time of year, this inevitable Midwestern slide towards winter. Mere days ago we had a nice string of brilliant blue sunny days. Now we’re paying for it with cold, wind and rain. The perfect season to finally get into that copy of Beowulf that I picked up last summer at the Book Table. This version by Seamus Heaney is several years old and I have been waiting a long time to read it.
I think I will like this.
Like many across the Northern Hemisphere I was first introduced to Beowulf in grade school. I think it was in 6th grade when one of our teachers read it aloud to the class. I remember that it was interesting, but I was not on the edge-of-my-seat over the old myth.
It wasn’t until I was in my early 20’s when the writer John Gardner died, and I discovered his version of the myth, Grendel. I loved it, and come to think of it, it has been on my bookshelf ever since then. My favorite character there may be Gardner’s dragon. It’s worth reading just to get to know that winged monster.
One of my unanticipated joys of aging is the realization that I have forgotten so much of what I read when I was a teenager or in my twenties. Re-reading someone like Kurt Vonnegut now is even better than when I was a youngster. The words haven’t changed, but I sure have. I think this is why I can’t wait to re-enter Beowulf’s world - and these new/old grey winds of October set the stage.
And this time I’m not a kid or a young man. I’m middle aged with more years behind than ahead and Seamus Heaney is my guide. I appreciate words more now than I did then, and in the introduction Heaney connects modern readers to the Anglo-Saxon text. And maybe that’s the benefit of the years? I can see these connections in a way that I never would have at 12 or 22.
So, will Beowulf’s story be different this time? The sky is black, the mead is simmering, the rain beats against the windows. Is what is old…new? Again? Of course it is. That is a given, but I wonder how that old dragon is doing?