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A Likeness

and Marijane Osborn; With contributions by Fred C. Robinson; Randolph Swearer

View Inside Format: Cloth
Price: $70.00
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Beowulf, the primary epic of the English language, is a powerful heroic poem eloquently expressive of the Anglo-Saxon culture that produced it. In this beautiful book a designer, a poet, and a specialist in Anglo-Saxon literature recreate Beowulf for a modern audience. Interweaving evocative images, a new interpretation in verse, and a running commentary that helps clarify the action and setting of the poem as well as the imagery, the book brings new life to this ancient masterpiece. 
Randolph Swearer’s oblique and allusive images create an archaic, mysterious atmosphere by depicting in forms and shadows the world of Germanic antiquity—Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon art, artifacts, and scenery. At the same time, Raymond Oliver gives Beowulf a world in which to live, filling in the cultural gaps not with a thick matrix of footnotes but with poetry itself. Unlike many translations of Beowulf in existence, Oliver’s retelling of the epic uses modern verse forms for poetic effect and includes a wealth of historically authentic descriptions, characterizations, and explanations necessary for modern readers. Marijane Osborn completes the process of restoring context to the poem by supplying a commentary to clarify the historical and geographical dimensions of the story as well as the imagery that accompanies it. All three work together to bring a likeness of an old and elusive tale to today’s reader.
“The book’s design and the commentary on it provide a unique visual complement to Oliver’s poem… A strange and moving story, compellingly told and seriously interesting to any serious reader of books.”—Fred C. Robinson, from the Introduction

Randolph Swearer is a designer and is currently area director for visual communication in the art department at the University of Texas, Austin. Raymond Oliver is a poet and medieval scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. Marijane Osborn is a specialist in Anglo-Saxon literature at the University of California, Davis. Fred C. Robinson is Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of English at Yale University.   

"The book's design and the commentary on it provide a unique visual complement to Oliver's poem. . . . A strange and moving story, compellingly told and seriously interesting to any serious reader of books."—Fred C. Robinson, from the Introduction

"Those who loved Tolkien's Lord of the Rings will treasure this new translation of Beowulf. . . . Bookcraft at its best. . . . [A] magnificent version of the Old English poem. . . . A treasure and a monument to the heroic spirit of Beowulf."—Thomas D'Evelyn, Christian Science Monitor

"I heartily recommend [it]. . . . It is a poetic retelling of the poem by Raymond Oliver, accompanied by an introduction by Fred Robinson, an extraordinary set of photos of the MS and other Germanic sites and antiquities by Randolph Swearer, and a commentary on these photos by Marijane Osborn—altogether, a production as beautiful as it is weird. Leave it on the coffee table for a week, and your East-Coast scholarly resistance will melt like an icicle. . . . There is hardly a page where Beowulfians will not find lines to savor. . . . Much of the poem's success depends upon the poetry of the book's visual display. Imagine reading the modern version superimposed upon a faint but clear photo of the appropriate MS page hovering behind it, inviting readers like us to look right through the one to the other. Many of the photos of the MS are hypnotically clear and three-dimensional. A photo of the reconstructed village of West Stow powerfully evokes the historical actuality behind Beowulf. . . . Beowulf: A Likeness is the stocking-stuffer of choice."—James Earl, Ansaxnet

"This stunning book offers, in words and pictures, not strictly a translation but rather an imaginative retelling of the Old English epic. Raymond Oliver's beautifully wrought poem creates in modern verse forms a moodily evocative setting for the heroic action. Oliver freely expands upon the original Beowulf, adding description, motivation, sometimes entire characters and scenes, all of which derive from the spirit of the ancient poem, but which make its milieu more accessible to the modern reader. . . . Interleaved throughout the text are Randolph Swearer's suggestively poetic photographs of Anglo-Saxon artifacts, of English and Danish landscapes evoking the setting of the poem, and repeatedly, of the manuscript itself as backdrop to its modern likeness. Finally, using Swearer's photographs as map points, Marijane Osborn traces the poem's historical geography. . . . The book should appeal to general readers, to creative writers, and to serious readers of the original poem."—Choice

"A collaboration among a poet, designer and Anglo-Saxon literature specialist that offers a new verse translation of the epic, explanatory notes and illustrations from Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon art."—John Espey, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Beowulf: A Likeness offers a multifaceted approach to the Old English epic. . . . As a quintessential tale of good triumphant over evil, the original story has undeniable appeal. . . . Physically, the book is a treat. . . . This ambitious volume will appeal mainly to students and specialists of Anglo-Saxon literature."—Ellen Donohue Warwick, Wilson Library Bulletin

"Beowulf: A Likeness offers a multifaceted approach to the Old English epic. . . . As a quintessential tale of good triumphant over evil, the original story has undeniable appeal."—Elizabeth Shostak, Wilson Library Bulletin

"A modern literary work as well as an imaginative response to the original."—Howell Chickering, Speculum—A Journal of Medieval Studies

"An imaginative and technical triumph. . . . The lavish format and beautiful design are worthy of the contents. Beowulf: A Likeness is a superb book."—Donald E. Stanford, Sewanee Review

"Swearer is to be commended for dusting the cobwebs from this classic story and for again arousing our interest in a brutal but absorbing tale of yore."—Scott Gutterman, Print

"The poetry is absolutely superb-evocative, moving, and aptly joining sound to sense. . . . The brilliant juxtapositions of photographs and drawings . . . come as close as one can to producing that kind of multiple attack upon the senses, both aural and visual, that a medieval person might experience in a cathedral. . . . All four contributors have interacted well to produce a fascinating artifact which may surprise and delight us in its various parts but as they come together teach us a great deal about how medieval art and literature work, and how they are informed by the same aesthetic principles."—Joseph B. Trahern, Manuscripta

"A lavish book. . . . There is no mistaking the genuine affection all four contributors have for the poem Beowulf or the earnestness they bring to the task of attempting to make the great epic accessible to a wider readership."—Rosemary Huisman, Parergon 

Winner of the Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Division’s 1990 Award for Excellence in Book Design and Production
ISBN: 9780300048766
Publication Date: October 24, 1990
168 pages, x
72 b/w illus.