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This interview is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November - December 2004.

Edwin Morgan in Conversation Chris Jones

In the Old English epic Beowulf, fifty years pass between the eponymous hero slaying Grendel, his first monster, in youth, and his heroic but Pyrrhic victory over the dragon, resulting in his own death. Fifty years is also the span of time between the glorious rise to power of the young Hrothgar, King of the Danes and subsequent patron to Beowulf, and the failing of his leadership when, in old age, his court is afflicted by the curse of Grendel. Half a century then, is the period of time the poem allots to the greatness of a man's lifetime achievements.

In 2002 Carcanet republished Edwin Morgan's seminal translation of Beowulf, complete with Morgan's long introductory essay, exactly fifty years after its first publication. Squaring up to translate a poem of Beowulf's length and peculiarity is itself a kind of heroic confrontation, attendant with dangers and traps for the unwary, as the introductory review of previous verse translations illustrates. On 21 January 2003, an older Morgan looked back half a century on the first major literary achievement of his career, a translation not diminished in force or power by its age and regarded by many as superior to Heaney's Beowulf. The translation is dedicated, in 2002 as in 1952, to Ritchie Girvan, Morgan's teacher of Anglo-Saxon: a Hrothgar to his Beowulf.

CHRIS JONES: Could you start by saying something about your experiences of studying Old English under Ritchie Girvan?


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