Beowulf, an Old English poem, is a great fantasy story which was translated by Seamus Heaney. Although scholars may differ regarding the original audience and purpose of this poem, it is likely that Beowulf appealed to a wide variety of audience and garnered different responses. The poem follows the life of Beowulf, a man whose courage and persistence in defending his people stay with him to his old age.
Beowulf saves people in his neighborhood from a monster named Grendel as a youth, and eventually becomes their king. In old age, he dies defending his people from a dragon. Beowulf is thus a deeply philosophical and adventurous story. Only one manuscript contains the poem Beowulf. Some scholars believe that the British Library Cotton Vitellius A. 15 manuscript, the only one that includes Beowulf, is an original copy by the poet. However, many believe that this manuscript is the last in a succession of copies produced from the original one. The Vitellius A. 15 manuscript is dated 1000 A.D, and the poet may have written Beowulf between this date and 675 A.D. Even so, it was not until the 16th century that the poem surfaced, in the hands of Laurence Nowell. No one knows where the manuscript had been before it surfaced. The poem is rich in literary devices such as imagery, allusions and plot. However, these literary devices are also used to castigate themes of vengeance and feuds.
The poem literally draws meaning from the imagery the poet incorporates therein. The author allows their reader to envision the events in the story through intelligent language use that is reader-sensitive. According to Kiernan, Kevin and Andrew (36), the first lines of the poem (130-134) describes the main character as approaching while “beating at sand” as the ship wherein he sits is foaming within the sea “like a bird.” Such a description tosses the reader into a world of admiration towards the enormousness and tough stunt of the main character’s ship.
The majesty of the ship also becomes an allusion of just how strong and mighty Beowulf is which deepens the audience’s admiration for him. Imagery is also evident in the poet’s description of the waters in which the ship was assail as a water body “splashing towards the sky” which is also dark and black “as the rain.” In so doing, the author seeks to allude to the horrid nature of Grendel and his mother’s home. As the story comes to a close, Beowulf’s readiness is ascribed as in the way he “strides with his shield at his side” (Kiernan, Kevin and Andrew 38). Such description makes the reader respect the main character and understand just how ready he is for the battle of his life. The young Beowulf saves the Danes from two monsters.
Beowulf also derived his courage from the human condition. He was courageous in every way, but also knew when and where to attack. He understood the limitations of the human body and strived to achieve excellence by reducing the exposure of human weaknesses to the enemies In lines 1700 to 1782 in the poem, Hrothgar gives a sermon that focuses on this aspect of the human life. Beowulf goes on to live a long and noble life, and dies defending his people from a dragon. . Characters describe and define one another, which makes the reader develop an understanding of them. For instance, in lines 237-257 of the poem, the coast guard defines Beowulf. Wulfgar also describes Beowulf and his men in lines 336a-70.
The poem is also rich in allusions from both the Biblical and mythological worlds. Throughout the plot of the story, God receives respectful references such as “almighty Judge,” “Eternal Lord,” “Creator,” “Head of Heavens,” and “God.” Further, the story of Cain and Abel stands out in the story (99-114 and 1260-1268). The Biblical account of the brothers is entwined with Grendel’s history; according to the poem, Grendel and his mother are Cain’s descendants. As such, they are painted as part of a religious syndicate of murder and evil doing. Biblical affiliation is also evident with the character known as Wiglaf who was the only individual who stayed back after fighting Beowulf.
The battle between the two characters alludes to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas who was the only disciple who did not hide and face the Christ. Mythological allusions are evidenced by the existence of the character Sigemund the dragon slayer. Such a character is also present in the Norse mythology of the Volsung Saga in which the character Sigemund sired the famous dragon slayer known as Sigurd. The Saga of Finn is also alluded to in the lines 1062 to 1158 (Kiernan, Kevin and Andrew 40). Some individuals consider the monsters in Beowulf to represent the evil nature of human beings. Beowulf’s triumph over these monsters is an indication that people can fight and defeat evil in society.
The evil of human suffering may emanate from natural disasters, greed, poor relations, and focus on wealth creation as opposed to mutually beneficial coexistence (Kiernan, Kevin and Andrew 65). The fact that Grendel and his mother are human and monstrous at the same time seems to suggest that some human beings are too evil and predatory. That the sounds of human joy arouse Grendel’s envy suggests that some human beings are not happy when their friends, neighbors, and other people succeed or find happiness. Hrothgar also locate evil within a human being in his sermon.
The plot of the poem is complete with all the ingredients including the situation at the start, conflicts, emerging issues, climax, suspense, denouement and conclusion. The initial situation is that the King Hrothgar and the Danes in general must constantly look over their shoulders due to the constant threat of attack at Heorot Hall by demon Grendel. Conflict arises when Beowulf, a Geatish warrior, puts off his fighting regalia to face Grendel in a duel to the death. The emergence of Grendel’s mother in a bid to avenge her son’s death further complicates the situation.
The story climaxes as those back at home expect Beowulf to defend them from a dragon. As Beowulf battles the dragon, he recalls his early glories, unsure of whether he would die in the hands of the fifty-foot-long dragon; the audience is left in suspense on the issue. In spite of sustaining a grievous wound, Beowulf succeeds in his conquest against the dragon. In the end, the Beowulf receives a respectful funeral and burial as they prepare for an attack by their neighbors.
Beowulf also depicts loyalty as one of the greatest human virtues. In the poem, loyalty serves as the glue that holds together the Anglo-Saxon society of the past. Unfortunately, this desirable virtue also occasioned vengeance and feud as societies and other supernatural beings battle to avenge a previous wrongs and perhaps set things right in their evil ridden society. A loyal man or woman is likely to avenge the death of his or her beloved. The loyal man or woman is also likely to feud the enemies of his or her beloved. In the modern society, people consider “taking the law into your own hands” as a lesser evil than injustice and victimization. However, things in the Anglo-Saxon society were different. People had a duty to punish murderers, and those who brought suffering to families, friends, lords, and servants.
Doubtlessly, the story ofBeowulf is globally regarded as one of the most famous poems today. The ancient poem follows the life of a heroic man, his fights with monsters, and eventual demise in an old, ripe age. The poem has many themes, including fortitude and wisdom, loyalty, fate, providence, vengeance, feud, and evil which are all propelled through various literary devices such as imagery, allusions and plot.
However, the poem is filled with narrations of evil and many feuds which a people must engage in to safeguard their existence. Most happenings in the story involve a war against evil as castigated by supernatural beings and human beings themselves. Through the account, we learn that humans can be evil, but their dependence on God leads to a well-constructed path of providence and fate. The poem also uses a unique style, which is evident in its narration, presentation of characters, alliterative verse, and episodes and digressions.
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