The Common Man Should Read Beowulf Essay
Oct. 3 2013
Writing comes in many different modes: novel-writing, newspaper articles, email, essays, poetry, and more. Poetry, like writing, has many forms. There are the juvenile poems such as the writing of Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein, designed to educate and entertain children. On the other end of the spectrum there are epic poems from hundreds of years ago. One such tale is that of Beowulf, who must defeat several monsters which threaten lives and property. Scholars like J.R.R. Tolkien have studied this heroic story; but Beowulf is not only for the learned. The common man should read Beowulf.
Opposition to reading this poem starts with the argument against all classics: the book is too difficult to read. Admittedly, because Beowulf was written before the tenth century, the language is different than today’s language. This is not a bad thing, nor is it a reason to forgo reading this epic. On the contrary, Beowulf’s extensive vocabulary and awing use of alliteration challenges the reader’s word-hoard and word choice. Not only could this help in every day conversation, or when writing a story or paper for school, but when filling out college or job applications.
Beowulf, in addition to expanding vocabulary, also teaches about history. The poem is set during the first few hundred years of the Anglo-Saxon nation; 500 or 600 AD. It gives insight into the life of upper-class Saxons. The men were brave warriors, while the women provided food, drink, and gifts for conquering thanes. At celebrations, mead flowed generously and a bard was always on hand. “They sang then and played to please the hero, words and music for their warrior prince, harp tunes and tales of adventure.” (Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heany, page 71).
Just as the bards in the book repeated bygone tales, Beowulf itself was passed down orally for centuries. It’s age-old theme of good vs. evil captivated audiences centuries ago and still does the same today. The plot of Beowulf pits the hero against several evil monsters. The first is beast Grendel, followed by his equally terrible mother. Finally, Beowulf must slay a dragon. In each instance, there is an epic struggle between the two parties, but good always prevails. Though the common man doesn’t often face such villains as the ones Beowulf has to contend with, man often has to battle between good and evil.
Even the common man should read Beowulf, for it is not just for scholars. It encourages better word choice, which everyone can benefit from. Additionally, the reader can learn what life was like for the upper-class Anglo-Saxon. Finally, Beowulf’s timeless theme of good vs. evil will always appeal to man. Though there are many types of writing, and many types of poetry, Beowulf is a prime example of both.
And now my review:
Author: Unknown. The translation I read was by Seamus Heaney.
Synopsis: The warrior Beowulf must face three beasts.
My rating: 8 out of 10 stars.
What I didn't like/things you should know: There are some somewhat descriptive battle scenes, but nothing too graphic... I can't really think of anything else.
What I liked: The language! Oh my word! There is so much alliteration in this story... It's absolutely brilliant. And just the way it's translated - it's great! Wonderful.
I've said before that I'm not a fan of poetry... but I really liked Beowulf. I think my mind is slowly being changed.
The story was pretty cool... It had a very Lord of the Rings feel to it. Although, really, I should say that Lord of the Rings has a very Beowulfish feel to it because Tolkien studied Beowulf and wrote an essay on it. He even added a nod to Beowulf into The Hobbit.
...until one began
to dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl
from the steep vaults of a stone-roofed barrow
where he guarded a hoard; there was a hidden passage,
unknown to men, but someone managed
to enter it and interfere
with the heathen trove. He had handled and removed
a gem-studded goblet; it gained him nothing,
though with a thief's wiles he had outwitted
the sleeping dragon; that drove him into a rage,
as the people of that country would soon discover.
-Beowulf (pg. 151 of the Seamus Heaney version)
He gazed for what seemed an age, before drawn almost against his will, he stole from the shadow of the doorway, across the floor to the nearest edge of the mounds of treasure. Above him the sleeping dragon lay, a dire menace even in his sleep. He grasped a great two-handled cup, as heavy as he could cart, and cast one fearful eye upwards. Smaug stirred a wing, opened a claw, the rumble of his snoring changed its note.
-The Hobbit (pg. 206 of whichever version I own... It's during the Inside Information chapter)
Something super cool about the Seamus Heaney translation is that it actually has the Old English version on one page, and the modern-day English on the other... Here is what the Old English looks like:
Plus, the cover is super cool! The chainmail.
Would I recommend Beowulf? I would! Especially to fans of Lord of the Rings. And especially the Seamus Heaney translation.
Live long and prosper!