Wade Wells Shawn Swain English 12 20 March 2012 Beowulf: An epic poem Beowulf is the first and best example of Anglo-Saxon or English literature to withstand the test of time. The epic poem of Beowulf was thought to have been written by a Northumbrian monk between the eighth and eleventh century. The genre of the epic poem was originally passed on solely through the oral tradition. Serving as a basis for poetic meter, alliteration is used to help enhance the oral presentation of an epic poem as well as help the flow of the written word.
The symbolism in Beowulf is widely seen as a classic example of the story of Christ. The use of imagery in almost all epic poems helps to introduce key characters and tie together different plots as well. In Beowulf, the author incorporates the three elements of alliteration, symbolism, and imagery to develop the epic poem. Alliteration is the commencement of two or more words of a word group with the same letter. Being that alliteration is one of the most common types of literary elements in the epic poem of Beowulf.
As seen in Burton Raffel’s translation “Then old and young rejoiced, turned back from that happy pilgrimage, mounted their hard-hooved horses, high-spirited stallions, and rode them slowly toward Herot again, retelling Beowulf’s bravery as they jogged along” (Beo. 534-538). The multiple repetitions of the letters help the reader to become more interested in the subject matter. When orally presenting an epic poem, the narrator uses alliteration to grab the audience’s attention as well as create a more vivid description of the current scene.
Symbolism is the applied use of symbols, or iconic representations that carry particular conventional meanings. There are many examples of symbolism in Beowulf, but the most prominent one is the comparison between Jesus Christ and the main character Beowulf. Goldsmith reports that “The poem Beowulf as we have it contains indisputably Christian sentiments and vocabulary, and handles familiarly and allusively certain biblical Stories”. Beowulf is seen by many as a hero and portrayed to be just short of immortal, as if he were a god himself.
Goldsmith also states “Many notable scholars have convinced themselves that Beowulf is presented as the savior of his people, like a Christian knight, or even like Christ himself, in spite of the fact that even in the final eulogy there is no hint of this” (Margaret E. Goldsmith). This is hugely supported in Raffel’s translation, “And over and over they swore that no where on earth or under the spreading sky or between the seas, neither south nor north, was there a warrior worthier to rule over men” (Beo. 539-542). This excerpt shows how highly Beowulf was praised by all, and that the men were accepting of his rule.
Beowulf’s life is full of miraculous adventure along with being the savior of a great many people on multiple occasions. Imagery is the use of words to create a figurative description or illustration. In Beowulf the author uses vivid word play to introduce where both Grendel and his mother live. Raffel’s translation states, “. . . “They live is secret places, windy Cliffs, wolf-dens where water pours From the rocks, then runs underground, where mist Steams like black clouds, and the groves of trees Growing out over their lake are all covered w frozen spray. . . ” (Beo. 45-550). The use of imagery here not only introduces the living area of Grendel and his mother, but also sets the tone for the upcoming battle by stating that their home is not a comfortable or inviting living habitat for any human. The use of imagery can be range from subtle to very intense and can also be used to not only introduce certain characters, but also to tie together different plots as well. As stated in Mowery’s critical essay in the second line of Beowulf , the routine images of flowers and grass are intensified by association with incongruous words.
The flowers are “attentive”; the grass is “garrulous green”. By personifying (giving human traits to a non-human object) these plants, he has created more intense images of flowers standing tall, seemingly listening for some sound, and then the talkative green grass supplying the sound. (Carl Mowery) The author of the epic poem of Beowulf uses imagery to implement a feeling of actuality in all things whether it is living or not. The use of personification on the grass and flowers in the first few lines not only grabs the attention of the reader, but also introduces a basis for the theme and plot for the entire work.
Making the plot so vivid helps the reader to create a feeling of actually being in the story themselves. Imagery can create many different perceptions of a single scene for a whole multitude of people depending on how the specific words speak to each person individually. The oral tradition of the epic poem creates a miraculous spoken rhythm that is hard to capture or mimic in the written tense. With the help of alliteration in the written script of almost all early epic poems the reader is able to form a more connected feeling to the flow of the story.
The readers of the original epic poems are aided by the use of symbolism to draw a clearer picture of the hero of each epic poem. Along with alliteration and symbolism, the use of imagery is one of the most important literary elements of the epic poem due to the fact that it allows the reader to paint a mental picture of the plot while at the same time introducing key characters. Works Cited “Beowulf. ” Epics for Students. Ed. Marie Lazzari. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2012. 25-48. Print. Beowulf. Trans. Burton Raffel. Elements of Literature. Sixth Course. Ed. Robert Probst. Austin: Holt, Rhineheart and Winston, 2000. 1-46. Print. Goldsmith, Margaret E. “The Christian Theme of Beowulf. ” Medium Aevum 29. 2 (1960): 81-101. Rpt. in Poetry Criticism. Ed. Carol T. Gaffke and Anna J. Sheets. Vol. 22. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. Mowery, Carl. “Critical Essay on Beowulf. ” Poetry for Students. Ed. Elizabeth Thomason. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. Stanley, E. G. “The Metrical Organization of Beowulf, Prototype and Isomorphism. ” Notes and Queries 45. 1 (1998): 96+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.