Commentary on Beowulf Lines 710 – 727
“Then from the moor, in a blanket of mist, Grendel came stalking” (ln. 710). So begins what I consider to be the most powerful passage in Beowulf: the first appearance of Grendel. Even from this first line, readers are getting a sense of the foreboding that follows where he walks. The description that follows as Grendel reaches the mead hall to kill the human men he finds there is full of powerful language, subtle alliteration and vivid imagery that make this important passage even more alive on the page.
Grendel’s physical description in this passage is strong-worded, even in translation, to emphasize the strength he possesses, stemming from his inherent evil. At one point, as he reaches the mead hall, Grendel is “bloody-minded, swollen with rage” as he throws open the door and enters the hall (ln 723). As one reads the words, the reader can immediately picture Grendel, large and pulsing in fury, ready to devour whatever men he should find. The use of the word “blood” even goes so far as to hint towards the violence about to come, creating in the reader’s mind an intense horror and fear of the creature Grendel.
Lending another dimension of terror to the description of Grendel is the quiet alliteration scattered throughout the passage. Perhaps not as obvious as when used modernly, the slight alliteration used in Beowulf serves to provide an ominous repetition to all that Grendel does and is, including when describing his eyes as “a light not fair, glowing like fire” (ln. 727). With the repetition of the two consonant sounds, as in “light” and “like,” “fair” and “fire,” there comes a sense of pattern and predictability.
The reader is able to expect Grendel’s evil actions, even so much as to hear his heavy footfalls with every consonant. The lines of Beowulf from 710 to 727 strike me as some of the most powerful in the poem because of the eerie tone to all of Grendel’s description, influenced by the strong-worded imagery and the light alliteration throughout the selection. Both rhetorical devices lend a frightening sort of predictability to all of Grendel’s actions, letting the reader sense that nothing good will come from Grendel’s actions in the lines to come.