Old English Poem: Beowulf
Old English Poem: Beowulf Introduction Old English is a term to refer to the language and the literature spoken and written in Britain during the time between the coming of the Anglo-Saxons to Britain in the fifth century and the Norman Conquest in 1066. There are many tribes such as the Picts, Jutes, Scotes invaded Britain, this resulted in the mixing of several races, tongues and cultures. But the West Germanic tribes known as the Anglo-Saxon were the most influential tribes during this period. The Anglo-Saxons were warrior-farmers and came from north-western Europe.
They began to invade Britain while the Romans were still in control. The Anglo-Saxons were tall, fair-haired men, armed with swords and spears and round shields. Their skills are hunting, farming, cloth production and leather working. “Anglo-Saxons were often buried with their possessions. The objects found in their graves have given evidence of the different jobs done by men and women and the skills they had. Knives and spears are often found in Anglo-Saxon men’s graves. This suggests they were involved in hunting, fighting and farming.
Women’s graves often include tools used for sewing and weaving, which suggests they were involved in making clothes (textile production. ”1 The language of this whole period is known as Old English. No exact date exists for its beginning. The first written records of the language date from around 690, however people had spoken the language long before it. Most Old English words were Germanic. “Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of Ingvaeonic (also known as North Sea Germanic) dialects from the 5th century. Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century. 2 At the end of the sixth century, the Anglo-Saxons accepted Christianity after Pope Gregory sent Saint Augustine to Britain in 597. (The Romans had introduced Christianity to the Celts centuries earlier. ) This gave rise to some religious writings. The Christian poetry adapts and paraphrases the biblical narrative, such as the life of saints and using verse to create standard morale. In addition to Christian poem, heroic poem also takes part in the Old English period. The heroic poems deal mostly with Germanic history and legend. “The stories they tell or mention, the kings and warriors they refer to, were all known by
Germanic people. ”3 Discussion One of the heroic Old English poems is Beowulf. The poem has survived complete, but it has little information about the author and the date of its composition. The author is unknown and no certain date of its composition. There are also other problems which makes analysis against this poem becomes hampered. “The text is historically remote from us; it involves ideas that seem to bear little resemblance to our own ways of thinking; It is written in a form of English (also called Anglo-Saxon) that displays little similarity to English today. ”4
The first part of the story takes place in Denmark. King Hrothgar is being pestered by a water monster, Grendel, who is killing his men within a hall named Heorot. Beowulf comes to aid him and kills Grendel and later, at the bottom of the lake, also he kills Grendel’s mother, who comes to avenge her son. The second part is set in southern Sweden about fifty years later. Beowulf himself is a king and has to fight a fire breathing dragon which burns the royal hall. He gets help from a young warrior, Wyglaf, who manages to kill the Dragon. Beowulf is seriously injured from the fight with the fire breathing dragon.
He then announces Wyglaf as his successor. The poem ends with Beowulf’s funeral rites and a lament The main character of this poem is Beowulf, a warrior from Geats who manages to kill the monster, Grendel. He is depicted as a brave man who thirsty with pride and glory. He is a good and generous leader for his soldiers and also ideal lord. Supporting character of the poem is Hrothgar, an aging lord from Danes whose kingdom ravaged by a monster, he then adopts his savior, Beowulf as son. Grendel is a dreadful monster who every night visits Heorot and kills Hrotghar’s men.
Wiglaf is a brave young warrior who aids Beowulf to kill fire breathing monster that burnt Beowulf’s Hall. Wiglaf then becomes Beowulf successor. Structurally, Beowulf is built around three fights. The first fight is fight between those who life in Royal Hall and the monster. The Royal hall is a symbol of community itself. Monster which ravages the hall means a problem threatens the security and social bound of community. The fight between king and monster, the king who is representative of the society or in other words someone who is in power, has to face unpredictable and incomprehensible forces which threaten his position.
This is kind of what every leader whether in Old English era or in 21st century must face. The last fight is also universal fight of human being, fighting of young age and life with old and death. No matter how great a man accomplishing many achievement, glory and pride or successfully beating problem in his life, he never wins against old and death. The theme of this poem concerns with the values of Germanic tribal society. The work talks about a hero and the values of bravery and also generosity.
There are many contrasts depicted in this poem, for example, water and fire, youth and old age, life and death, rise and fall of nations, faithfulness and betrayal, heroism and cowardice, hope and resignation, good and evil, as well as the past, present and future. Every literary works has relation with the society where the work is written, so does this heroic poem. Anglo-Saxon people are well known as very loyal to their lord. The same sense is also found in this poem. How heroic Beowulf’s men obey their leader’s command by staying within the hall, fighting unpredictable force which possibly kills them.
The kinship among Anglo-Saxon people is still though. This statement can also be found in the poem. Beowulf comes to Danes and helps Hrotghar who in the past has been a close friend to Beowulf’s father. Despite, the character of Beowulf himself who wants pride and glory, he comes to Danes to help his father’s old friend and Hrotghar adopts him as his son due to Beowulf’s help. Regarding Axlo-Saxon men are brave and keen on fighting, the genre of the poem is heroic poem and not far from war or fighting theme. The poems reflect also another side of life in the Heroic Age – the frequency of feuds.
Beowulf has many references to bitter tribal fights. The feud of Hrotghar the Dane and Ingeld the Heathobard is settled by Hrotghar giving Freawaru his daughter inmarriage to Ingeld, but Beowulf tells Hyglac how the feud will break out again. 5 One thing which is interesting about Heroic Age is the religion. Beowulf was written when Britain was already Christianised, but the Pagan cult was still strong in the society. As a result, fusion between Pagan and Christianity became unique factor which affects the society and the poem. Both Pagan and Christianity can be found in the poem.
For example, at the Beowulf’s funeral, his body was cremated. Cremation is a form of Pagan ritual. Also, in the poem, Christianity value can be found, like at the line 180 until 182. They remembered Hell. The Almighty Judge 180 Of good deeds and bad, the Lord God, Head of the Heavens and High King of the World, The concept of Hell and Heaven is close to Christian doctrine. From this example, the fushion of Pagan and Christianity in the society also effects the poem. 5. Gordon, vii Conclusion Not like another Northumbrian poetry, Beowulf has survived complete.
Not because it is the best poem in Heroic Age, but maybe because it is luckier than its fellows. Other poems, written in the same period as Beowulf, are found in fragments. Beowulf which is written in Anglo-Saxon era is very affected by the society. The poem depicts the social condition of Anglo-Saxon tribe. The characteristics of the tribe which likes fighting, has a great pride and strong kinship are depicted in the poem. This heroic poem is also affected by religion of the society. Christian and Pagan values or rite colors this poem.
The fusion of both religions infer that Anglo-Saxon society were still struggling to establish their identity within a new belief structure. Many of the values in the poem are lasting values, for instance; fight between bad and good force, youth and old age, life and death, rise and fall of nations, faithfulness and betrayal. Therefore these lasting values can be lesson for the next generation. Bibliography http://www. chiddingstone. kent. sch. uk/ http://en. wikipedia. org/ Peck, John and Coyle, Martin, A Brief Story of English Literature. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Gordon, R. K. , Anglo-Saxon Poetry. London: The Aldine Pers, 1959.